A Familiar Face

The Importance of an Accomplice

There is no small truth to the expression, "as thick as thieves."

It is Thursday again. Amazing how quickly a week goes by. In anticipation of a predictable yet unforeseeable string of events that may or may not take place in the next 12 hours, I thought some observations on the nature of friendship particularly apt.

A friend, a real friend as opposed to an acquaintance, is best understood as an accomplice. All degrees of friendship can be directly related to the significance of the acts committed in common. This is what we mean when we vaguely refer to having "been through a lot" with so-and-so, it is their complicity rather than their personality that marks them as a friend. Of course, the range of any person's willingness to join you in myriad undertakings, both daring and mundane, is probably very much a matter of personality, however, the distinction remains important. Personality in this case is best understood as potentiality, as passive characteristics and traits. Just because someone is generous doesn't mean that they exhibit that generosity when you need it most.

To become an accomplice, most of the time, is at least in some sense a willed act. The idea of an unwitting accomplice is not really applicable here, because the consequence of the act does not really determine complicity and to say that one is unwitting is a polite way of saying you don't know what's going on. We choose to take part in a world in common, perhaps in part because of something we see in our co-conspirators, perhaps because they are the only ones with similar designs. The result is a permanence to our experience that exists beyond our own fickle memories, a story held in trust and recounted with confidence amidst strangers and outsiders.

There are those who withhold their complicity, whether out of some obstinate independence rooted in insecurity, or an unwillingness to commit to anything uncertain. These unsteady accomplices shroud themselves in superficiality. They are the first to flee at the sound of an alarm, the first to fold in the prisoner's game, the first to forget what has taken place. These false friends move in a realm of mere acquaintance, or worse still, as collectors of living curios. They recount the deeds of others as their own, conjure imaginary intimacy, trade in secrets like used books. These forlorn souls are perhaps also righteous souls, untainted by nefarious deeds. So much the worse for them. To travel the high road alone is a far cry from stealing the road signs by night with some friends.