Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

You Can't Pop Over to the Friendship Super Store

You Can't Pop Over to the Friendship Super Store

Having recently relocated, my wife and I have been taking a new route to work. When not driving I’ve been enjoying the new sites, sounds and surrounds. And a couple weeks back I noticed a small shop on Main Road called the Friendship Super Store. Naturally, I snapped a photo of the store front and shared it with some friends on WhatsApp, joking: I’m trading you in. I’m sure the feelings are mutual.

Regulars at Rekindle will know that I’ve dedicated a considerable amount of reading and writing to the topic of friendship. Hopefully a few of you will also be able to testify to that personal commitment in my life. So I wonder what you’d make of a store where you could buy better friends, upgrading friendships like you might an old iPhone. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), such a concept might not be that outlandish. But, for the time being, we’re stuck with one another (i.e. humans). This makes reflecting on friendship essential—especially in this increasingly digital and disembodied age we live in.

Driving past the Friendship Super Store got me thinking about a passage from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince. In it, one of the characters bemoans the fact that despite being able to buy almost anything, the only way to gain and grow friendships is by investing time.

“There Is No Shop Where Friends Can Be Bought”

Somewhat like me on my new route to work, the eponymous little prince delights in change—what we might call joyful, effortless study of his surroundings. He has an insatiable appetite for learning and discovery, relentlessly questioning the novella’s narrator and examining his thoughtless answers. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry makes fairly explicit towards the beginning of his work, the little prince embodies a childlike fascination with the world that most of us abandon as we move into adulthood. Certainly, most of us would do well to rediscover this ability for awe, delighting in the world around us. The little prince’s wonder is admirable—and worth imitating.

However, towards the end of the novella a fox reminds the little prince that new and novel things aren’t necessarily always better; that we can’t be involved in endless discovery. At least, we shouldn’t be if it prevents us from investing time in relationships. After the prince stresses to the fox that there’s much to do and see, enjoy and experience, the fox replies, “One only ever understands what one tames. People no longer have time to understand anything. They buy everything ready-made from the shops. But there is no shop where friends can be bought, so people no longer have friends.”

“Money Can’t Buy Me Love”

There is no Friendship Super Store; well, there isn’t one that stocks what its name might suggest. And what makes the fox’s words such uncomfortable reading is their relevance to the 21st century. As the fox says, people “no longer have time to understand anything,” but that’s not a major problem due to everything being available, “ready-made,” either online or “from the shops.” Today, convenience, consumerism, and digital technologies have combined to the extent that we no longer even need to leave our homes. Whatever you want is a click away. Only, as the fox reminds the little prince, “there is no shop where friends can be bought, so people no longer have friends.” As each of us goes about effortlessly accumulating all the things we want, we easily fail to recognise what we need: deep relationships. Friendship. Love.

Of course there’s always social media. But in words of Dr Manhattan from The Watchmen, that’s about as relationally nourishing “as a photograph of oxygen is to a drowning man.” Though people in our day and age are more connected than any previous period of history, it is also one of the loneliest times to be alive. Similarly, the West boasts unprecedented affluence, but this wealth cannot be exchanged for friendship. Indeed, as The Beatles sang, “I don’t care too much for money, / Money can’t buy me love.”

“People No Longer Have Friends”

Returning to The Little Prince, the fox, and my drive to work, meaningful friendships take time; they’re inconvenient and costly. Many of us can buy almost anything “ready-made.” And most of us participate extensively in what appears relational online, but we all know falls far short. It doesn’t satisfy. While its debatable whether we have more or less time today than people did when Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince, I’d argue that we are less and less those who work at taming and understanding the world around us. Indicative of this—and coupled with the the fact that we can “buy [almost] everything ready-made from the shops”—is that “people no longer have friends.”

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