[return to Home Page]
What Does It Mean to Be a Real Friend? 
Part 1
Friendship is a beautiful subject; it also has been a hard one for people--it was for me. For many years I wanted to think my trouble about friendship came from other people, from their not appreciating me enough. Aesthetic Realism enabled me to be more honest. The truth was, I didn't like people enough to be interested in their lives; I thought my own was much more interesting. I also didn't like needing people and being grateful to them; I wanted them to be grateful to me. 

In his 1949 lecture Mind and Friends , Eli Siegel explained the contradictory motives people have with people. He begins: 

The good motive is to feel through knowing another, you yourself have come to be more what you want to be; and through that person's knowing you, that person has come to be more what she or he wants to be. This, he explains, is true friendship: two people wanting the best for each other--and that means, he explained too, that we have to do all we can to see who another person really is and what he or she is hoping for. 

And Mr. Siegel then describes what can go wrong--the "bad motive" that masquerades as "friendship." It is, he said: 

the feeling that through knowing another, you have been able to acquire some power over him, and been able to do something to him without necessarily doing something for him of the kind he really wants. Not only is this not friendship, it is, Aesthetic Realism says, contempt: the desire to use another person to glorify yourself. 

When in l972, as a young man who was in his senior year of college and was hoping for a life as a composer, I began to study Aesthetic Realism in consultations and learned about these two motives--the hope for respect and the hope for contempt--I felt very relieved. I felt, at last, I can make the right choices, and really respect myself for how I am with people! 

1) Our Attitude to the World is our Attitude to People 

My consultants explained that the trouble I had making and keeping friends--including with women--was trouble about how I saw the world. There is nothing bigger in a man's life, they said to me, than how the world is in his mind--whether he sees it fundamentally as friendly or unfriendly. And how we see the world will be how we see individual people. 

The mistake I had made early in my life was very common: I had equated approval from people with warmth. So when students and teachers I met in school were not as praising of me as my family had been, I thought they were mean and that I was in an unjust world: one that deprived me of the importance that was my right; a world that wanted to cut me down. I remember vividly how pleased I was--I was 8 years old--when my mother told me, after I had complained that no one at summer camp wanted to be my friend, that I had to be "big" about it and realize how jealous other people were of my superior intelligence and talent. 

This was advice I did not need! On my own, I already felt I was the most interesting person I knew. Instead of wanting to know what the other boys at camp felt about things, I would talk constantly about myself, and what interested me. Later, at college, I did the same thing; and it is understandable that my freshmen roomates requested, and got, a transfer away from me. 

When I began to study Aesthetic Realism in classes with Eli Siegel only a few years later, he saw how troubled I was about how I saw people, and with kindness--and also beautiful humor--he showed me how I could change and like myself. One instance of this was in a class in l975. Mr. Siegel had been speaking about important matters in the life of another person in the class, but as the discussion went on I grew very impatient. "Mr. Siegel," I said, raising my hand to get his attention: "I want to ask a question about myself." 

"Why don't you ask a question about the Duke of Wellington, instead?" he asked me--and I was so surprised when I realized that spontaneously I had joined in the general laughter about this! I was beginning to see myself in proportion to other people--and without that, I learned, you can never be a friend. 

Mr. Siegel continued: 

The first question for you, Mr. Green, is whether your way of seeing helps you to be as good as possible or hurts you? Do you think you are competitive? "I am," I said. "Does trying to be better than another person help you be all you can be," he asked, "or less than you might be? Do you believe you should try to know all you can about the world--or do you want to show other people that you know more than they do?" When I hesitated, he said: "Your job, Ed Green, is to be as good as you can be and not at war with others. Stick to that!" 

What Mr. Siegel was teaching me is one of the fundamental ideas of Aesthetic Realism: that a person can only look good in his own eyes when he has good will--for the world and other people. "Good will," he wrote, "can be described as the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful." My study of Aesthetic Realism these years has enabled me to know what good will is and increasingly to have it. And in the great classes taught by Ellen Reiss, which I have the honor to attend as an Aesthetic Realism Associate, I am meeting the criticism and the encouragement I need to be the person and the musician I want to be. Miss Reiss has been a constant friend to my life, and I am deeply grateful to her. 

2) Friendship in the Life of a Composer 

I speak now about of one of the most popular of composers, Sir Arthur Sullivan, who lived from 1842 to 1900. With the poet William Schwenk Gilbert, he wrote some of the most important and loved comic operas in the world--among them H.M.S. Pinafore, Patience, Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado . He is also known today for having written the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and the song "The Lost Chord." 

Friendship is something we usually think of in terms of people, but the principle--one thing bringing out the strength and beauty of another--is, I have seen, absolutely necessary for art. For example: for a melody to be good each note must bring out the meaning of every other note. And when a composer works with a lyricist, he asks: what notes can I bring to these words so that their power is felt most deeply and clearly? 

It was Sullivan's achievement that, to a large degree, he was an imaginative friend to Gilbert's words, which are deep, often poetic, and very, very funny. He came to melodies that have stood the test of time. 

I would like to illustrate this with a song from Pirates of Penzance of 1879--"A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One." The words, Mr. Siegel said in his great 1971 lecture "It Is and It Appears; or, the Moment," "are a highpoint of English poetry," and they deal, he explained, with the important question: "so if we're angry with someone, what should we do?" 

These policeman have a conflict: their job is to arrest the pirates; but they feel for them. Their criminal activities are only part of who these pirates are, the policemen say; there is something better in them, too. So the policemen are in the midst of opposites--and they are opposites every man has to put together to be a real friend: how to be for and against; sympathetic and critical. 

"All beauty," Eli Siegel has explained, "is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." Sullivan feels the drama of opposites in Gilbert's words, and in his own way highlights their lovely mingling of humor and seriousness. The rhythm of his music is firm, yet also tentative--mirroring the policemen's mixed feelings. And as their sergeant ponders their dilemma with a melody that circles around itself in quiet thought, they echo the final syllables of each of his phrases; and some of their deep echoes sound a little like muted sighs. 

[Music Example #1: 1st stanza--1 minute] 

From his letters, and from the biographies, it is clear that Sullivan could be exceedingly personable and also generous. In the most recent, and complete, of biographies, Arthur Sullivan: a Victorian Musician, Arthur Jacobs writes: 

It was not only his musical accomplishments but his charm of manner that gave him a passport...to the highest circles in the land. But [that] charm...was by no means a parade of graces. It sprang out of an unusual capacity for sympathy and understanding, both in and out of professional life. And that sympathy for people was a big thing in his work with Gilbert. I have learned that a friendship can be judged by what the two people agree on. If they agree on the need for justice for all people, then the friendship has something big and authentic at its core. But if they agree--as often happens--to have contemptuous private conversations that make fun of other people and run them down, then the "friendship" is a diseased thing, and weakens them. 

In their operas, Gilbert and Sullivan satirize the pretensions and evils of the day; they were written during the height of the British Empire with its cruel imperialism abroad and its terrible economic injustice at home. By agreeing to oppose this--and doing so with artistic depth and flair--they were friends to each other, and to all humanity. "Gilbert and Sullivan have in their operas," said Eli Siegel, "enough to change the very basis of tangible England." And what English society was based on then, we still have in America now--the profit system, with its contemptuous idea that some people have a right to get rich exploiting the labor of other people. 

To Continue: Part 2
[ To Home Page ] [ To Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel ]