If we could travel back in time and ask the great philosophers for their advise about friendship, they all would say the same thing, "If you want great friendships, be a great friend!"
As the founder of SocialJane.com, I hear from women everyday about their desire to have better, deeper, more long-lasting friendships, and their frustration will simply finding a friend, building and maintaining a friendship, and finally get to that “soul-sister” type of relationship that so many of us want. Friendship is a big topic these days, even though today’s “friendships” are largely undefined. We have work friends, gym friends, neighborhood friends, and friends on Facebook, and we refer to all of these associations as “friendships.” But I’m guessing the majority of people, when they ask, “What is a friend?” are really asking, “How do I find a true friendship?”
Rather than simply throw my two cents into the friendship bucket, I’d like to offer a bit more “classical” perspective and relay some time-tested and sage advise from the scholars. Socrates, Aristotle, and even Cicero (renaissance fellow that he was), all had pretty clear and relatively consistent ideas about what constitutes a friend. Four essential elements absolutely shine through all of their advice in terms of the components of friendship.
• Founded on shared interests and beliefs
• Personally beneficial to each party
• Require close proximity and/or frequent interaction
• Supply mutual affection and support
Socrates: Be a Good One, and You’ll Get Good Ones
Socrates believed that friendship was a two-way street, with friends providing a helpful hand here or an encouraging word there in a natural give and take—although the true friend never checks the scales, so Socrates suggests. One of the finest ways to express your friendship for another is to speak kindly and offer positive reviews of a friend, Socrates says, an act that fostered your friend’s reputation and results in their increased happiness.
A great failing of people, according to Socrates, was in their neglect to nurture friendships. He believed that if people put as much energy into their friendships as they do to their leisure and downtime, their lives and their communities would benefit and improve exponentially. See, Socrates believed that when you are doing all of the things required to have a great friendship, then other good things will come to you … as well as to those around you.
His advice for seeking friendships—be a good friend, and follow a textbook “slow-and-steady” formula. For when you are a good friend, others naturally will also seek your friendship.
Aristotle: More than a Handful is Wasteful
Aristotle was a bit more of a practical fellow than his compatriots on the subject of friendship. He provided that there are three reasons why two folks might entertain a friendship:
• The friends share common interests
• Both parties see some benefit to the friendship
• They are both committed to the same definition of “good”
In addition to the reasons outlined above, Aristotle insists that another factor must be present in order to have a real friendship: that the friends must have an honest desire for the other’s best, or said another way, they must simply like the other. So, for example, while there might have been something to be gained by entering into a friendship to begin with, the friendship will only continue because a genuine affection and caring develops.
Aristotle was definitely more of a quality vs. quantity type of guy, and believed that one could only maintain a true friendship with a handful of people because he believed that you have to give considerable time and attention in order to sustain meaningful friendships, something simply not possible with more than an a handful of folks.
Text if you must, but face-time is essential for real friendships, Aristotle advises.
Cicero: Untangle, Rather than Snip
Like Socrates 350 years earlier, Cicero believed that the sole requirement for friendship is that both parties want only good for the other (as in “she got a new husband, job and car and you are thrilled for her” good). Friendship born out of a need for any kind of benefit is not really a friendship, Cicero says, emphasizing that advantages come from great friendships, but are not the reason for them.
And if you find yourself needing to end a friendship, the scholar thinks that such a break should be done gradually, avoiding animosity. When a friendship wanes, Cicero offers that one should merely disengage rather than cut all ties. Why? Because at one point you considered this person a friend, and not only do they deserve simple kindness (like all people do), but if you now treat them harshly, others may re-consider you as a potential friend (“This is how you treat your so-called friends?”)
In agreement with the other philosophers, Cicero also says that one can only acquire a great friend if they are one themselves. He believed that one can’t expect from a friend any more than they themselves are capable of contributing (hey – isn’t this the golden rule?).
For me, the most prevalent message from above is that friendships require attention and nurturing. You’ve got to give to get, and what you give is what you’ll get in return. I especially love Socrates advise to put in the same effort to your friends as you do to you leisure.
If you are seeking some new friendships then I advise that you look to your current social connections (there could be a great friendship lurking there), get active by getting out into your community (take a class, join a tennis team, volunteer), or look to the internet for online friendship communities (I, of course, suggest SocialJane.com).
Each of these great thinkers clearly stated that good, solid friendships absolutely provide enhanced happiness into our lives. And I think we could all use a good dose of happiness.
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How have you typically added new friends? What worked best for you? We’d love to hear how new friends come into your life and how to keep old friendships polished bright!