Editor & Publisher, Deseret News
Paul Edwards is the Editor and Publisher of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah. Prior to joining the Deseret News in 2010, Edwards was Executive Vice President and Provost at Southern Virginia University. He previously served as President of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the Institute for Humane Studies, also at George Mason. Edwards also taught political science at Brigham Young University.
Brother Edwards earned his JD and PhD at the University of California at Berkeley where he was an editor of the California Law Review. He served as a judicial law clerk on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He graduated with university honors from Brigham Young University where he studied history. He also studied French language and culture at the Sorbonne (University of Paris).
Brother Edwards is married to Margo Robison, who graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in English and a Masters in Library Science. The Edwards live in Highland, Utah, and are the parents of four children. Margo is an accomplished vocal musician and currently sings with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Brother Edwards served his mission in Geneva, Switzerland (1982-84). He has served in numerous church callings, including Stake Young Men's President, High Councilor, Elders Quorum President, and Ward Mission Leader. The majority of his church service has been with the Aaronic Priesthood where he worked closely with Priests, Teachers and Deacons as an advisor and Scout leader. He currently serves as a Gospel Doctrine teacher.
My purpose in addressing you today is to reflect on the gift of friendship in a gospel context. My hope and my prayer is that these reflections will help you and me to become more Christlike friends.
If you remember nothing else from our discussion today, I hope you will consider that one of the most important opportunities presented to you at this formative moment in your life is the opportunity to make lifelong friends who will influence how you think and act. Chosen and fostered carefully, such friendships will, in the words of the booklet The Strength of Youth, "help you be a better person and will make it easier for you to live the gospel of Jesus Christ."1
When President Gilbert asked me to speak to you in this devotional setting it was on the heels of some deeply meaningful interactions with old friends. Those experiences led me to ponder on my own stewardship of the friendships in my life, which in turn led me to a more focused study of friendship itself.
Let me begin by briefly comparing friendship with family.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, particularly those endowed in its temples, have been well tutored in the importance of the marital and parental relationships associated with the eternal family.
As members of the Brigham Young University-Idaho community, you were particularly blessed with powerful teaching on the doctrine of the family in this setting just last week by President and Sister Gilbert, whose very lives exemplify what they taught.
Stable, consecrated families are central to God's plan of happiness. They are eternal in nature, but their blessings are felt profoundly during our mortal sojourn. They have proven to be the most effective institution for stabilizing society thru their nurturance of children and their moral refinement of committed parents. Because of their permanency and importance, family relationships have been rightly stressed in our theology and teaching.
But consider how little agency is involved in the formation of family relationships. In modern Western society, you have full agency to decide with whom you will share sacred marital vows. (Thank goodness!) But you didn't have a say in who brought you into this world. You didn't have a say in who is designated as your brother or sister. And you clearly didn't have any say in who married your aunt, or the little urchins they brought into the world. And yet, assuming there has been no abuse present, to each of these unchosen relations you owe a familial obligation.
And, isn't it fascinating to consider that it is only adoptive parents who are allowed some modest choice in who become their children.
By contrast, we have been given full agency to choose our friends. Friendship is an act of mutual choice persisting only as long as it is beneficial to both parties. Perhaps because it is so closely related to taste and choice and born of serendipity, friendship has received far less attention than family in formal religious teaching and guidance.
And yet near the end of his life, Joseph Smith taught that: "Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism.'"2
This evocative nugget of teaching came just months after Joseph had received the revelation recorded in Doctrine & Covenants 130 about the eternal nature of our social relations: "And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy."3
Indeed, our baptismal covenant enjoins us to connect ourselves to the well-being of those who mourn or stand in need of comfort.4
We all know that we have covenantal obligations to family. But I think it is clear from scriptural precept and narrative that we have important sacred obligations of care that extend beyond our family.
Nonetheless, let me be clear that what I share today about friendship is not what I would consider doctrine. Your salvation does not hang on my insights. Indeed, my insights may be worth precisely what you have paid for them. But I do think that they have been culled from inspired accumulated wisdom intended to help you enjoy greater happiness in this life.
