Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1351, (6 - 12 July 2017)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1351, (6 - 12 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Do you have a friend?

Love gets all the excitement, but it is friendship where life’s energy is seated. According to the Bible, “A faithful friend is the medicine of life”. It is not so much the help friends provide, but the confident knowledge that they will help.

How many friends do you have? Can you count them on one hand, two, more? Consider yourself lucky, for, without friends life is incomplete.

Friendship is the hardest thing to define. Like love, it heeds no class, age, position or creed. It is: “Love, without his wings”. The great boxing champion, Mohamed Alt said: “It is nothing you learn in school, but if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship you really haven’t learned anything at all.”

It is not the number of friends that matters, for all you need is one friend. In fact it was Epicurus who said: “One friend is much. Two is many. Three are hardly possible.” 

There are among us some who are friendless by choice. They find people to be irritating, but humans are hard-wired to interact with others, especially during times of stress. To go through a trying ordeal alone, lacking the emotional support of friends increases our anxiety and hinders our coping ability. Greta Garbo never knew what she was missing.

An impressive amount of research underscores the importance of human contact but life proves that the toll we pay for being alone for long is detrimental to our emotional welfare. Films like The Shining with Jack Nicholson and Castaway with Tom Hanks, among others, depict the perils of social isolation.

Friendship has been widely studied in academic and scientific fields, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, communication, etc. The common denominator is that people with close friends are happier. 

There are many forms of friendships but while culture concepts differ, the virtues of loyalty, trust, affection as well as enjoyment of others’ company are common traits of all forms of friendship.

Arabs perceive friendship seriously and deeply consider personal attributes, social influences and the nature of a person’s character before engaging in such a relationship. 

In the US for example many are deemed friends, people you meet frequently, similar in attitudes, share your activities and qualities such as business partners, sports enthusiasts. Associates, acquaintances — buddies, chums, are more appropriate descriptions. Such relations are less deep and meaningful. Once you lose touch with those “friends”, you lose the friendship. This is not common in other countries. This is an American syndrome because it is a constantly moving society. 

Aristotle’s famous Three Kinds of Friendships is a thorough examination and analysis of the subject, involving all types of friendships.

First there are the friendships based on utility, so when whatever caused the friendship is removed, the friendship is dissolved. The second kind are those friendships based on pleasure. This is common among the young and includes lovers and those of the same mind. Quick to become friends they are equally quick to stop when whatever was pleasurable ceases. The long-lasting friendships are those based on good. They wish good things for each other, and depend that their friends be there through good times and bad. Excellence is something lasting. We all would wish such friends.

Technology has caused the decline of true friendships in this day and age. In his book Friend vs Friend author Ethan J Leib states that “online” and “dotcom” have taken away from personal communication, making it harder to form friendships. 

Pen-pals of the past were often confidants, best friends without ever seeing each other. 

Facebook has afforded us hundreds of friends, and although we may know everything about them, their lives, their children, their holidays, we really know nothing of them personally.

 You cannot form close friendships if you are attached to a machine all day.

If you wish to make friends, an experiment by professor Karen Huang of Harvard shows you how: 

Talk of the potential friend’s accomplishments. Make him/her feel good. Do not overwhelm them with questions. Be responsive to their needs. Be supportive, it brings joy. Listen closely to every word, it is flattering. Focus on qualities not shortcomings. “Love is blind, but friendship closes one eye.”

Compliments always work but keep it light. Appear when you think he/she might need you. Then you may be sure you have made a friend.

Had we the need of a Harvard experiment to learn all that? True, loyal and sincere interest and affection are intuitive and reciprocated.

The only way to have a friend is to become one.

It is hard to find true friendship. It takes time. It grows and feeds on intimacy and loyalty. 

When you feel you can really be yourself, say anything you think, make mistakes without fear of judgement, you are in the presence of a friend. 

Sometimes you need to experience the shocks of adversity, even enmity before a friendship is born.

Who can forget the closing lines of the great classic Casablanca as Rick (Bogart) turns to arch enemy Louis (Rains) and says:

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” 

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) 

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