Getting Off Course

I wrote recently about how knowledge without friendship is deficient, and I was reflecting, in a conversation with just such a friend, that friendship makes knowledge sufficient, at least in part, by deflecting it from its course.

When I am thinking with a friend, when this thinking is taking place between us as an expression of our friendship, our conversation will always find itself drifting from whatever course that we had in mind.  Whatever purposes and aims that I might bring to the conversation, they always find themselves distracted by the response of the friend, perhaps only for a moment, perhaps for a longer time, perhaps for the rest of the night, and this distraction calls me to think differently, apart from the course that I had planned.

In other words, the thoughtful and considered response of the friend does not allow me to remain under the illusion that my thinking is sufficient, but opens me to the other courses that it might take.  This kind of conversation takes the closed and linear character of my all too monological thinking and opens it, diverts it, distracts it, merely by exposing it to the kind of dialogical thinking that is peculiar to a friendship.  It reveals that thinking is never finished, if it is ever truly begun, just as the conversation at the heart of a friendship is never finished.  It pushes thinking off course in order that it might really become thinking.

Not just any dialogue will suffice here, not just any conversation.  Most kinds of dialogue are capable only of agreeing or disagreeing with a thinking that remains stubbornly on course.  Thinking does not in fact take place here, because it has become external to the conversation.  It is the subject rather than the product of the dialogue.  This kind of dialogue does not know how to do anything but stay on course.

It is only the  conversation at the heart of a friendship that produces thinking capable of getting off course, of discovering what it might still become.  It is only this conversation that allows thinking to find its way on the way to thinking.  This is why it is necessary to cultivate meaningful friendships rather than being content merely to check a box on some social networking application, because the quality of our friendships will determine the quality of our thinking.

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