Now I am also the first to admit it is very likely you, and not I, that should be teaching about friendship.
According to a recent survey, 18-24 year olds average 649 friends on Facebook.5
On average, you have about 200 more friends on Facebook than I do. Based on your "friending" behaviors on Facebook, you are demonstrably nearly 50 percent "friendlier" than I am.
But, as much as we may love how social media allows us to quickly peruse pictures of the four cheese omelet made by the our cousin's fiancée, , or experience the tropical vacation sunset of a chum from high school, other social indicators suggest that we have fewer intimate friends than did the adults of yesteryear.
In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks notes that:
Decades ago, people typically told pollsters that they had four or five close friends, people to whom they could tell everything. Now the common answer is two or three, and the number of people with no confidants has doubled. Thirty-five percent of older adults report being chronically lonely, up from 20 percent a decade ago.6
And, according to Sara Konrath at the University of Michigan, the self-reported empathy of college students has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. "Almost 75 percent of students today rate themselves as less empathic than the average student 30 years ago."7
So even though you have far more friends on Facebook, will you allow me to share some of what I have learned recently about friendship and some of what I have learned over my lifetime? And then let's talk about what it all means as we resolve to be more Christlike friends.
As the prior studies have demonstrated, I have learned that in our age of near limitless virtual connectivity, far too many people are very much alone, a condition the Lord has identified from the very beginning as "not good."8
Of course, the scriptural allusion I have made is to our need for marital love and family. But I believe it applies to other forms of human love and companionship. The Lord did not intend for us to "go it alone." And his prophets have emphasized this:
Said Brigham Young "I have heard Elders say they were not dependant upon any man,... I consider that we are all dependent one upon another for our exhaltation and that our interest is inseparably connected."9
The ancient Greeks had much more nuanced language for relationships than do we. And I think those ancient distinctions can be useful for us moderns who overuse the words of romantic love. (You know what I mean: should we really use the verb "adore" for that expensive piece of clothing that we, in all truth, covet? Must an apparent friendship bond between males be mischaracterized as a "bromance"?)10
There are at least four "loves" that the ancient Greeks carefully distinguished in their speech and writing.
Eros captured for the Greeks not only sensual desire but that very passionate, very personal longing for a particular person—what we moderns refer to as romantic love.
Agape is the Greek word for abiding non-sexual love that the early Christian writers used to capture the love of God. It is unconditional, unchanging, and perhaps best approximated by the word charity. Forms of the word agape are used, for instance, in the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John to talk about the love of God.
But the Greeks made helpful distinctions about the depth of the love exhibited in other relationships.
Storge is how they talked about natural affection or empathy—that intuitive, comfortable and familiar kindness that one doesn't have to do a lot to cultivate. It is how well adjusted people feel toward cousins and companions. It is the kind of affection I have toward the first grade class of children I read to at a local elementary school. I wish I knew them individually—but in honesty I don't—and yet I am not lying when I say "I love those kids." This is my understanding of the Greek concept of storge.
And then there is philia, sometimes referred to as "brotherly love," (e.g., philia forms the root of the name Philadelphia, which has long been known as the City of Brotherly Love). This is the kind of love I want us to consider in depth today as I talk about friendship. As one writer put it, this is "the deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms who had fought side by side on the battlefield. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them."11
This is the kind of deep friendship we see in the scriptures between David and Jonathan, united in their fight against the Philistines. The First Book Samuel beautifully describes them as having their souls knit together.12
And philia is not just for "brothers in arms." You might know it as the deep friendship between Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, and Ron Weasley, one of the greatest of all fictional friendship trios. They were brought together from vastly different backgrounds as classmates, but their friendship and loyalty was forged (as I was reminded by my daughter Miriam) in their battle against the Mountain Troll. J.K. Rowling makes that clear; "[F]rom that moment on, Hermione Granger became [Harry and Ron's] friend. There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them." 13
The great 20th century Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, wrote a masterful monograph in 1960 about the distinctions between storge, philia, eros and agape. It is titled, quite simply, The Four Loves, and is has formed the backbone of my recent study of friendship. I commend it without reservation. Among the many insights to take from Lewis' study is that these categories of love are not hermetically sealed. They bleed and blend into one another. A great marriage relationship, for example, should benefit from the best of romance, friendship and charity.
