EngagePerspectivesFriendship Loves Free Air
Citizenship Icon Dialogue Icon Service Icon Wellness Icon

Friendship Loves Free Air

Penn, who is perhaps most famous for chartering the Pennsylvania colony, was a Quaker who spent time in prison for his religious beliefs. So, when Penn writes here about freedom and “free air” it is written by a man who knows intimately the absence of freedom. Further, Quakers are often referred to as “the society of friends” so this exposition on friendship is one that has a near sacred significance.

There can be no friendship without freedom. Friendship loves free air…It speaks freely and acts so too. It takes no ill when no ill was meant, and even when ill was meant friendship willingly forgives—and forgets—on the slightest admission. True friends reveal their thoughts freely, advise justly, help willingly, take risks boldly, endure patiently, defend courageously and continue unchangeably.

– William Penn The Fruits of Solitude (1693)

In this current moment, what are the particular challenges evoked by Penn’s definition of friendship?  Why is his assertion “that there can be no friendship without freedom” and especially the freedom to speak and forgive (and forget) “on the slightest admission” words spoken, worth extra consideration in the age of social media and political polarization? Some may argue that friendship has been cheapened by its use as a verb on sites like FB, some might argue that discourse itself has been cheapened by the lack of thought that goes into composing a tweet, a cable news sound bite or another digital missive.

Wayne Stratz, Joyce Kozloff Mosaic of William Penn in Suburban Station, Philadelphia
Wayne Stratz, Joyce Kozloff Mosaic of William Penn in Suburban Station, Philadelphia.

Yet, one could also argue that this is precisely the time that true friends are deeply needed and cherished. Living amidst the social restrictions of COVID-19, makes connecting with friends deeply meaningful in ways taken for granted pre-pandemic. During this time of deep political and social divisiveness, Penn’s last sentence gives me pause. I am grateful for “true friends” with whom I can be free and “take risks boldly.” I need to make sure that I am able to “advise justly, help willingly…endur(e) patiently” and “defend courageously” even when so much is swirling around. If a friend says something not in line with what I know to be true, can I push back in a way that reveals to them that I am not going anywhere, that I will “continue unchangeably” committed not just to the ideas we are discussing but to them, my friend?

Related Content

Keep Reading

Friends sitting next to lake watching sunset

How Perceptions of Support Network Impacts Emotional, Physical and Social Wellbeing of College Students

In this special episode of the The PARK Podcast, Steven-John Kounoupis and Venus Tian of the Icarus Research Group weave together academic research and first-account interviews to deliver a multi-dimensional conversation on social isolation and mental health. The discussion focuses on the nature of social isolation and social networks in college, sharing diverse perspective on how socialization impacts health and how social wellness impacts our ability to have strong connections with others. Learn More
Photograph of old house

Contemplative Social Movements and How We See

The desire to change society resonates well with Gen Z for whom political activism is a generational hallmark. John Della Volpe’s book, Fight: How Gen Z is Channeling their Fear and Passion to Save America, uses survey data to demonstrate how Gen Z is using democratic means to voice their frustrations with older generations’ inaction on pressing social issues. “For them, America at times has resembled a dystopia. But they won’t sit back and take it. They’ve decided to fight their own war against injustice and inequality right here at home.” From climate change, to gun control, racial equality to reproductive rights, Gen Z is speaking out and showing up to contentious political battles. Learn More
book cover

A Book Club Where You Don't have to Read the Book to Feel Included in the Conversation

Nineteenth surgeon general of the United States Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, traveled the nation to contextualize loneliness. He listened to voices often unheard, met with change-makers, and started a wellness group with friends. His findings toward a connected life served as a starting point toward a conversation on empathy in this year's SNF Paideia fellows’ book club.Learn More