Before reading, take a minute to reflect on your friendships. Who is your best friend? What type of friend are you?
What does a true friend look like as opposed to someone we might call a “buddy?”
This begs the questions: What or who is a buddy? What or who or is a friend?
In our study of Aristotle and the abundant life, we can’t move on without homing in on friendship as it is one of the hallmarks of a full life. In his classic work Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle takes a step back to examine and define three types of friendship. I share them with you below.
FRIENDSHIP OF UTILITY
The friendship of utility is the first kind of friendship Aristotle defines. These friendships are based on what the two people can do for one another, as we see in a business transaction. They usually have little to do with the other individual as a person and are transactional in nature. Such friendships can end rapidly, often as soon as any possible use for the other person is gone.
FRIENDSHIP OF PLEASURE
The second is a relationship of pleasure. This friendship is based on enjoyment of a shared activity. It usually includes the pursuit of fleeting pleasures and temporary emotions. Aristotle declares it to be the friendship of the young. This is a short-term friendship as people may change what or who they like and suddenly be without connection or their friend. We find a lot of these friendships disappear as our interests change, we move away, or graduate from school.
FRIENDSHIP OF EXCELLENCE
The third is a friendship of virtue, excellence, or character. These are the people you like for themselves, the people who push you to be a better person in return. The motivation is that you care for the person authentically and therefore the relationship is much more stable than the previous two categories. This relationship gets into our inner thoughts and souls. These friendships are hard to find because most people are stuck in the realm of merely talking about people and things, always keeping the conversation on the surface. Few venture into the domain of ideas. Thus “virtuous” friendships are hard to find. Such friendships are sacred and often scarce. They are only possible between two people of character who can invest the time needed to create such a bond. It is the most enduring of the friendships and has the depth to mutually support, minister and encourage each other in good and bad times.
FRIEND VS. BUDDY
Let me now compare a friend to a buddy. I define a “buddy” as one with whom our actions or activities inch up to “the edge” of morality, beauty and goodness. Or worse yet, they cross the line.
Paul the Apostle may have described this best when he said:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:17)
This defines our “buddy culture” today. A buddy is slow or reluctant to invite or tell a friend to consider a change. Why? Because their relationship may be a casual one of utility or pleasure. An excellent friend will help them pause, point out the unprincipled behavior, and invite and encourage them to consider a better path. Such change will best come when we have built equity in the relationship by blessing and helping each other.
When we have shown ourselves to be a friend of excellence they know our love is unconditional. Even when there must be correction, counsel, or advice. Reproving a friend is always challenging, flexibility in timing and words is crucial. Words can be bullets or a blanket. “The finest of friends must sometimes be stern sentinels, who will insist that we become what we have the power to become” (Neal A. Maxwell, Insights from My Life, 191). But the friend of virtue who corrects to make you a better person and help you along life’s journey is among the greatest and best friend a person can have.
I have always enjoyed the story of David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18:1-5 because it teaches me much about how to be a friend to someone.
“And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle. And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him and behaved himself wisely: and Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants. And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him.” (1 Sam. 18:14)
Between David and Jonathan, first there was mutual admiration, love and desire for the welfare of each other. Second, noble promises were made with an oath to keep each other safe. Third, proper manners were observed in behaving wisely or having virtue in their actions. These same principles can be cultivated in the development of our own most excellent friendships.
The Lord referred to his disciples as “friends” several times. (See Luke 12:4) Jesus took the form of a shepherd to his flock or sheep. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)
The Pinnacle of Friendship
I know I am approaching the pinnacle of friendship when I have this commitment of “owning” instead of “renting” my relationship in situations that arise with a friend. Their challenge becomes my challenge. I feel a need to encourage, support and be an ear and heart for them.
In contrast, a buddy is a hireling. He is there for the utility of the transaction or the fun or pleasure of the moment. When things get hard a buddy finds a new relationship.
A friend is a shepherd. A shepherd may stay up late at night or ponder on what to do to protect and bless his friend. As Jesus ultimately pointed out, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Become a friend of virtue. Identify your friendships of virtue and excellence. Send a note of gratitude to such a friend. They are hard to cultivate and find.
Next month on this site we will transition to discussing gratitude, the mother of all other virtues. Thank you for learning along with us as we help this Revolution in Education movement grow. We hope you will invite your friends to join us here. I’m sure they will have much to contribute to the discussions and we look forward to getting to know all of you better.