A long time ago, friends were simple and honest, by virtue of childish innocence – a playmate, a social buddy, a hopeful confidante. And we were happy. As our identities burgeoned in complexity, the people around us swelled with their own ambitions, desires and motives – just like ourselves. Friends then and friends now have never been more different.
We know it is not hard to make friends or to lose them. In an ocean of people, a sea of faces, an endless march of bodies, friends seem as common and stale as the bread we have for breakfast. That’s not entirely true of course. We do value something much more in the friends dearest to us – a sort of ephemeral quality, indescribable and cherished.
We sometimes think of friends as variations of our shadows – similar yet different enough. It is also true to say we expect friends to stick with us to the very end. And perhaps the scenario of a friend ending up in trouble with us may well be the picture we sometimes have or hope for. Yet what is it that lets one friend out the door and another in?
Not because they can listen or joke. But because they offer more than other mere acquaintances in our lives. Anyone can sympathise with us by saying what we want to hear. A good friend will sympathetically point out our flaws – because we have a tendency to neglect our own shortcomings – and make us feel better and worse at the same time.
Such a friend seeks to improve us, not impose. A good friend influences, not manipulates, offers growth, not stagnation and reveals hurtful honesty instead of well-intended lies. Such a person does not require courage, be excitable or partake in gossip. We are made to think, to reflect and to be a better person today rather than to wait for tomorrow.
But it is possible to entirely miss the mark too. It is not enough to look outwards. We can ourselves, at times, be poor friends. After all, our education has seen to it that we are manufactured to memorise, not empathise. We are superficially encouraged to make friends, but not taught to understand, scrutinise or appreciate.
But the first step is to at least start thinking.
So, have you thought about what a good friend (or being a friend) means to you?