It’s been said that opposites attract and it’s often the truth. There is something about a “worthy opponent” that can lead to an intimate friendship. Two such relationships from the political arena would include the 1993 wedding of Democratic political strategist James Carville to Republican political consultant Mary Matalin and the “difficult friendship” of William F. Buckley Jr. and Norman Mailer, as explored in the book Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship that Shaped the Sixties by Kevin M. Schultz. If Dale Carnegie is right, “When two partners always agree, one of them is not necessary,” then these folks desperately needed each other.
C. S. Lewis was a man of many friends. One of those in his inner circle was British philosopher, author, and poet Owen Barfield (1898–1997). Barfield was born in London, educated at Highgate School and Wadham College, Oxford, and in 1920 received a first class degree in English language and literature. Barfield was also a fellow member of the Inklings, the Oxford group of scholars that included Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.
The friendship between Lewis and Barfield was an example of opposites attract. As Lewis writes concerning such friendships,
“Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got the wrong things out of every one. It’s as if he spoke your language but mispronounced it. How can he be so nearly right and yet, invariably, just not right? . . . . When you set out to correct his heresies, you find that he forsooth has decided to correct yours! And then you go at it, hammer and tongs, far into the night, night after night, or walking through fine country that neither gives a glance to, each learning the weight of the other’s punches, and often more like mutually respectful enemies than friends. Actually (though it never seems so at the time) you modify one another’s thought; out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and a deep affection emerge. But I think he changed me a good deal more than I him.”1
Getting along is great. The world could use a lot more of it. But agreeing about everything means someone can stay home.
“Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.” – Proverbs 27:17, Contemporary English Version.
- C. S. Lewis. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1955), 199-200.