“Costly followers are not to be liked, lest, while a man maketh his train longer, he makes his wings shorter.” – Francis Bacon.
As we think about purpose with reference to others, we mainly think about a romantic partner, family members, and one or perhaps a few close friends. However our world is populated with far more individuals from the remaining two groups: acquaintances and strangers. We now look at the acquaintance which, as noted in the last section, is defined by Webster’s as “a person known to one, but usually not a close friend.”1 So unlike a friend with whom one has deep and lasting caring and commitment, relationship with acquaintances is more casual or superficial, lacks affection, or is more utilitarian such as usually occurs with a teacher, coworker, or business associate. Some acquaintances then are Aristotle’s ‘friends’ of utility or pleasure, but not his ‘perfect’ friends. While experience tells us most if not all acquaintances are incidental or fulfill a function, our goal in this section is to distill purpose beyond these facts in the quest for our particular meaning in life.
We should pause to distinguish the words acquaintance and stranger. Webster’s first definition of stranger is “a person with whom one has had no personal acquaintance.”2 By this rather absolute standard, once you meet a person they become an acquaintance, creating an unwieldly range of persons we know between a stranger and a close friend; from the cab driver of a single ride to members of one’s regular social group. For our purposes I think we should attenuate the term acquaintance to persons meeting all three of the following requirements: (1) those to whom you have been introduced, even if by you or them, (2) those with whom you have had multiple contacts, and (3) those you remember specifically. For example, if I happened upon my second grade music teacher, of whom I have no memory, I would surely consider him or her a stranger. Nor would I designate as an acquaintance a college classmate whom I remember clearly and behind whom I sat many times in freshman chemistry, but with whom I never spoke.
Still this leaves a very large number of people who come in and out of our lives that count as acquaintances. Within this protean category is a large opportunity for localizing purpose. The upcoming series of posts will look at two perspectives – the Roman Stoics, and the 19th century Idealists. We start next time with the first of these.
1Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Barnes & Noble, Inc. 2003. ISBN 0-7607-4975-2, page 18.
2Ibid., page 1880.