In my philosophy practice, I have been thinking lately about what stays with my conversation partners after I have left the scene. I know that I will not always be there for them, that I will die someday, and I want to make sure that they will flourish without me. What stays, therefore, with them? It must be that they have learned to inquire for themselves, to make inquiry a significant part of their everyday life.
The following is a summary one conversation partner wrote of an especially good inquiry about the rarity of female friends in her life.
Yes, so, good inquiry about the rarity of good female friends–I have this question too; would love to share. Here’s how it went:
Me commenting on how I don’t have many female friends. A [short for Andrew in what follows. My comments are in brackets throughout.] asks why that is. I say maybe it’s because I had an engulfing mother, and thus wrongly interpret female relationships as being overly demanding emotionally, something that leaves me exhausted. I sigh, drawing a blank as how to progress beyond that thought.
Here is where A’s good intuition kicks in to drive the question further. Formerly, I’d just settle on that ‘mother-exhaustion conclusion’ (despite its offering little in the way of insight for moving forward) and stop the inquiry there.
He asks: And why else might it be that you don’t have many close female friends? Could there be reasons in addition to the one you’ve just voiced?
When I answer that I don’t know, he does the “Ahhhhhh, yes; good answer” thing and we smile together. So here we have this moment where I’m learning what it means to find an answer, a gateway, in the not-knowing. Not-knowing as a signpost, leading on. So this not-knowing is a closed door. Let’s go around this closed door by asking some questions that have a family-resemblance:
[Andrew amendment] One question I asked around here: what makes for good female friendships? This general question leads on to the particular one I ask below.
He asks what it’s like, more specifically, to be with female friends. I tell stories of ambivalence toward friends who don’t see me, who may appreciate similar things and environments, but whose opinions I don’t really value (i.e. less admirable women), and I tell stories of the few women whom I DO admire [list of philosophical friends here].
[Story of first meeting good female friend and of how, she says, "I felt so small and naive and couldn't for the life of me figure out why she wanted to hang out with me."]
A: And today, do you feel these feelings around other admirable women?
Yes, yes I do.
A: Are we perhaps saying that modesty has gotten in the way of good female friendships (Sudden tears–not dispositive, but very often a good sign)
I realized that this deeply ingrained feeling of modesty is something that’s prohibiting me from offering myself up for full and loving friendship–that valuing myself highly and lightly is intimately and directly tied to valuing others highly and lightly.
Thus I see, and tack down as a conclusion: This more virtuous valuation of myself is key to feeling comfortable to bring my gifts–intact–to the table that I share with admirable friends.
Loving good others is something that I’ve always felt at home inside. “There is beauty in the appreciation of beauty.” To not feel separate and apart from that beauty, so rare, when I find it–that is what I am learning. And suddenly: not only have I come through the formerly closed doorway–I find myself in the living room, curled up on the couch with my beautiful friends.
That is what good inquiry feels like to me.