Schopenhauer does see two values of acquaintances; first as a means to better understand the character of humanity or in his words “the melancholy elements of which most men are made.”7 Each experience of the traits of others should be seen as additional information, “Your attitude towards it will be that of the mineralogist who stumbles upon a very characteristic specimen of a mineral.”8 The second is the opportunity to practice restraint or as he tells us, “it will be found that all those who profess to give instruction in the wisdom of life are specially urgent in commending the practice of silence…”9 after which he quotes an Arabian proverb: “The tree of silence bears the fruit of peace.” It seems after all that there is a bit of the stoic in the cynical Schopenhauer with this: “Give way to neither love nor hate, is one half of worldly wisdom, say nothing and believe nothing, is the other half.”10
We turn next to Schopenhauer’s American contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the optimist/romantic with his whimsical, high-minded opinions. Consider this, “We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken…the whole human family is bathed with an element of love like a kind ether.”11 He urges us to welcome strangers and honor mere acquaintances and rejoice to be among them. For Emerson, “a new person is to me always a great event and hinders me from sleep.”12 Clearly he views strangers and acquaintances from the vantage point of potential friendship not animosity.
Yet even Emerson admits “What a perpetual disappointment is actual society, even of the virtuous and gifted!”13 and he advises we “be admonished by what you already see, not to strike leagues of friendship with cheap persons, where no friendship can be.”14 The purpose of acquaintance for Emerson then is as a pool of persons whom we filtrate for potential friends secured by a gradual process of cultivation. We must take the blame for our failure: “Our friendships hurry to short and poor conclusions, because we have made them a texture of wine and dreams, instead of a tough fibre of the human heart… we have aimed at a swift and petty benefit, to suck a sudden sweetness. We snatch at the slowest fruit in the garden of God, which many summers and many winters must ripen.”15 It is almost as if he is reminding Schopenhauer that acquaintance requires time and effort to develop into friendship.
Between the Stoics and these two 19th century thinkers we conclude, the society of acquaintances may be disappointing and unsettling, but is essential to human thriving. The value of the company of others is not only the tangible need for human interaction, but also the opportunity to confirm one’s capacity to maintain inner tranquility, experience the benefits of restraint and silence, and learn more on the nature of mankind. And of course, acquaintances are the pool of invaluable friendships. Next we look at the last area of purpose and others – strangers.
7Schopenhauer, Arthur, Counsels and Maxims (part of The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims). Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1995. ISBN 978-1-57392-033-9, page 66.
8Ibid. 9Ibid., page 81. 10Ibid.
11Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Essays and English Traits. Grolier Enterprise Corp., Danbury, Connecticut, 1993 (The Harvard Classics). Page 105. (You would never hear this from Schopenhauer.).
12Ibid., page 107 13Ibid., page 109 . 14Ibid., page 117 .
15Ibid., page 109 .