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The Delight in Recognising a Friend

Author: Dominic Lodge

The death in January 2008 of John O’Donohue came as a shock and profound sadness to many. John O’Donohue – priest, poet, philosopher and writer was just 52 years old. I had been greatly inspired by his wisdom and descriptive way of writing which fuelled my imagination. 

His most famous book Anam Cara became, much to his surprise, an international best-seller. Anam Cara (Soul friend) revealed the richness and beauty of Celtic thought and spirituality. Within was a treasure, a gift to the world, words that spoke to the heart and made one pause awhile.

“Real friendship or love is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition.”

I thought of my friend Joe. Joe has and continues to teach me a lot about what it is like to receive a lot of support every day, seven days a week. He told me once that in one particular week he had received personal support from thirteen different people. “They broadly fall into three categories Dominic”, he ventured. “Firstly, there are those who are a bit embarrassed and in turn are mindful of my dignity. Secondly, there are those who have a job to do and they do it in haste – functionaries. Thirdly, there are those who are not at all interested in me as a person. They ignore my directions. I am a non-person sitting in my wheelchair.”

There were times when Joe connected with a support worker but these seem few and far between. Mainly he had become numb for people didn’t stay long in his life or others felt that it was wrong to get too close – it was not, they thought, the professional thing to do.

Then Joe received an offer from the organisation that provided his support. They could find him a volunteer, someone to pop in a see him for an hour or two a week and maybe go out for a meal or a visit to the cinema. It was kind and thoughtful reasoned Joe but neither what he wanted nor sought. He wasn’t seeking the sympathy of a volunteer or the manufactured, prescribed intentions of an organisation but rather the opportunity to meet people who were not paid or recruited to be with him.

Joe’s good friends are many. His friends recognised in him a man of immense talent, good humour and company. He recognised traits that he enjoyed in his friends. An open and reciprocal act – friendship is always an act of recognition.

This is the ground Best Buddies stands on. Friendship is not about two people being assigned to each other on the basis of availability. Friendship is not one way – ‘an assignment’ for a volunteer. Friendship is always an act of recognition. It is recognising common ground, common interest and delighting, liking, enjoying, even falling in love, with another.

As the story of Best Buddies UK unfolds we too have delighted in recognising the outstanding talents of people labelled as having a learning disability. It’s neither special nor extraordinary. It is what happens when people gather and share something of their humanity and insight. And it is good to delight in that.


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

The Delight in Recognising a Friend © Dominic Lodge 2016.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.