The value of friendship

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Many, at least, feel the dire need of having a friend. In other words, of having someone with whom, as Albert Camus put it, can walk beside him and her.

This mutual affective relationship between people which we call friendship, has, indeed, a very long history. For Zeno, a friend is our alter ego. Phythagora sees friends as companions on a journey, who ought to aid each other to persevere in the road to a happier life. For Epicurus, it is not so much our friends’ help that helps us, as the confidence of their help. Then, Lucretius admits that “we are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly embracing one another”. Euripides notes that friends show their love in times of trouble whereas life has no blessing like a prudent friend. Plautus notes that “nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend”. And, the great Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman, Seneca, says that “friendship always benefits; love sometimes injures”.

Personally speaking I have been touched by what the great Roman statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero, wrote about friendship. In his famous treatise on friendship De Amicitia, written in 44 BC, the great Cicero says about friendship: “For friendship is nothing else than an accord in all things, human and divine, conjoined with mutual goodwill and affection, and I am inclined to think that, with the exception of wisdom, no better thing has been given to man by the immortal gods” (VI, 20).

In today’s world, afflicted and tormented as it is with self-seeking consumeristic mentality one needs to have great courage to enter a friendship. Yet, let that person understand that he and she will not be the only one on earth that can embark on such a project. Others before him and her managed to do the same. Suffice to mention the great friendship that existed between St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil of Cesarea. In his Oratio 43, in laudem Basilii Magni, St. Gregory speaks at length about his friendship with St. Basil.

“Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it… Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper. The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own. We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.

Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.

Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians”.

What life teachings do I get from these authors regarding friendship? Can I let them help me be a better friend?

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