This blog entry will be a little different. I want to write about something that is a neglected topic. There are many articles about relationships. Many of them have to do with romantic relationships, business relationships and networking relationships, and a few on where to find people with whom to share interests or activities. All of these relationships are important and necessary to get along, find pleasure in life and “be happy” or get ahead in the world, but what about friendship, true friendship? Maybe there is little focus on friendship because in this fast-paced, mobile, always online and computerized society of instant gratification with hundreds of connections through social networks and otherwise, there isn’t necessarily a specific value, gratification or “return” that can be pointed out from having true friends. What a shortsighted way of thinking. In truth, there is no greater gold in this life than having one or more, deep and true friendships.
Let’s start with the premise that everyone is a complicated person with a deep internal subjective world of varying emotions, and everyone has troubles. Indeed, life can be hard and more often than not, it’s a struggle, and a lonely one at that. Sometimes it feels like it’s just too much to take and we start to buckle under the pressure, fear and worries. As Voltaire wrote: “I have lived eighty years of life and know nothing for it, but to be resigned and tell myself that flies are born to be eaten by spiders and man to be devoured by sorrow.” Oftentimes, there is very little consolation or relief, but having a few good, true friends can make all the difference in the world.
Aristotle thought and wrote extensively on what friendship means and his insights are more valuable than ever today. According to Aristotle, there are three forms of friendship. The first is the friendship of utility, which are friendships based on what two people can gain from each other. In these types of friendships, people typically don’t care much about the other person in general, but just about what they can get out of the friendship, i.e., business, a free drink, etc. These friendships are very common and usually don’t last very long. As soon as the benefit vanishes, so does the friendship. The second type of friendship is the friendship of pleasure, which is based on obtaining pleasure from the relationship, such as sharing activities, interests or temporary emotional states. These are friends that you enjoy going out to a bar or club or sporting event with, or who pay attention to you or stroke your ego, but you’re not going to share anything of real substance about yourself with them. These friendships are also very common (indeed, Facebook and Instagram have become multi-billion dollar companies based on them) and short-lived since when the pleasure one derives from them disappears, so does the friendship.
The third type of friendship is the friendship of the good or a friendship of virtue. This is true friendship. In these friendships, people truly care about each other as people, share their intimate thoughts, feelings and life issues, and push each other to be the best person they can be. In order to have these kinds of friendships, the person must be “good” or virtuous in a fundamental way. Like attracts like. These friendships are rare and many have none, but if you are lucky enough to have them, usually only a handful of (and oftentimes only one or two) people are in this category because they are deep, meaningful relationships and take time and effort to cultivate. These friendships are priceless and no matter what happens in your life, it is these friends who will be there for you, as you would be for them. When you are at your lowest and seem to have lost everything, you will always have these friendships to sustain you and they make all the difference.
The friendship of virtue, the true friend, goes even beyond that though. I am blessed to have a few of these friendships. One thing I have noticed is that these friends oftentimes seem to know me, the real me, the true me, better than I know myself. They point things out to me I never realized before. They tell me things about myself I never knew were there. Bishop George Berkeley, the father of subjective idealism, the philosophy that holds that material reality is an illusion and only the mind of God or other minds are real and give “substance” or reality to the things we behold has interesting implications for Aristotle’s true friendship. Berkeley held that “to be is to be perceived.” Perhaps we are not fully real, not fully ourselves until another mind, a true friend who really cares for us, perceives us and gives reality to all of our qualities. Maybe in order to become who we truly are, to be and express all of the good inside of us and all of our unique qualities that we have to offer the world, we need other minds, in particular, true friends, to perceive these things in us and reflect them back to us, making them real for ourselves and the world. This can also include those special relationships in life, like a true mentor who takes a genuine interest in you and cultivates you both personally and professionally. I know I wouldn’t be half the person I am without these friendships.
At the end of the day, strip away everything, and the only things that matter are your true friendships and the love you give and receive, all intangible things that are given little attention in society and are taken for granted by most if they even have them to begin with. If you do have these kinds of friendships, cherish them, don’t take them for granted and never forget, there is no greater gold. In this rat race, you may not be at the top of the heap, but if you have these friendships, you are truly rich.