Timeless Wisdom on Friendship

“The sweetest support is a very dear friend.”



“In the whole course of history only three or four pairs of true friends are recorded,” Cicero wrote in his treatise on friendship. Of course, in Cicero’s mind, as with other great minds that you’ll encounter in this article, a friend isn’t merely an acquaintance — Or in our modern age, a social media follower or a “like-contributor”. Friendship goes beyond the superficiality and the ego-stroking transactional nature that expounds most interactions today.

Friends are people whom we engage in lasting relationships with. They are ones with whom we give and receive never-ending support, and grow together as people through the best and the absolute worst of times. As Aristotle put it, “Friends hold a mirror up to each other; through that mirror they can see each other in ways that would not otherwise be accessible to them, and it is this mirroring that helps them improve themselves as persons.”

Such friendships aren’t so common, whether in society or in our own respective lives. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. What truly matters is the quality of our friendships, rather than the number of friends we have in our circle. According to the ancient Greek philosophers, having friends that we can truly count on isn’t just important because it enriches our lives, but because it is in tandem with what it means to live “the good life” — Friendship, thus is synonymous with eudaimonia (Greek for “having a good demon”).

Below are musings as well as advice by some of the world’s great minds (Cicero, especially) on friendship .


The beauty of friendship :

“What is so delicious as a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling?”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“(Friendship) is for aid and comfort through all the relations and passages of life and death. It is fit for serene days, and graceful gifts, and country rambles, but also for rough roads and hard fare, shipwreck, poverty, and persecution.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
– C.S. Lewis



Pillars of friendship :

“All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.”
David Whyte



Choose your friends wisely :

“Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul.”
– Seneca

“Friendship is not possible except between good people.”
– Cicero




Beware of fair-weather friends :

“These are the so-called ‘fair-weather’ friendships; one who is chosen for the sake of utility will be satisfactory only so long as he is useful.”
– Seneca




Friendships aren’t transactional :

“The reward of friendship is friendship itself.”
– Cicero




Always give your utmost support :

“I must feel pride in my friend’s accomplishments as if they were mine, and a property in his virtues. I feel as warmly when he is praised, as the lover when he hears applause of his engaged maiden. We over-estimate the conscience of our friend. His goodness seems better than our goodness, his nature finer, his temptations less. Everything that is his, — His name, his form, his dress, books and instruments, — Fancy enhances. Our own thought sounds new and larger from his mouth.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Nature loves nothing that is solitary, but always inclines towards some sort of support. And the sweetest support is a very dear friend.”
– Cicero




Friends accept the worst, and encourage the best in one another :

“In the course of the years a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves, to remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves.”
– David Whyte




Have healthy competition (Constantly strive to do good for one another) :

“They become rivals in doing good for each other than getting something in return — An honorable competition!”
– Cicero




Real friendships are founded on virtue :
“Therefore let this be a law of friendship : Never ask a friend to do anything shameful, and don’t do anything shameful if asked.”
– Cicero




Friendship can never be based on fear :
“How can anyone love a person he fears, or love someone who fears him? Tyrants seem to be loved, but only for a time. When they fall from power, as they almost always do, then they discover how few friends they have.”
– Cicero




Friendships are supposed to be playful and fun :

“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
– Kahlil Gibran




Be there, no matter rain or shine :

“What could be sweeter than to have someone you can dare to talk to about everything as if you were speaking to yourself? How could you enjoy the good times of life if you didn’t have someone who was as happy about your good fortune as you are? And adversity would be a terrible thing to bear unless you had someone who felt its weight even more than you.”
– Cicero




Lasting friendships aren’t based on flattery. True friends are not afraid to disagree :

“How closely flattery resembles friendship! It not only apes friendship, but outdoes it, passing it in the race; with wide-open and indulgent ears it is welcomed and sinks to the depths of the heart, and it is pleasing precisely wherein it does harm.”
– Seneca




Friends give a slap to the face when necessary :
“True friends should give faithful advice to each other, not only with frankness but with sternness if necessary. And this advice should be heeded.”
– Cicero




Always have boundaries :

“Always consider what is right for you to ask of a friend — And what is right for that friend to ask of you.”
– Cicero




The power of great friendship :

“Even when friends are absent, they are still present. When you lack the necessities of life, with a friend you have more than enough. With such a friend, you are strong even when you are weak. And — Though this is more difficult to say — When friends  have died, yet they are still alive in you. So powerful and real are the memories of true friends, so great and tender is the longing for them, that even in death they are a blessing and live in us.”
– Cicero

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