Yesterday Susan and I went to the memorial service for Charlie Ballantyne, a man we barely knew. We know his wife, Hedi, much better. She sings in the choir at the Unitarian Church and also in the Onion River Chorus.
Charlie’s health has not been good for years, so we never really had the pleasure of getting to know him. And we learned yesterday that he was, even in his younger days, a man of few words (although he wrote poetry, the literary muse of the verbally frugal). Apparently one didn’t get to know Charlie so much by speaking with him, but rather by doing things with him, or by being lucky enough to have Charlie as your neighbor. We missed out on both accounts; our loss.
So why were we there? Friends. We know a good number of people who knew Charlie well, and the impact of his passing rippled through the network of friends from those who knew him well, to those like us, who barely knew him. And there were a lot of people at the service like us, people who, provoked by the significance of death, even by the death of someone with whom they were not particularly close, took the initiative to rouse themselves from the comfort of their homes to bear witness to the memory of Charlie.
The motivation for that action serves as the introduction to my last guy in this Year of Guys, the Scottish moral philosopher John MacMurray (1891-1976), who wrote “All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all meaningful action for the sake of friendship”.
I’ve only just begun to make the acquaintance of MacMurray, but I find that statement true, bracing, intellectually rigorous, and a surprise coming from the mouth of a philosopher. The important word, it seems to me, is the one that adds octane to the assertion: “meaningful.” All knowledge is not for the sake of action; all meaningful knowledge is. All action is not for the sake of friendship; all meaningful action is.
Friendship is a very high calling and when we are thinking clearly, a great motivator for meaningful action. And it’s thrilling to realize that there’s a link between meaningful knowledge and the significance of friendship.