Updated: Jun 1
Too many of us have experienced the heart wrenching loss of broken friendships. People we thought we could trust prove capable of the greatest wounding, for only a friend elicits trust sufficient to betray us. That word, “betrayal.” It bites, doesn’t it? And, afterward? Loss of hope, loss of trust, loss of a positive view of the world. Why? Because our creator is a community of persons in infinite love, and insofar as we, too, are persons like He is, we must enter into love relationships in order to be fulfilled. So, we have to find true friends to be happy. Which brings us to our topic today: how can we find real friends?
If you want true friends, then you must find people with whom you can share mutual and reciprocal pleasures, with whom you can share mutually supportive utility, and you must love the soul of the other person because it is good.
To answer that, we should go back to the best writer on friendship, Aristotle. He said that human beings are essentially social in character and need one another for the development of virtue, those qualities and habits of life that alone truly fulfill human character. The best kinds of friends are people who enjoy that social harmony in three ways. First, they are useful for one another. Second, they enjoy one another’s company. And third, they are good for one another. Thus, friendship is a virtuous harmony between two (or more) persons in which there is a mutually supportive, acknowledged relationship of utility, pleasure, and goodness. They value each other not merely for what they can do for each other but also for what they are in themselves, namely good. This noblest kind of human friendship requires a mutual pursuit of virtue, proven through long experience and trust. It is accordingly quite rare. Jane Austen takes this Aristotelian idea as the bedrock of her notions of marital love, Pride and Prejudice being a walk through Aristotelian virtue and vice in the relationships of human beings.
Thus, if you want true friends, what Aristotle called “complete friendship,” then you must find people with whom you can share mutual and reciprocal pleasures (like both of you enjoying fishing), with whom you can share mutually supportive utility (like each of you using your complementary strengths to do things for one another), and you must love the soul of the other person because it is good. Many of our relationships with people are built on shared pleasures. But once those pleasures dissipate, say as we grow up, those relationships collapse. Other relationships are built on utility, on use. But unless these relationships are reciprocal, it is very easy for one party or the other to feel “used.” What unifies and grounds both pleasure and utility is love of the other person because he is good. Let’s explore why.
People committed to the Good for themselves are the only people capable of being committed to the Good for you.
First, people committed to the good, committed to the cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation are people you can rely on. You know who they are and that enables you to predict how they are going to behave. Second, people committed to the good for themselves are the only people capable of being committed to the good for you. Someone who offers to share the pleasure of stealing money and going on a shopping spree isn’t seeking what is good for you, because he isn’t seeking what is good even for himself. Third, people who finally get their lives engineered around a sincere pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty habituate that pursuit, meaning it becomes who they are. As a result, they don’t easily get turned aside to falsehood, evil, and ugliness. That means that they don’t change. Fourth, people committed to the good love all that is good, which means that they are interested in everything that their intellect is capable of reaching. These are the sorts of people who are fascinating just to be around, to hear them talk, to watch what they love, because it is contagious. Fifth, people committed to the good love other people committed to the good, because their love of people isn’t grounded in incidental and easily alterable factors. How many times have you wondered, “Will this person like me?” If that person is a lover of goodness, and if you have examined your life and dedicated yourself to full human fulfillment through wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation, then all other lovers of goodness will connect with you. Sixth, people who love goodness are incredibly useful, because their lives are so immensely full.
If you want the best friendships, the first step is to take a serious examination of your life and see whether you are committed to truth and goodness.
So, if you want the best friendships, the first step is to take a serious examination of your life and see whether you are committed to truth and goodness. Ask yourself what are the three top things in your life that you are doing wrong right now. Now go change them. If you say that’s too hard, then put on some courage and get to work. You can do it. You just might not want to. But if you won’t seek the good for yourself, then what are you seeking in a potential friend? Just someone to pleasure you or someone you can use. That sort of “friend” won’t last, and you will contribute to his demise. So, step one, start with yourself. If you don’t love goodness, you’ll never find a good friend.
The second step is to find other people who share the commitment to virtue. That’s not easy, because the life committed to the good, the real, the true, and the beautiful is quite rare. It takes time, and it takes patience. But they are out there. So, seek them out. Go to the places where the virtuous are likely to be. Courageously go up to those people and talk to them, testing their characters to see who they are. And understand this, once you find a potential candidate, don’t rush in. It takes time to assess character. It takes time to prove that what you see in the first month is who this person really is. And (this is the hard part) it takes suffering. What does that mean? It means that we find out who our friends really are when we land in the cauldron of pain that this world so often sinks us into. You know what I mean. The people who stand with you thick and thin. The people you know will be there for you. And vice-versa. You must be there for them. Aristotle says that no friendship is real unless it is reciprocal and acknowledged, proven through having eaten the proverbial salt together.
Jane Austen's famous books exploring the relationship between human character and properly matched marriages are founded on Aristotle's theory of virtue and friendship.
Finally, if you’re thinking that these steps apply to finding a spouse, you’re on the right track. In fact, Jane Austen’s famous books exploring the relationship between human character and properly matched marriages are founded on Aristotle’s theory of friendship. So, a couple quick take-aways applying all of this to love: First, falling in love is a kind of pleasure that in no way indicates marital suitability. The divorce rate proves that. Second, marriage partners absolutely must be people mutually committed to virtue if you want any chance at happiness. Imagine if you don’t care about goodness. Your fiancé stands up there at the altar as you walk toward him. But what wretchedness are you about to bring into his life? So, you must seek virtue in your life. And you must be sure that your partner seeks it in his. Third, don’t marry quickly, but take time to assess the character of your potential mate. Give time for your feelings to even out, so that you can make a sound decision. And finally, be sure that your powers are reciprocal and complimentary, that both of you can do good and expose good and motivate good for the other.