F is for Friendship
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
“Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Albert Camus
This is the quote that I used to have on my wall as a teenager. Another one was:
“No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” John Donne.
This thought used to fascinate me; the idea that everything and everyone is interconnected, interdependent and interrelated. This is why the phrase 'no man is an island' expressing the idea that human beings don’t flourish when isolated from others and need to be part of a community in order to thrive makes so much sense.
“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity”. Desmond Tutu
What is a friend?
“A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.” Unknown
I think good friends are important for your overall health and can add value to the quality of your life. The right friendships are an opportunity to learn about yourself, discover new things and different perspectives, mature as a human being and open up to the full experience of life.
“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.”
Joseph F. Newton Men
Research shows that adults with strong social connections have a reduced risk of many significant health problems including depression, high blood pressure and high body mass index (BMI). Older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C.S. Lewis
There are many types of friendships. Aristotle ( in Nicomachean Ethics) devotes a lot of thought to the question of friendship. He identifies three kinds of friendships:
1) Friendships based on utility: These friendships exist between you and someone who is useful to you in some way.
2) Friendships of pleasure: These kinds of friendships exist between you and those people whose company you enjoy. The time that you share together is usually spent doing mutually enjoyable activities.
3) Friendships of the good: These friendships take longer to build than the other two but are more solid and tend to endure longer; they are based on mutual respect and admiration and based on recognition of shared values /goals
"An acquaintance merely enjoys your company, a fair-weather companion flatters when all is well, a true friend has your best interests at heart and the pluck to tell you what you need to hear." E.A. Bucchianeri
To have a deep, meaningful friendship (a ‘Friendship of the good’), where we are ‘seen’ and we ‘see’ the other person, we need to be accepting, have integrity, be consistent, loyal, open and authentic whilst still guarding our own freedom, individuality and independence. You have to allow someone to get to know the real you and not just stay at the superficial stuff if you want to develop a deep connection.
One of the most meaningful songs to me in the ‘80s was Howard Jones’ ‘Like to get to know you well’ (1984).
‘Like to get to know you well, Like to get to know you well Like to get to know you well, So we can be one, We can be one together, together
Together we can cast away the fear, Together we can wipe away the tear Together we can strip down the barriers, And be one...
Don't want to talk about the weather Don't want to talk about the news Just want to get to the real you inside’
On a practical level you also need to be willing to invest time and effort to nourish and maintain a relationship so it can develop, change and grow. Friendships that last take time and effort*. It is important to message, call or make an effort to be with people you want to develop a deeper connection with.
“Don’t make friends who are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up.” Thomas J. Watson
Being friends with someone doesn’t mean that you have to agree on every issue and always share the same point of view.
“I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.” Plutarch
It is about creating the space to allow self-expression, mutual learning, disagreement whilst maintaining respect of one and others point of views.
“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” Alice Walker
Friendship is a two way street of give and receive. If you are happy to give to others but don’t allow or accept your friends’ help then it is a one way relationship as you are not really opening yourself up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Anais Nin
A good friendship will grow and change over time if there is freedom and independence. With flexibility friendships will learn how to adapt in order to find different ways of relating to each other according to the resources available and how daily routines impact on time. It is important to find creative ways of keeping friendships alive and strong. *This is what I mean when I say that friendships, like any relationship, requires time and effort in order for it to be maintained, nourished and to grow. The comfort, enjoyment and enrichment to our lives that friendship can provide, makes the investment worthwhile.
“The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.” Elisabeth Foley
Some people have a ‘best friend’; their friendships have developed and deepened over time and shared experiences. It is important not to have ‘all your eggs in one basket’ and to work to build multiple meaningful connections (friendships) as no one person will be able to mirror your ‘needs’ exactly.
“Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” Woodrow T. Wilson
When building friendships it is important to do so authentically, slowly and carefully but honestly. It is useful to take time to reflect on the sort of friendships that you think are important and want to build and the qualities that you want to develop. Take time to look at a person and think about the qualities that they have to share with you and what you might be able to offer them in return.
People will reveal their true colours over time, so when meeting new people it is important to consider what aspects of yourself you wish to share initially with different people and perhaps limit certain information. As you get to know people better then you will know whether it is safe to respond ‘naturally’.
“You can’t force anyone to value, respect, understand or support you, but you can choose to spend your time around people who do. ” Lori Deschene
Friendships go through stages of development. In jumping a stage (or more) of development, we can unintentionally treat people in a manner that is not appropriate for the actual level of friendship at that point in time and then end up disappointed and the friendship may even disintegrate completely. If you are aware of the ‘levels of development of friendships’ then you can build your relationships on solid foundations and treat friends appropriately and have realistic expectations.
“Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something: they’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” Anthony Robbins
Germaine Tucker identified five stages of friendship development:
Stranger, Acquaintance, Casual friend, Close friend and Intimate friend whilst doing research on the topic of friendship adapting ideas from ‘Waiting and Dating’ by Dr. Myles Munroe.
