Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?
In the spirit of what Facebook yesterday called Happy Friends Day, I thought it apropos to quote something about friendship and ended up stumbling on Murakami Haruki’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. However, unlike almost all the other quotes I use as part of this series, I have to say that I vehemently disagree with it. Whether this passage is exclusively the belief of the book’s protagonist, Toru Okada, or of Murakami himself, either way I don’t buy in to it.
Although Murakami’s characters tend to sway more to the cynical side of things, usually it’s not a “hot issue” (Norwegian Wood is a prime example). Perhaps it’s a cultural difference? Maybe it’s a trait of Murakami’s characters? I don’t know for sure, but what I do believe is that if you don’t “know anything important about anyone,” you don’t have what the Koreans call nunchi (눈치) and the Japanese call kidzui (気づい), which is essentially an emotional quotient high enough to read others’ feelings and mood.
It’s not about knowing the most number of secrets about a friend, for example, that makes you close. It’s understanding their inner workings, sympathizing with what you share in common, while empathizing when unable to relate directly. In the case of Toru Okada and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, I think this passage actually works because here’s a guy whose wife walks out on him one day out of the blue while going to look for their cat, never to return. After a series of encounters with some legendary supporting characters (May Kasahara, Lieutenant Honda, Creta and Malta Kano, Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka and, of course, the legendary Boris the Skinner), the only contact he’ll ever have again with his wife is through this dark, cold, emotionless machine called a computer (remember Murakami was writing this novel before most people knew what the word email meant).
In any event, the passage may work for the novel and a cynical protagonist, but is not reflective of what friendship should be or can be. As my brother likes to say, “Friends are friendly!” Ergo, friendliness is next to…err…godliness?