About the relationship between storge (empathy) and philia (friendship) Lewis wrote, "Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one.'"14
This is very much how my friendship with President Gilbert developed. We met in a purely professional setting because we were both administrators in higher education. It didn't take long for us to recognize within one another a shared passion for student achievement, a shared recognition about how poorly contemporary higher education was organized to accelerate that kind of accomplishment, and a shared sense of mission that it was important to dramatically improve that system. "What? You too? I thought I was the only one."
Lewis states: "To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it."15
I love that description of friendship as a school of virtue.
David Brooks puts friendship at the heart of his discussion of character development:
[C]haracter is built not only through austerity and hardship. It is also built sweetly through love and pleasure. When you have deep friendships with good people, you copy and then absorb some of their best traits. When you love a person deeply, you want to serve them and earn their regard. ... Moreover, the struggle against the weaknesses in yourself is never a solitary struggle. No person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason, compassion, and character are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride, greed, and self-deception. Everybody needs redemptive assistance from outside—from family, friends, ancestors, rules, traditions, institutions, exemplars, and, for believers, God. We all need people to tell us when we are wrong, to advise us on how to do right, and to encourage support, arouse, cooperate, and inspire us along the way.16
So I would ask you—are you using the friendships that God has afforded you as an instrument for redemptive assistance? When through the blessed opportunities for companionship afforded by school, work, missions and church callings you have identified that unique spark of shared interest that has you pull away from the crowd into a duo, or trio, or quartet of friends, is it a school of virtue or a school for scandal? Is your conversation edifying? Or does it devolve into criticism, gossip and conspiracy?
Don't get me wrong. I completely appreciate that part of the joy of friendship is that it affords a place where you can, on occasion, goof off, vent a frustration, or discuss a doubt. But if it is only that, then I believe you have probably found a clique rather than a fellowship.
One of the most challenging times in my graduate studies was writing my dissertation. Having successfully completed all my coursework, I was told that I was now qualified to pursue independently my original research. To some, such freedom was exhilarating. To an extrovert like myself, it was debilitating. It was a good friend who made all the difference in my ability to persist in the research, analysis, writing and rewriting that allowed me to complete my dissertation.
At one point, I would regularly share a great deal of my research with a longtime colleague who was also finishing his graduate work. The two of us had been through so much together. He knew the substance of my research and he also knew many of the faculty members on my dissertation committee. He seemed a natural ally in my cause. But I actually found that at that particular time and season of my life, that I needed to limit my interactions with him. Why? Because rather than edifying one another to do good work, our conversation almost always devolved into self-pity and critique. We were brilliantly skilled at identifying and cursing the outside forces that seemed to be conspiring against us but pretty inept at taking concrete steps toward success.
What made all the difference for me was when I made a new friend, John. Although we didn't know the substance of one another's arcane research, we shared a common sense of humor, a common outlook on life and a common aspiration for excellence and accomplishment. We would meet a few times each week, usually over cheap ethnic food, or a cup of hot chocolate. We would to listen to each other, commiserate with one another, but mostly we would celebrate our small successes and then challenge one another to keep at the mundane tasks of scholarship—the way jogging buddies egg one another on to pick up the pace. With a ready smile and an easy laugh, John's friendship helped me bear the burden of seeing my dissertation to completion.
I feel compelled to have you think about how you invest in your friendships because your college years provide an unparalleled moment within your life for rich and varied companionship that should grow into abundant lifelong friendships.
Ten years from now you will likely be on a geographically and professionally constrained path of family, work and church service. That is as it should be. But in the first half of this decade of your life, your associations are in constant flux. You are in new classes with new classmates each semester; you are serving missions around the world, transferred to new companions and locations every few months; you are pursuing internships around the country; and you are likely changing apartments and rotating roommates each year. You are afforded an array of companionships from which, I trust, will emerge deep and abiding friendships.
