How to Make Friends

How to Make Friends

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By Janis Kupferer

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Friendship throws a brilliant gleam of hope over the future and banishes despondency.~ Cicero

Friendship is a big topic these days; just about everywhere you turn, someone is offering suggestions on how to make and maintains friends, along with dispensing advice on how to deal with difficult friendship issues.

The fact is, that today friendships are largely unrestricted from any formal social norms or definitions, which is why different and far ranging advice abounds. We have work friends, gym friends, neighborhood friends, and friends on Facebook. 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” advice and relay what the scholars said about friendship. 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:

1.    Founded on shared interests and beliefs
2.    Personally beneficial to each party
3.    Close proximity and/or frequency
4.    Mutual affection and support

Socrates: Be a Good One, and You’ll Get Good Ones
Defining friendship wasn’t a difficult task for Socrates, who was a firm believer in virtue, and the virtuous state that a true friendship can bring. To Socrates, a good friend is loyal, helpful, generous, encouraging, and most importantly, eager with all of these attributes.

Socrates believed that friendship was a two-way street, providing a helpful hand here or an encouraging word there in a natural give and take, although the true friend never checked the scales. One of the finest ways to express your friendship for another was to speak kindly and offer positive reviews of a friend, so said Socrates, an act that fostered your friend’s reputation and resulted in their increased wealth or 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 down-time, 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 that pays dividend over time in the form of increased opportunity for real friendships (for when you are a good friend, others naturally also seek your friendship).

Aristotle: More than a Handful is a Wasteful
Aristotle was a bit more of a practical fellow than his compatriots on the subject of friendship. He provided that there are three components or foundations of a friendship, and that each can stand alone as a reason for the start of the friendship:

1.    The friends simply enjoy each other, and share common interests.
2.    There is some benefit to be gained from the relationship by both parties.
3.    They are both committed to the same definition of “good” (or virtue, which apparently was on-trend in days of old).

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 for the sake of themselves. 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.

And the good news is that when that genuine affection and admiration is present, then the friendship offers the benefits of enjoyment AND advantage (because friends routinely help each other out and do nice things for each other).

On whether folks can maintain a friendship via technology only, I think Aristotle would say, “Not so much.” He believed that one could only maintain a true friendship with a handful of people because it is necessary to give considerable time and attention to another in order to sustain a meaningful relationship, something simply not possible with more than a small number (a handful) of folks. For Aristotle, being in physical proximity was important. This is not to say that he’d frown on sustaining a relationship via our new fangled technology, but if possible, regular doses of face-to-face time are what he’d advised.

Cicero: Untangle, Rather than Snip
Like Socrates 350 years earlier, Cicero believed that friendship is a gift from the gods founded in virtue, and as such, one of the sole requirements for friendship is that both parties want only good for the other. With the good, comes kindness and attachment. Friendship born out of a need for advantage is no friendship, Cicero says, emphasizing, “Advantages come from great friendships, but are not the reason for them.”

Before bringing someone into your fold, Cicero advised prudence, suggesting that we should tread slowly until a person proves themself. People who have pleasant temperaments, are sincere, and share your interests and values make for the best candidates (Sounds a lot like Socrates).

And if you find yourself needing to end a friendship, the scholar thinks that such a break should be done gradually, avoiding any animosity. When a friendship wanes, Cicero offers that one should merely disengage from an unwanted friendship rather than cutting all ties. Why? Because at one point you considered this person a friend, and not only do they simply deserve 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 themself. He believed that one can’t expect from a friend any more than they themselves are capable of contributing.

Time-Tested, Friendship-Approved
For me, the most prevalent message from above is that:
•    Friendship grows out of shared interests
•    It should proceed slowly so as to give you time to learn about your new friend
•    It requires nurturing, attention and a beneficial/supportive give and take
•    A friendship really blossoms when its foundation turns to a mutual care and affection the friends feel for each other.

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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