Stranger –This stage moves from unawareness of another’s existence to first impressions on meeting. This first impression is a critical point as to whether any friendship is likely to develop or not. A good impression is more likely to lead to continued interaction and further progress through the developmental stages. If a bad impression is formed then people are unlikely to want to make the effort to invest any more time, thought or energy into a social connection
Acquaintance – This stage is when you have occasional, casual interactions with people and can also include work colleagues. You have a ‘working knowledge’ about each other, name, general information and you may even share a coffee but you don’t know about personal aspects of each other’s life.
Casual Friend level is when you interact and meet together more than with other acquaintances as you discover common interests and activities. You become personally invested (giving support or praise) but you are not really emotionally invested. As you spend more time with each other you start to see the whole person and this is another pivotal point where relationships can start to deteriorate e.g. if you discover that people don’t share the same core values or they keep themselves like a closed book but encourage you to reveal more of yourself.
"Friendships are relationships that involve two very critical dimensions – interdependence and voluntary participation," Dr Suzanne Degges-White
When you reach Close Friend level you have seen each other at your best and at your worst and have made the decision to stay around anyway. This is the stage of acceptance and when friends can understand and relate to each other better. Both people in the friendship have invested in each other personally and emotionally and share more information about themselves, their families and things that are important to them e.g. life goals and therefore the connection between them grows stronger.
An Intimate “friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. I am arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and equal, that I may drop even those under most garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness with which one chemical atom meets another.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Intimate friendships are attained over time, through shared experiences and through vulnerability. At this level it is possible to share your innermost dreams, fears, insecurities, thoughts, secrets etc without fear. At this level of intimacy friends become connected ‘soul to soul’, they become intuitively attuned to each other and are committed to maintaining the friendship by supporting each other’s development
"True friendships are hallmarked by each member's desire to engage with the other – it's about mutual interest in one another's experiences and thoughts, as well as a sense of 'belongingness' and connection," Dr Suzanne Degges-White
Our choice of friends is important for our mental health.
“Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.” – Tennessee Williams
It is important to develop friendships that enhance our lives. We should look to find people that motivate, inspire, help us and share the same values and reduce the time spent with those that drain our energy.
“Your network will determine your net worth.” Tim Saunders
However much you like it or not, the only aspect of any relationship you have any real control over is what you give to it. You have no control over how another person responds or not. Your actions might have an element of influence on others but you have no direct control. Any action is most effective when it is aligned with your values i.e. it will be more effective to set boundaries or request changes needed in the other person’s actions or lack of them, if you are speaking consistently, calmly and with confidence rather than crying, threatening or being generally emotionally manipulative or venting spleen. Connections work best when your ‘best self’ is communicating effectively with another’s ‘best self’.
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” Donald Miller
Friendships have the potential to go wrong. People will say or do things or not do or say things that upset you. If the relationships are solid or you are strong within yourself it should be relatively easy to discuss things maturely with the person concerned (not a myriad of other people) and hopefully resolve issues.
“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” William James
There are times however when you are unable to discuss things with others if they ‘block’ you or cut you off entirely. At the risk of repeating what I said earlier, “However much you like it or not, the only aspect of any relationship you have any real control over is what YOU give to it”. There is no such thing as justified resentment. You have to learn to forgive people – not for their sake - but for yours and to prevent anger having an effect on your life. By releasing your feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, hurt, sadness, disappointment etc., it allows you to move on and is affirming your worth by forgiving the person that hurt you. A situation, a word, an action etc doesn’t ruin your life it is your response to it that has an effect on your own well-being.
“Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their behaviour, it prevents their behaviour destroying your heart.” Hemant Smarty
It is possible to learn from every experience, but you only extract that learning through forgiveness. By retaining anger, hurt etc the only person that continues to suffer is you.
"The beautiful thing about friendships is that they are voluntary relationships – and if you're no longer finding it worth the investment, you have the option to let the relationship go." Dr Suzanne Degges-White
Not all friendships are worth investing in. When you feel like a relationship is making you compromise your core values or draining you, it is possible to let that friendship go or put in place protective boundaries.
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect” Chief Seattle
I have come across people that have chosen to cut others completely out of their lives and they say that it is the best decision that they have made, but for me personally, I have always tried to have a policy of “leaving the door open”. This probably stems from my perception that the world is interrelated and what we do to one person we do to ourselves.
‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never me what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” Martin Luther King Jr
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What is important to you in friendships?
Can you think of friends that have hurt you and you no longer speak to? Even if you don’t contact them again, can you forgive them sufficiently to let go of anger and move on? If not, why not? What is holding you back from loving yourself enough to let go of resentment and the negative effects that this has on you?
How are the friendships you have weighted? Do you have more friends based on utility or friendships of the good?
Where are your friendships with people on the 5 stages of development of friendship?
Are you happy with this or are there some people you would like to develop a more meaningful relationship with?
How can you be a better friend to the people you already consider friends and those that you don’t?
I have left questions about ‘What makes a good friend? For you to read about in the links below as I wanted to finish with a story!
An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. 'I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.' The old woman smiled, 'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?' 'That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.' 'For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.' Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so interesting and rewarding.
To me this story says that we should take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.
If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” Albert Schweitzer