Aristotle and the Importance of Friends

Oct 24

“Without friends, no one would choose to live even though he had all other goods.” – Aristotle

2-10 You’ve Got A Friend

This week our topic in Channeling Aristotle was friendship. Aristotle was emphatic about the importance of friendship in leading a good life. Aristotle says that the essence of a virtuous friendship is selflessness.

I had the occasion to discuss the qualities of a good friendship with my teenage daughter this week just as I was doing the readings to prepare for class. The teen years are difficult in many ways as kids try to wade through the changes and figure out what is really important. Friends are critically important, especially in High School, but real friends not just friends of convenience or utility. True and genuine friends are of the utmost importance. My daughter was struggling a bit with some of her friendships and what sort of friends they are. I had just finished reading a section of James O’Toole’s book. In his discussion of friendship he outlines these assertions of Artistotle, “True friendships are characterized by permanence, deep familiarity, frequency of interaction, and generosity. You have to be virtuous to be a good friend for such a friend will ‘desire the good for the other’. In contrast, bad people have trouble keeping friends; they come into conflict and competition with others because they seek ‘more’ for themselves. Ultimately, friendships are based on trust, the test of which is the conviction of each friend that the other would ‘never wrong me.'”

High School and College are where I first began to understand this, but I have continued to learn the lessons throughout my life regarding true friendship. I tried explaining this to my daughter who seemed “put out” at what probably seemed like an academic explanation of how to evaluate and chose one’s friendships. This, of course, she will learn on her own over the years and perhaps sometime she will reflect back on what I had to say about it.

Through the years we have many friends and acquaintances but only a few really stand the test of time. As I enter middle age I have a greater appreciation of true friendship and put more focus on those that are tried and true. I have a few really “old” friends that I have known since early childhood. These have stood the test of time and troubles to become the pillars in the foundation of my life. Without them my life would surely be lacking. These are the friends who know the absolute essence of me from my childhood days. We grow and change through the years but our true essence remains unchanged. Only those from childhood can really know and understand this. Often they are the one’s who recognize and bring us back to that essence of ourselves which we may have lost along the way.

Friendship supplied the root —
It was planted years ago —
To bring me flowers and seed
Through the long drought.
Far-flung as you are
You have seemed to sit beside me.
You have not left my mind.

— May Sarton (1912-1995)

These are the friendships it will take my daughter many more years to understand and appreciate. They are but few.

The inner circle of true friendship is hard to crack, especially in today’s busy world. It takes time to cultivate and nurture a true friendship. It involves connecting, revealing the most vulnerable parts of ourselves and above all else it involves “trust”. In my busy years working in the corporate world I did not prioritize the time to develop these kinds of relationships and my life had a shallow hollowness to it. In these past four years since leaving the corporate world I have regained my sense of commitment to friendships. I have grown and developed new friends and reconnected with old friendships that now enrich my life and fill the hollow gap that existed.

Looking at friendships anew through the eyes of my 14-year-old daughter in this electronically interconnected world I wonder how this will impact or if it will impact the meaning of friendship. I think Aristotle’s basic points still hold true but wonder if the “distance” between the computer/phone screen and the friend makes it harder to achieve this depth of friendship. Facebook in particular seems in conflict with Aristotle’s definition of a friend. I have hundreds of FB friends from the various aspects of my life – my daughter has more than double my number. I love the fact that I am able to connect with and share my life with old and new friends in ways that would never have been possible without it. It provides a medium for sharing parts of ourselves that would not have been shared otherwise but it also creates a barrier. We will see as the years pass how this new tool impacts the meaning of friendship.

In the end, for me, it is in the richness of connection through face to face interaction that a true friendship is developed. It is in stepping forward to take the risk of revealing one’s self, being vulnerable and thinking more of “the other” than self where true friendship flourishes. I worry that things like FB get in the way of this and put up an artificial wall of protection that makes us think we are risking and revealing ourselves when we really aren’t.

My deepest friendship were built on these face to face interactions, over time.

– on my daily walks with a friend or two – we come together, slowly sharing ourselves, our hopes, dreams, failures, fears and foibles.
– over my 6 years with my Wed. girls, alternately pushing and supporting each other along the road of life through laugher, poking , prodding, praying, preaching and teaching
– in my trips home to KY, seeing an old friend, sharing a meal and feeling like I am swept back in time. The years seem never to have passed and we are instantly “at one” just as though we were sitting on her bed 35 years ago listening to the Carpenters and dreaming of the future. I am overdue for one of these.
– in my trips with my oldest childhood friend where we can talk about anything, sometimes “know” without saying a word and don’t have to agree on everything to be the best of friends
-in building new friends, by over coming adversity to climb Kilimanjaro, opening up and sharing our fears to build a connection that will surely stand the test of time

It is in the quiet moments together that I feel most blessed. These are the riches that fill my life and make it whole. It is here that I understand the meaning of Aristotle’s point about friendship. Without true friends, life would be a barren wasteland.

And no one can tell whither. My sweet Friend,
We two have had such happy hours together
That my heart melts in me to think of it.

— William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

01 That’s What Friends Are For


  1. Martha Reed /

    I loved this one especially. And I look forward to seeing you!

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