I recently read Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on "Friendship" in "Self Reliance and Other Essays". As with his essay "Self Reliance", there is much with which I agree, but some significant issues with which I disagree ... most notably his emphasis on the requirement of symmetry in friendships.
Among the themes Emerson emphasizes that resonate with me are the importance of truth, tenderness, and "rough courage" -- the willingness of friends to speak their truth(s) without reserve. I feel ambivalent about his "law of one to one", stipulating that true conversation can only occur between pairs of conversants (vs. larger groups); while most of my deepest conversations have been 1:1, I have also participated in deep and enriching exchanges among larger groups of people ... although I will admit that these have been more the exception than the rule.
I do not agree with Emerson's notion that all friendships must be equal and symmetrical:
"I ought to be equal to every relation. It makes no difference how many friends I have, and what content I can find in conversing with each, if there be one to whom I am not equal. If I have shrunk unequal from one contest, the joy I find in all the rest becomes mean and cowardly."
I believe that friendships follow the law of karma rather than the law of symmetry. There is always give and take in any relationship; in my experience, at any time, with any friend, I judge that I am usually disproportionately giving or receiving. In some cases, this giving / receiving ratio may balance out over time, but I have some friendships in which I do not believe we have reached, or ever will reach, parity. I am grateful for the friends who have been been willing to give me so much more than I can ever "repay" ... and I can only hope that I, in turn, have been able to help other friends, some of whom may not be able to directly "repay" me. While I may not be giving and receiving in equal proportion with any one particular friend at any given time, I do believe that the cumulative giving and receiving balances out across all friendships.
Now, even as I write this, I realize that even when I am giving, I am also receiving. I rarely share any insights or experiences with my friends that I do not also benefit from hearing or reading [again] -- anything I say, I say as much for my own benefit as anyone else's. I also experience great joy whenever I feel I am able to give something of value to a friend. Perhaps the friends who I believe are far more giving in our relationships receive similar benefits ... and so there may exist some kind of symmetry even at the 1:1 level.
I enjoyed some of Emerson's statistically improbable phrases (based on my filter) -- cordial exhiliration, commended stranger, high freedom of great conversation, mush of concession -- and will conclude below with a few of the longer exerpts from the essay that I found particularly provocative and/or profound.