Heidegger On What Makes For A Good Friend

In the course of giving his account of intersubjectivity (or the Being-with others of Mitsein), Martin Heidegger comments on two kinds of concern for the other — a leaping in for and a leaping ahead of the other — that gets at the essence of what makes for a good friend. The one kind of friend, when confronted with a friend in distress, will leap in for them and take care of things. Although many of us would appreciate such a friend, Heidegger writes about why we should be weary of this kind of friend:

With regard to its possibility modes, concern has two extreme possibilities. It can, so to speak, take the other’s “care” away from him and put itself in his place in taking care, it can leap in for him. Concern takes over what is to be taken care of for the other. The other is thus displaced, he steps back so that afterwards, when the matter has been attended to, he can take it over as something finished and available or disburden himself of it completely. In this concern, the other can become someone who is dependent and dominated even if this domination is a tacit one and remains hidden from him. This kind of concern which does the job and takes away “care” is, to a large extent, determinative for being-with-one another and pertains, for the most part, to our taking care of things at hand.” (122)

This is a great, concrete example of a situation we have all been in. I think we can all relate to feeling relief when someone offers to step in and take charge, to steer us back to safety. And some of us, in speaking with our friends, may want to be told what to do when faced with a difficult decision. Our friends may even think they are doing the right thing by stepping in, not realizing that this is a kind of concern that doesn’t allow us to make our own decisions and carry out our own solutions.

The problem is that in leaping in and taking charge, our friend has disabled us from taking care of our own business, and unburdened us of the responsibility — which, of course, is what makes it so appealing. In giving over our responsibility and power to act, we allow our friend to take over for us, a pattern that undermines our agency. In short, this kind of friend is one that robs us of our autonomy.

Compare this with the friend who leaps ahead of us instead:

In contrast to this, there is the possibility of a concern which does not so much leap in for the other as leap ahead of him in his existentiell potentiality-of-being, not in order to take “care” away from him, but rather to authentically give it back as such. This concern which essentially pertains to authentic care — that is, it pertains to the existence of the other, and not to a what which it takes care of — helps the other to become transparent to himself in his care and free for it.” (122)

The second kind of friend will not leap in and take care of things for us, but instead will leap ahead, foreseeing what we may need by way of support to make a difficult decision or to undertake a difficult course of action. This kind of care gives us back our freedom and autonomy, specifically in a situation where this may have been compromised. This friend helps us to do and become what we want to, according to your own assessment of our possibilities. They refrain from projecting their own desires onto us, instead choosing to play an important (and often more difficult) supporting role.

Quotes Source: Martin Heidegger (1962). Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. London: SCM Press.

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