There is a lot of talk about “closing the gap” and overcoming “income inequality.” Some of it is pure socialism: Redistribute! Redistribute! Others look for ways to create jobs and help people create new financial opportunities for themselves.
But what about the simple gift of friendship?
At The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead suggests that friendship can bridge income gaps, and creates safety nets for people in ways government and even private agencies cannot. We all have close friends and family we know we can count on, but Olmstead (quoting Richard Beck) says “weak ties” must not be overlooked. “Weak ties” would be that sorority sister you actually haven’t laid eyes on in 12 years, but talk to daily on Facebook, or that second cousin you only see at family weddings and funerals.
Weak ties—distant relatives, acquaintances from our neighborhood or past—are usually more diverse in their background, tastes, and employment. This wider “social web” gives us philanthropic ammunition: when you see someone in need, you don’t just bring your own talents and gifts to the table. You bring everyone you’ve ever met—”Bluntly, you might not be able to help this person in a particular situation but you might know someone else who can. In sacramental friendships you are bringing the gift of your weak ties.”
Isn’t that a lovely idea: “sacramental friendship?” It is the noble idea that our gift of self can bring grace and hope to someone who’s lost a job, suffered a loss, is fighting illness. This is the very basis of subsidiarity: the part of Catholic social teaching that says those closest to a problem should be allowed to solve it.
I distinctly remember the Blizzard of 1978. In the rural Michigan area where I grew up, snow plows were days away. Our neighbors, who were dairy farmers, loaded up their snowmobiles with fresh milk and eggs and brought them over, since there was no way we could get to the store. Olmstead again:
Friendship is a diverse and beautiful thing—it’s a proactive, personal, and private solvent to a very large and public problem. It deals with the dilemma on a case-by-case basis. It reaches out via the various spheres and circles open to the people in question. Granted, it’s not a solid, comprehensive, quantifiable solution to inequality. But it is an important, and oft-ignored, piece in the giant solution puzzle.