Dr. Stephen L. Salter

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Friendship for the Sake of Wisdom

Philosophy can be translated as the love of wisdom. Another way to translate it is "friendship for the sake of wisdom." This second definition insists that philosophy exists between people. Not as book knowledge, dry and unrelated to life. But within the interplay of human beings. This memoir is a snippet in the development of philosophy between me and my dear friend, Lana.

We met eighteen years ago as undergraduates, both blind in our enthusiasm as to what the university, its professors, and its curriculum might offer us. We took a number of courses together though she majored in philosophy and I majored in psychology (intending to become a psychotherapist). There were some worthwhile courses but overall they were uninspiring. The professors were preoccupied, not interested in engaging with students, and the students were naturally disinterested as a response. Our expectations turned into disillusionment and depression. Lana and I were left with intense intellectual desire-what one might call philosophical Eros. Because we had one another, our hopes and dreams were not shattered. They found their way into the reality of our friendship. We set upon an intellectual journey, our own curriculum so to speak, that didn't necessarily have to do with books.

We collaborated to understand what we thought was most important in life. For instance, we wondered what was most worthwhile-the pursuit of truth? Or the pursuit of social justice?. Naturally, we consulted the cannons: Shakespeare, Nietzsche, etc., ...our quest was unending. We found that prioritizing our desire to learn-to understand the world around us-and to contemplate what it meant to live a good life-was continually fruitful. And so we continued to hunt for what truly mattered to each of us. We taught and inspired one another; and we passionately strove to shine in one another's eyes.
It's true that as a culture we are told that we should rely exclusively on our personal opinions in evaluating ourselves. It is of no matter, we assert, what our parents, teachers, therapists, counselors, and friends think about us. However, I believe the interdependence Lana and I shared was at once more realistic and ideal. It was integral to this profound philosophical experience. Her thoughts and feedback were critical to my development. She possessed an otherworldly wisdom that was foreign to me. She saw the forest when the world was fixed on the trees, and the converse when necessary, zooming in like a hawk to capture the most essential detail. She was much more versed in literature than me and probably more mature overall. I sought to understand how she came upon such discerning and overarching insight.

More often than not, she took on the teacher role, and I the student. That's just how it was. It felt natural to allow this differential to exist. That is, in the spirit of our quest, we'd be sure to subordinate our own egos to the pursuit of wisdom. When she had something to offer me, I felt humbled. And vice versa. My admiration for and desire to emulate Lana was obvious to our mutual friends. We were mocked by a chorus of social voices for our "teacher-disciple" relationship. But we anticipated this criticism. It reflected a very sad reality in our culture-the insistence on self-reliance that squelches even the most splendid forms of interdependence.