“Those who have a host of friends and are on familiar terms with everybody seem to be real friends of no one.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
It is our worst nightmare. Everyone else has real friends. But somehow I don’t, because I’m just not up to it, or people just aren’t interested.
This is not Aristotle’s point, and it is simply not true. You are worthy of having friends. Indeed, we were made for it. We can have this kind of relationship that is at the center of human life. Yet the reality is that we often fail to do what we are capable of doing.
We must know what ‘real friends’ are, and how to go about making them a reality.
This begins in our making good choices. Cultural habits and expectations are working against us. It is not just the young who are suffering from the plague of slavery to appearance. For many, appearances are overwhelming reality. We seek relationship as part of achieving a look, a persona, or a self-image that makes us feel secure or important.
After the words quoted above, Aristotle proceeds to say that these people with a host of ‘friends’ are generally called obsequious. Meaning? The obsequious man is the one whose approach to other persons is largely influenced by something he is trying to achieve, for himself. His interactions tend to be governed by eliciting certain responses, and attaining some status.
I am convinced that this is common today by default. We are not aware and thinking in terms of the demands and the gift of real friendship. The approach of collecting friends as ornaments on our wall of personal achievement has become customary and expected.
What to do? We can modify our expectations, and modify our approach to relationships. We can be friendly with many; and go deeper with a few.
Friendship is always about living in the truth—the truth about the other, the truth about ourselves, and the truth about human life. We humans often find ourselves living in an alternate reality, living as though things are other than they are. We can choose to look again and to see.
The truth can be hard. Very hard. But it is always better. It is better than what we have thought was the case; it is better than anything we could imagine or dream.
We can live in integrity. We can choose to forego appearance—and the many tangible advantages it can provide. We can choose to go deeper with some, grounding these friendships in the simple and profoundly real things of human life. This requires self-examination, willingness to change, and a willingness to act differently from accepted norms.
We can only go really deep with a few. To see this is to grasp something of what it is to be human. To live this is not to reject other people. On the contrary, even one real, deep friendship brings out our true self, and it will be a leaven for all our other relationships.
Who we are calls out for this. It is a matter of choosing to receive the gift: of becoming ourselves, and of having real friends.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his major ethical work.
True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness, by John Cuddeback (Ignatius Press)
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God grant you many years, Dr. C! As we intensely prepare for the descent of the Holy Ghost, this post regarding real, deep friendship adds fine frosting to the cake.
Thank you, Maria. I appreciate the sweet analogy…
I wonder if “having no real friends” is connected in some way to the modern breakdown of the traditional family.
Great insight on what a real friendship is, though, especially as we approach Pentecost. God bless you and your family.
Joseph, that is a great point. I am very interested in the connection of life in the household and life in true friendship. I’m convinced that the habits that children (and adults!) form in the home are the very ones that enable them to thrive in true friendship. Thanks!
As the saying goes, it takes two to tango – and the “tango” is just as important as the “two” in this aphorism. Your article overlooks that for true friendship to blossom requires the tango – the environment where two can share a deeper shared humanity.
This environment can be a long plane or car ride with another, a backpacking trip, a shared charitable endeavor or a series of backyard home improvement projects. The environment needs to be intentionally cloistered like these examples for a deeper friendship to occur; where courage and vulnerability have a chance to breathe, openness to sharing troubles, human foibles, existential questions, etc.
You can try the things you mention: “self-examination, willingness to change, and a willingness to act differently from accepted norms” but that’s not enough without both parties intentionally committing to time with the other person in a setting conducive to real friendship; it is very difficult for deeper friendships to occur with sporadic contact with the other among many acquaintances we encounter in our weekly frenetic social and family situations.
PC, I certainly agree! The list of dispositions I mentioned was certainly not meant to be exhaustive of what is needed to forge true friendships. When I speak of ‘going deeper’ with a few, I’m certainly picturing this including finding the time and the proper contexts to foster a deeper human connection. Especially today, this will require being very intentional.
I am weary of your quarrels,
Weary of your wars and bloodshed,
Weary of your prayers for vengeance,
Of your wranglings and dissensions;
All your strength is in your union,
All your danger is in discord;
Therefore be at peace henceforward,
And as brothers live together.
From “Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The notion of ‘brothers’ has much in common with real friendship.
I do recommend Dr Cuddeback’s book; ‘”True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness,” which he mentions here at the end of his post. Using book 9 of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as his guide, he discusses superficial friendship versus the highest level of friendship, which is based on seeking the virtuous life. I picked up a copy some years ago at one of his lectures. It’s well worth getting, and comes highly recommended.