So, I implore you to follow this plainspoken counsel given by the First Presidency in the "Strength of Youth" about friends:
Everyone needs good and true friends. They will be a great strength and blessing to you. They will influence how you think and act, and even help determine the person you will become. They will help you be a better person and will make it easier for you to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Choose friends who share your values so you can strengthen and encourage each other in living high standards.
To have good friends, be a good friend. Show genuine interest in others; smile and let them know you care about them. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, and refrain from judging and criticizing those around you. Do not participate in any form of bullying. Make a special effort to be a friend to those who are shy or lonely, have special needs, or do not feel included.
As you seek to be a friend to others, do not compromise your standards. If your friends urge you to do things that are wrong, be the one to stand for the right, even if you stand alone. You may need to find other friends who will support you in keeping the commandments. Seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost as you make these choices.17
I testify that as you do so, that a small cadre of true face-to-face friends (as contrasted with scores of social media friends) will be a lifelong resource.
When I have turned to the Lord in my adult life for help with the death of a loved one, a troubling doubt, a wandering child, a professional setback, or a bout of the blues, He has invariably answered my prayers through the instrument of a dear old friend.
You'll remember I began by noting that the Gospel offers relatively little formal guidance on friendship. So I was struck by this sentence that I stumbled upon, written by the longtime pastor for Harvard College, Andrew P. Peabody, in his introduction to a translation of Cicero's disquisition on friendship:
"But in the life of the Founder of Christianity, who teaches, most of all, by example, friendship has its apogee—its supreme pre-eminence and honor. He treats his apostles, and speaks of and to them, not as mere disciples, but as intimate and dearly beloved friends;"18
How interesting then, that in the scriptures of the Restored Gospel, the Lord takes special effort to address his apostles as friends:
"And again I say unto you, my friends, for from henceforth I shall call you friends, it is expedient that I give unto you this commandment, that ye become even as my friends in days when I was with them, traveling to preach the gospel in my power;"19
It is as if, the Lord found in Joseph Smith and his courageous associates, those special companions who shared the Savior's same passion (and burden) to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. "What? You too? I thought I was the only one."
Thank you for the spirit of preparation and inquiry you have brought with you today. I believe that as you ponder and apply what we have discussed today it will help you (in the words of President Henry B. Eyring) to become "legendary for [your] capacity to build the people around [you] and add value wherever [you] serve.20
I am grateful that as we close our time together today we will be able to join our voices together in praise of "Each Life That Touches Ours for Good."21 As we sing Carol Lynn Davidson's hymn, I will ponder not only on the wonderful friends who have strengthened my faith and enriched my days, but also what the Spirit teaches me about how I might be a more Christlike friend. I hope and pray that you will too. In the name of our Savior, Redeemer and Friend, even Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. For the Strength of Youth, 2011, 162. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 2011, 4633. Doctrine and Covenants 130:24. Mosiah 18:8-95. "The Infinite Dial," Edison Research & Triton Digital, 2014 [www.edisonresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/The-Infinite-Dial-2014-from-Edison-Research-and-Triton-Digital.pdf]6. David Brooks, The Road to Character, April 2015, 2577. www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-me-care/8. Genesis 2:18 See also: Abraham 5:14; â€¨Moses 3:189. www.patheos.com/blogs/peculiarpeople/2012/07/individualism-communalism-and-the-foreign-past-of-mormonism/10. D.C. McAllister, "How to stop sexualizing everything," The Federalist, Dec. 2015[thefederalist.com/2015/12/28/how-to-stop-sexualizing-everything/]11. Roman Krznaric, "The Ancient Greek's Six Words for Love," Yes! Magazine, Dec. 2013 [www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life]12. 1 Samuel 18:113. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 1998, 17914. C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, Sept. 1971, 6515. C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, Sept. 1971, 5716. David Brooks, The Road to Character, April 2015, 1217. For the Strength of Youth, 2011, 16-1718. Andrew P. Peabody, "Translator's introduction to 'On Friendship and Scipio's Dream' by Marcus Tullius Cicero," 188719. Doctrine and Covenants 84:7720. Elder Henry B. Eyring, "A Steady, Upward Course," Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional, September 18, 2001.21. "Each Life That Touches Ours for Good," Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 293.