Mainichi Daily News
Monday, July 8, 1996
POLITICAL STRUGGLE IS THE TRUE TEST OF FRIENDSHIP
"A Friend In Need"
Once poetic concepts such as villainy and honor, cowardice and heroism, become common currency; the stuff of epics is lived through from day to day. Duplicity and treachery cease to be merely the vivid creations of imaginative writers and become instead the trappings of familiars who have basked in one's affections and partaken freely of one's goodwill. The kiss of Judas is no longer just a metaphor, it is the repeated touch of cool perfidity on one's cheek. Those once held in trust and esteem show themselves capable of infinite self-deception as they seek to deceive others. Spines ostensibly made of steel soften and bend like wax in the heat of a high Burmese summer.
But man stripped of all props except that of his spirit is astounding not only in the depths he is capable of plumbing, but also the heights that he can scale. An individual who appears weak turns out to possess adamantine qualities. The easy-going "featherweight" demonstrates a solid capacity for self-sacrifice and integrity.
The most indifferent seeming character unexpectedly proves to be a fountain of warmth and kindness; a caring, meticulous nursemaid to those suffering physical pain or mental anguish. The glaring light of adversity reveals all the rainbow hues of the human character and brings out the true colors of people, particularly those who purport to be your friends.
There is an anthology of pithy sayings, the /Lokaniti/, which has traditionally been regarded in Burma as a guide to prudent behavior. It is a combination of shrewd observations and moral principles intended to help us negotiate the pitfalls of worldly existence. The section of the /niti/ devoted to friendship displays a fair degree of cynicism: "In poverty, a friend forsakes you; son, and wife, and brothers too forsake you: Wealth in this world is a great friend." Then there is a definition of friendship which would set those who have run the gamut of the vicissitudes of political struggle in Burma nodding their heads vigorously in agreement: "The friends who stand by you in severe ailment, in time of scarcity, or in misfortune, when captured by an enemy, at the a king's door, or in the charnel-house, they indeed are good friends."
During the hectic days of late May and early June, when a series of critical political events were triggered off by the arrests of the members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), a stream of foreign correspondents came to find out how we were coping with the situation. A number of them commented on the fact that we did not appear to be unhappy. "U Tin U is smiling broadly and U Kyi Maung is cracking jokes," one said. "Why are you not in a state of distress? Isn't the situation rather grim?"
I suppose the situation could have been seen as grim by some, but to us, it was just another challenge; and the knowledge that we were facing it together with proven friends was ample reason for good cheer.
A doctor once recommended thinking happy thoughts as a most effective remedy for diverse illnesses. Certainty one of the happiest of thoughts is of one's friends: old friends with whom you have shared youthful dreams of an ideal world, new friends with whom you are striving to achieve a realistic version of that ideal. It is comforting to know that friends you have not met for several decades, leading secure lives in countries where their rights are protected by law, care as much for your welfare now as they did in the days when the Beatles were young and you argued over Dag Hammarskjold's /Markings/. Friends telephone across continents and oceans to find out how I am and to exchange news.
We never talk about anything world shaking, never discuss anything out of the ordinary, we just make conventional inquiries about each other's health and families and a few light hearted remarks about the current situation. But each unimportant conversation is a solemn confirmation of friendship. I have a friend who, if I happen to be too busy to take the call, leaves a simple message: "Tell her I called." It is enough to dissolve all the cares of the day.
According to the teachings of Buddhism, a good friend is one who gives things hard to give, does what is hard, bears with hard words, tells you his secrets, guards your secrets assiduously, does not forsake you in times of want and does not condemn you when you are ruined.
With such friends, one can travel the roughest road and not be defeated by hardship. Indeed, the rougher the path, the greater the delight in the company of /kalyanamitta/, good and noble friends who stand by us in times of adversity.
This article is one of a yearlong series of letters, the Japanese translation of which appears in the Mainichi Shimbun the same day, or the previous day in some areas.