Good fights produce good friends.
Here, we’ll explore one verse in detail.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” ~ Proverbs 17:17 (NKJV)
Most commentaries on this verse interpret it to mean that a true friend will stick with you through good times and bad. A friend who loves at all times is a ‘rainy day’ friend. When tough times come, a true friend will see it through with you.
While this perspective is implicitly and intuitively true, this verse could be interpreted to have another meaning. As a comparison, the Chinese have a proverb that is roughly translated as,
“Good fights produce good friends.”
The idea is that people don’t really know and understand one another until they fight over an issue. But when they have a fight, they often discover that they really want the same thing, but are trying to go about it in different ways. As a result of the fight, they uncover their shared interests, and find that they are indeed friends.
The implications of this Chinese proverb resonates deeply with my experience in life, so I looked up the original meaning of the verse in Proverbs, to see if it might also be interpreted this way.
The Hebrew meaning of the word ‘love’, (157:oheb) is ‘a human love to a human object’. Other verses which use this word in various ways, mention the love of sleep (Proverbs 20:13), the love of idolatry (Hosea 4:13), the love of a slave towards a good master (Exodus 21:5), a woman’s love for man (1 Samuel 18:20), and also a man’s love for his wife (Genesis 24:67; Genesis 29:20).
The stipulation that follows, ‘loves at all times’, is what denotes the faithfulness of a true friend. It goes without saying, that if a friend betrays you, even once, he is not a true friend.
The word for adversity (6869: sa-rah) is interpreted as ‘ a narrow path’, ‘tightness’ or (hilariously) ‘a female rival’. Tightness certainly ramps up the competition. The patriarch Abraham was known as the father of faith, and Sarah was the name of his wife. Of particular interest, the word could also be interpreted as ‘adversary’ (i.e. an opponent), which points strongly towards the Chinese concept.
Paramount to the present study, I wanted to determine whether the preposition used in conjunction with ‘adversity’ could be interpreted in another manner, namely, is it ‘for adversity’, or ‘from adversity’? I am not an expert in Hebrew, but from what I could gather from BibleHub, the original Hebrew could be best translated as ‘of adversity’, so this interpretation also tends to support the meaning of the Chinese proverb.
Perhaps the key to understanding the usage is found in the word, ‘born’ (3205:yalad), which means ‘to bear, bring forth, or beget’. Perhaps the English word ‘borne’ could better represent the idea. So another translation of the latter part of Proverbs 17:17 might be, ‘a brother is borne out of a tight female rival’.
Joking aside, the concept behind the Chinese proverb seems to hold up as an acceptable exegesis of the verse in Proverbs.
In further support of this argument, the remainder of this post will recount three true stories of how friendships were forged out of offenses.
Case Study 1: Fights Beget Friends
Here, I’ll retell a family story about my uncle.
When my uncle was in high school, back in 1953, he had a quiet personality, and he was really thin. He was so thin, that other guys taunted him by calling him ‘Sticks’. One guy, Richie, was especially hard on him, pushing him around, knocking his books on the floor, flipping his cafeteria tray onto his lap, and generally making his life very hard. One day, my uncle had had enough, and he made a bold declaration to Richie in front of everyone who happened to be around them at that moment. He said to Richie,
“If you ever touch me again, I’m going to give you a knuckle sandwich!”
Richie laughed it off with some additional taunts, and no one took it very seriously. Richie always thought he could beat Sticks in a fist fight, and most of their classmates believed the same, but he was wrong. Later that week, Richie shoved Sticks in the back as he was walking down the hall. As a result, Sticks fell down and cut his lip. So Sticks left his books on the floor, stood up, and worked Richie over.
No one blamed Sticks for fighting back, because Richie was famous for bullying Sticks. Even the teachers looked the other way and refused to either punish Sticks or sympathize with Richie. Everyone thought Richie got what he deserved.
After this incident, Richie changed his attitude towards Sticks. He apologized to Sticks, and Sticks accepted. Soon, they started hanging out together after school. Richie grew to respect Sticks, and they became lifelong friends. My uncle also began to own the name, ‘Sticks’, and he would allow his closest friends, including Richie, to call him by this nickname. This was a mark of true forgiveness and grace. Eventually, the name morphed to ‘Stix’, which was considered a pretty cool nickname back then.
When my uncle died last month, Richard was there to give a eulogy. He retold the story of how he and Stix became friends. He said, in so many of his own words, that Stix taught him how to appreciate the goodness in other people, and how to enjoy life. He also said, while weeping, that Stix was a good man (quite a compliment these days), and that he was the best friend he ever had.
