“FRIENDSHIPOLOGY- IT’S COMPLICATED” by Norm Allenby – February 2021

Norm and Grandson Leighton

Friendshipology, the study of friendship, is complicated:  The who, the what, the when, the where, the how and the why of friends and friendships.  If “to be or not to be” is the existential Shakespearean question, particularized here, the question becomes to befriend or not to befriend. 

My first thoughts on the subject brought to mind two experiences. The first experience involved Shawn, a three or four year old boy who was having his first playdate with my son Robert.  Before crossing the threshold of the open front door, he announced a governing principle of friendship, “Be nice me.”

The second experience was an anecdote related by Theodore Greene, PhD in a course called The Philosophy of Religion.  Dr. Greene was teaching leadership to a group of Marine Corps officers.  Asked to comment on a Greek philosopher’s views on leadership, the Marine major said, “You can’t love a sonofabitch.”

Then there is the range of one’s prospective friends. A person who is nice to you might get a responsive thank you, a pat on the back, a smile and maybe a hug.  On the other hand, a business person who with a smile on his or her face fails to disclose a material fact to you in negotiations, defrauds you, is not one  to befriend.  That is at least until the fraud is acknowledged and the problems caused by the fraud remedied. You might then befriend. There are to me limits on friendship between people.

My second thoughts on Friendshipology suggest that friendships are not limited to people, but involve the universe of human experience. For instance as a lawyer and a mediator, the truth and nothing but the truth is an idea, the befriending of which is an absolute necessity, creating duties to courts, clients, opposing counsel and their clients. Truth is an idea to befriend. It is the lifeblood of a not only a legal system but, literally, liberty and justice for all.

My grandson put it to me this way:  In response to a question, “What’s that?” he said, “I don’t know; tell  me and then I’ll know.” Truth telling becomes an obligation.  Teach the truth to your grandchildren. Speak truth. Of course you must know the truth to speak it or teach it.  Therein lies the challenge.  How to determine the truth, especially in this era of broadband and social media use.

Truth telling is tempered by an adage, attributed to Mark Twain, that it’s not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble, it’s the things we think we know that “ain’t so” that get us into trouble.  A squared plus B squared equals C squared is a wonderment of truth. The math must be correct. There is but one correct answer to a math problem. The immutable laws of physics, biology and chemistry need the professional befriending of scientists and students.  

In the 1990s San Diego began to recognize the severity of its water problems.  One of the solutions proposed was water reuse.  Experimental facilities, using the water hyacinth as a cleansing agent, were built that produced water capable of reuse for all purposes but drinking. Purple pipe irrigation using non potable water for irrigation evolved. Eventually potable water was produced. That was an idea which to me was worth befriending.  I took note. 

It was also in the 1990s that the truth of water reuse was being pursued by John Todd of Cape Cod in Massachussetts.  His concept of “living machines” was interesting.  He was featured on national television.  Facilities were built in New England, Canada and China. Again I took note, and I began to research the subject as a meritorious idea and to pursue “solar aquatics” or onsite water treatment as a potential new business venture.

It was in the 1990s too that I ran into my classmate Billy Lee at an Andover reunion where I discussed “living machines” with him and with other classmates.  My law practice took me to the San Francisco Bay Area at times thereafter, and I continued to enjoy opportunities to meet and talk with Billy. When he was invited to Ningbo in 1999 to be presented with an honorary degree, he invited me to travel there with him and perhaps give a lecture on wastewater. His acceptance speech was on sustainability. Traveling with Billy, sharing time, space and talk expanded our friendship.  

I had fun giving a lecture to a group of students in Ningbo. I think they got the notion of water reuse through the use of plants as the primary cleansing agent.  I recall that one of their professors was nodding in agreement as I spoke. 

As suggested at the outset, friendship is a complicated subject.  We must befriend ourselves with respect and care. Personal friendships with one’s spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, playmate, teammate or classmate are all enhanced by our senses and sensibilities.  Business friendships are essential as we co-exist in time and in space on our planet.  

We need to be friends of the earth.  That friendship is existential.


Billy and I were classmates at both Andover (1951) and Yale (1955).  Following graduation from Yale, I spent two years as a naval officer serving on LSTs in the Pacific.  With my discharge from active duty in 1957, I started law school at Boston University and finished at the University of Denver.  After passing the Colorado bar exam, the California bar exam followed.  Then came the practice of law in San Diego as a civil trial lawyer from 1962 to 1999 and as a mediator for several years.

Having retired from the active practice of law, I formed a California corporation called Onsite Water Treatment, Inc. of which I was President. Today I remain concerned about the local discharge of billions of gallons of wastewater into the Pacific Ocean off San Diego by Californians, the solution to the drying up of the Salton Sea in Southern California, and the contamination of our coastal waters by untreated sewage from the Tijuana River.