There are three types of debris floating in the ocean; flotsam, jetsam and trash. I grew up in a place where if you saw trash on the beach, washed up by the tide – you picked it up. We prize our beaches and natural environments. We’re taught to care for the world we live in, the places we occupy and for what we leave behind. 

I don’t understand what it takes in a person to throw trash on the side of the road or over the back of a boat. It seems like the most simple of basic behaviours to demonstrate conscientious choices, intentional decision making. 

There are three types of debris when friendship goes wrong. Flotsam is anything that accidentally and unintentionally ends up overboard because of a shipwreck or emergency. It comes from the French word ‘floter’, which means ‘to float’. Anything that floats has buoyancy – it contains hope. 

Jetsam is slightly different. The root of the word is found in the word ‘jettison’; when something is thrown deliberately overboard. In a crisis or moment of emergency, you make an intentional choice about what you throw away, what you are prepared to sacrifice in order to stay afloat. It’s a way of trying to create stability. 

Trash is simply what you throw away without concern, trusting the tide to take it away from you and bearing no mind for where what’s no longer useful to you ends up or what impact that choice has on the environment around you. 

Sometimes how you lose something matters – while flotsam and jetsam are both expected to float or to create buoyancy, trash is meant to disappear. If you throw something overboard intentionally, you divest yourself of any claim to it. Finders keepers, regardless of the value. But if you lose something by accident, if your friendship ends up shipwrecked through crisis or disaster – you’re entitled to make a claim on flotsam that belongs to you. 

See, belonging is the hard part of friendship. At our best, like Kahlil Gibran says – our friend is our needs met but if you don’t care for the balance, it can all turn to shit. We decide what we are prepared to throw overboard or we encounter the grief of accidental loss. Typically however, the one who accidentally loses is rarely as wounded as the one is accidentally lost. We hope that we belong to each other but in the moments of crisis, we learn whether we are flotsam, jetsam or trash. We learn what we are capable of, when we’ll do anything to stay afloat ourselves, at any cost. 

There is usually some truth or a distortion of truth that disrupts the necessary equanimity of friendship. It usually happens when someone is trying to usurp the balance of power, because they want to keep the distortion or avoid the truth. Friendship and love (one is dependent on the other) both require equanimity. Loss of it is your ship beginning to sink. When friendship goes wrong, it doesn’t matter whether you’re flotsam or jetsam – what matters is finding your float and getting your equanimity back.