Case Study 2: AMOG’s Need Friends and Fellowship Too
When I was 6 years old, my family moved to a rural neighborhood. There was another kid who lived down the street who was a year older than me, and he was a lot bigger too. He also had two older brothers, so he enjoyed being exposed to a lot of masculine viewpoints. In the quick, he was a bully. He walked around the neighborhood, seemingly with the sole purpose of extolling his AMOG status among the other children in the neighborhood. Whenever I was playing outside, he would walk across our yard, and push me down on the ground. If I tried to stand up, he would push me down again. Since he was older and bigger than me, and since his brothers had taught him how to fight, there wasn’t much I could do. This happened with such regularity, that after a while, whenever I saw him coming, I would just sit down on the ground and give him a really hard look, because I was angry that he was disturbing my play time. He would just laugh at me, and walk away. Conflict averted.
One day, I saw him coming across the neighbor’s lawn towards our house. At that time, I was just about finished playing, so I went into the house to avoid him. But he came and knocked on our door, looking for me, which was out of the ordinary. I knew who it was, so I refused to answer the door.
Eventually, my mother heard him knocking and came to the door. I stood a long distance behind her and watched them talk. He asked her if I could come outside and play with him, and when she turned to look at me, I shook my head and refused, because I believed it was just a ploy to get me outside where he could bully me and push me down in the dirt. My mother understood the situation, and she talked with him for a long time, maybe 20 minutes.
After that, she came to talk with me. She urged me to go outside and play with him, and I objected with a brief summary of the history of our interaction. My mother asserted that something was different that time, and that I should give him another chance. She also said if I went outside and he still pushed me around, then she would never ask me to go play with him again. So I took her word, and went to the door to talk with him.
First, he apologized, saying he was sorry that he pushed me around. He said that he wouldn’t do that anymore, and that he wanted to be friends with me. I believed him, and went outside to play with him. Ever since that day, we became pretty close friends, and we played together nearly every day. One of our favorite activities was playing war games in the woods adjacent to our neighborhood.
He did change. He was still an aggressive person, and he often challenged me and the other boys to do push-ups, wrestle, climb ropes, wade through deep streams, and to never act ‘gay’. But instead of making it seem like a fearful test of qualification for acceptance into (perceived) ‘manhood’, he made it fun and challenging. He even said the same things – “Get away from me, you faggot!” “Come on, you fat-ass wuss! Give me one more (push-up)!” – But instead of having an angry, belligerent countenance, he smiled and laughed when he said these things. That made all the difference.
A few years later in high school, he became a star. He was the captain of the wrestling team, and he was the leading quarterback for the football team. His girlfriend was the hottest cheerleader on the squad. He was also a straight A student. I liked him because he had a real appetite for life, he was very intelligent, and he had a very congenial but presumptively sarcastic sense of humor. After graduating, he joined the Marine Corps, served a tour in Iraq, and then became a drill sergeant for the remainder of his service.
Many years later, I asked him what had changed in his life, on that day he apologized for being a bully and invited me to be his friend. He told me a little story.
“My brothers went 4-wheeling, and they wouldn’t let me come because I was too young. I started crying about that, and I complained that I would be stuck at home and bored all day because I didn’t have anyone to play with. My brothers told me, ‘That’s your own fault. If you weren’t such a big-headed bully, you would have a lot of friends. Time for you to do something about that. See you later!’ After that, I realized that I had to change my attitude. I had to stop intimidating people just for the fun of it, and start giving them a chance. So after they left, I went looking for you.”
In short, he was humbled. He realized that he needed other people, friends, to have a full life, and that he cannot always be the beneficiary of a relationship. He also learned that he can be the head manager of those relationships in which he is the dominant figure. That’s gold!
Case Study 3: Reframing an Offense to be Objective Establishes Respect
When I was in college, I got a job working at a Honda plant over the summers. I took this job because it was the best paying job I could get as a young man with no working experience. I worked as a spot welder for a while, but after the boss discovered that I had learned how to MIG weld in my high school shop class, he moved me over to another assembly line to work as a welder. On this assembly line, there were three groups working on batches of the same parts. Each group had a welder, and an inspector. My inspector was a very short black man, somewhere under 5 feet tall (150 cm.). I was a fairly strong white guy who was 6’3” (190 cm.).
