Fate chooses our relatives. We choose our friends – Jacques Delille, 18th Century
7th May 2020
Most of us during this time of lockdown are doing so with our families. And some of us are living with members of our family that we haven’t lived with for quite some time, as older children have returned to the fold. This may both be a challenge as well as a blessing for all parties!
While we are separated physically from many of our friends with whom we usually choose to spend our time, we can of course keep in touch with them through various social media and video calling get-togethers. At the beginning of lockdown all of this was rather frenetic. It seemed that everyone was keen to catch up with everyone they’d ever known, so much so that it became rather exhausting! Now things have settled a bit I think we do well to reflect on who our friends really are, how we choose them and the nature of friendship itself.
Sometimes we perhaps spread ourselves a bit too thin, trying to keep connections with too many people, when if we were really serious about developing good friends, we’d realise it requires time and commitment, something we cannot possibly give to the numbers who have ‘friended’ us on social media for example. Of course expecting only one or two people to meet all our friendship needs can also be a problem, not least because it raises expectations of them that are hard to meet and can be pressurising.
The philosopher Aristotle placed great value on the virtue of friendship and in his book Nicomachean Ethics he identified three types of friendship. Firstly pleasure friendship, which is based on simply those people you like to ‘hang out’ with but with whom you may not share much else. Such friends are of the moment and rarely last beyond a particular time period in our lives. However that is not to say such friendships are not important but perhaps not the most important. Then there are friendships of utility, useful within a certain context. They are the people we work with or who help us, positive but rarely long-lasting when we move on.
Finally there is the true friend. Philosopher Alain de Botton writes:
Not someone who’s just like you, but someone who isn’t you, but about whom you care as much as you care about yourself. The sorrows of a true friend are your sorrows. Their joys are yours. It makes you more vulnerable, should anything befall this person. But it’s hugely strengthening too. You’re relieved from too small orbit of your own thoughts and worries. You expand into the life of another, together you become larger, cleverer, more resilient, more fair-minded. You share virtues and cancel out each other’s defects. Friendship teaches us what we ought to be: it is, quite literally, the best part of life.
Friendships of this kind are lifelong and will only ever be counted on the fingers of one hand. And I’m not sure if we even choose such friends in any sort or calculated or conscious way. However, true friendships are to be treasured and nurtured. They are the ones which will still be around once all the ‘zooming’ has ended and novelties subsided. They are the ones we should be reaching out to now and making sure we act towards them, as the friend that we wish to have ourselves.