“Friendship helps the young, too, to keep from error.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle is intent on showing how friendship is necessary in every stage and condition in life. With characteristic insight, he points to the precise need it fulfills in each.
Concerning the young, his statement is brief and to the point. The great danger in youth is error—going astray from the truth of reality. The young, of course, have no corner on the market of error. Yet it stands to reason and is evident all around us, that the young especially struggle to find their way. And often enough they go wrong, in their world-view and their actions.
Adults, or in any case those who are wiser, often look on with anything from concern to consternation. “What in the world are they thinking?!” Indeed. Often we must remind ourselves that in some sense ‘thinking’ is not what they are doing at all.
To some extent this is characteristic of the young, and, well, the young will always be with us. But, on the other hand, there is much that we and they (or you) can do to “keep from error”—at least to some significant extent.
The opposite of ‘error’ is living in the truth. And living in the truth is always a multi-person project. Aristotle quotes a proverb: “Two going together.” How simple and powerful. As he writes in another place, what is not possible to you alone is possible to you with your friend.
Such is human life. Good friendships are the key. Knowing this, what is to be done? Certain aspects of how friendships come together are outside of our direct control. But much is in our power, beginning with being intentional. Prioritizing good friendship has more impact, and can require more of us, than is immediately evident.
Good friendship never happens by accident. It comes to those who know how to cultivate it, and choose to do so. Youth need to hear this. More, they need it patterned for them.
Serious self-examination will reveal, I believe, that we are not prioritizing ‘going deeper’ with one or two friends. Yet this is what it takes, no matter our age.
True friendship—the real thing—will always be one of those amazing realities that stands before us and beckons us. If we would but look, and learn, and choose accordingly. There is nothing so useful, nothing so pleasant, nothing so noble.
As an object of intention, prayer, discernment, and active cultivation, it will come to be, even if fitfully, slowly. And it will always more than repay the efforts we have made. One hundred-fold. And this especially in, and for the sake of, the young.
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