Now welding is a hot, dirty job. On one sweltering day in July, not long after we started working together, I was sweating profusely. My sweat was dripping down inside my shroud and preventing me from seeing clearly through the visor. Overcome with heat exhaustion and exasperation, I pulled off my hood and wiped my face, and exclaimed,
“Ahh boy! It’s so hot in here!”
The next thing I knew, my inspector threw down his tools and marched up to me. He was wagging his finger and shouting at me, saying,
“Look here! I ain’t no boy! Don’t ever call me no boy! You hear me?”
I was shocked. It took me a moment to realize that he had heard my off-the-cuff complaint about the heat, and had interpreted my innocent, Charlie Brownish interjection, ‘boy’, as a personal insult directed towards him. I looked down at him for the longest time, wondering what I should say.
At first, I thought of telling him the truth – that it was just an innocent exclamation, and that I wasn’t talking about him. But he was visibly angry. He kept direct eye-contact, and continued to wag his finger while he waited for my response. A lot of coworkers started to stare at us.
After a moment, I realized that if I told him the truth, he wouldn’t believe it. He would just think I was a racist coward who was resorting to a passive aggressive denial. I was also impressed with the courage this guy was showing. No doubt, he must have prepared himself for the worst reaction out of me.
[Eds. note: The inspector interpreted the casual statement as a subjective offense, but his confrontation was an attempt to transform it into an objective offense. Kudo’s to him.]
Finally, I realized that the wisest thing I could do was to own it and apologize to him. So I said,
“I’m sorry. I won’t call you a boy any more. I’m sorry.”
He backed down, and slowly strutted back to his jig and resumed working as if nothing had happened. The other workers around us, many of them black, gradually shifted their steely gazes off of me, and returned to their tasks as well.
After this incident, to my great consternation, I started to attract a lot of respect from the black community within the factory. One black guy invited me to visit a prostitute with him. He said he would pay for both of us. I recognized his invitation to be an honor (of sorts), but I declined. Another black guy heard that I played bass guitar and invited me to join his band. The floor supervisor, who was also black, started giving me a lot of favorable attention too.
One day, while I was working with my welding hood on (and unaware of anything going on around me), I took a big step backwards away from the jig, and I accidentally stepped on the boss’s foot. I whipped my hood off and turned around, and I was very surprised to see him standing there, wearing a hood himself, and watching me weld. After he took his hood off, he said I was the only welder in the plant that produced work that always passed inspection without needing to be reworked. He also told me that, after watching me weld for the past few minutes, I was the best welder he ever saw. I was impressed by his statements, knowing that he has seen a lot of welders.
After this incident, we often talked at length about various subjects, and race relations came up frequently. I was able to talk with the boss about a lot of issues that most other whites were not at liberty to discuss with blacks. For example, I asked the boss why blacks always voted for Democrats, even though the KKK were also avowed Democrats. He said that the Democratic party was ‘the party for the people’, and while it is unfortunate that the KKK are also Democrats, they too recognize that the Democratic party respects the common man, such as themselves.
Through this intermittent dialogue, we developed a mutual respect for each other, which transcended all superficial barriers of race. The next summer, the boss called me to ask if I would be coming back to work with them that season. I did go back to work there for another summer.
Through all of this, I gained a new appreciation for the black community. They had some strict boundaries, but they also had the courage to enforce them, and they were very graceful when treated with dignity and respect.
They understood that a brother is borne out of adversity.
During an altercation, humans open themselves to a volatile, heated interchange, and by doing so, they make themselves emotionally transparent and vulnerable. Through this contention, they each present a convincing, nonverbal, and visceral expression of what is most important to them. It is conducive to the formation of a deeper friendship because it is a form of acceptance, in that it doesn’t ignore or reject the other person. Often, the contenders are unable to control the outcome of the clash, and thus, the emotional expression characteristic of a fight can often become an act of humility, faith, and trust in a higher power.
The application of the scriptural truths discussed earlier prove that most modern day sympathies, such as Political Correctness, and the subjectivity of offense, are a genuine thorn in the crawl concerning the real process of establishing eternal, Biblical quality friendships. Without an issue at play, and the genuine interests being expressed by those involved, people cannot discover their role in the scrimmage, and what their shared interests might be. As a result, they miss the opportunity to truly understand one another.
The moral of the story is that being too proud, too complacent, or too fearful to create waves is a recipe for failure. Don’t be hesitant to draw boundaries and enforce them, even if it might get you involved in an altercation. Remember to keep it objective, and look for common ground where an alliance might take root and spring up.