Spirituality for Today – February 2011 – Volume 15, Issue 7

The Value of Friendship

By Rev. Mark Connolly

An image of friends in a circle

In clinical psychology when you study the high incidence of serious abuses in drugs, when you study the high incidences of why young people are doing violence to themselves in the form of crimes or suicide, certain behavioral patterns appear and reappear. And one that seems to be a common denominator in all of these areas is that basically these persons are loners - they seek out the same type - they have never known what it is to have a solid friendship.

In the field of clinical psychology the approach of today has radically changed. Instead of giving young people all the clinical reasons as to why a person takes to drugs, or suicide, the approach is far more personal. Hundreds of articles are coming forth today on a subject that if properly learned can help the young person avoid a great deal of pitfalls. That subject is the subject of friendship.

That subject has to be taught by every adult. Parents can help and teach 'friendship', not just for the purpose of avoiding the abnormal, but for the purpose of giving your child the opportunity of a lifetime, a solid friendship.

You and I cannot leave this subject to the curriculum of a high school or college. You and I, on a one to one basis, must see that our children have a basic awareness as to how to develop a solid friendship. And how do we teach our children the technique of cultivating solid friendships?

First, by teaching them the value of being generous in their relationships with others. I think, we as adults, make a big mistake in overestimating the capacity of the young untrained mind. For years they are on the receiving end. They receive clothing, education, food and all the comforts of life. But it is rare that during that time of formation they are asked to give. (TV has made them more passive). And because they are asked to give so little, they are oftentimes unable to give of the qualities that are needed to develop a friendship.

Giving of one's self is the most demanding requirement in the cultivation of friendship. A young person has to be taught that you don't develop a friendship just for the sake of what you can get. This is the kiss of death. You cultivate a friendship because you know as a person you can enrich, inspire and help another. A true friend has no expectation of ever being repaid for something that he has done for you. The real test of generosity is seen in this fashion. When a crisis has occurred and you are in need of a favor from a friend, long after that favor has been given and the crisis has passed, you, the recipient, have no feeling of obligation or indebtedness. This is what Christ had in mind when he said, "greater love than this no one has than he who lays down his life for another."

Another quality that should be stressed in the development of friendship is the quality that we call greatness of soul or magnanimity. If you read the life of Christ, you can readily see how this quality was constantly working in the friendships he cultivated. When the apostles misunderstood what Christ was teaching, he showed greater patience. When he was on his way to Calvary and deserted by them, he did not reproach them. When he was in need of their help and it did not come, there was no rancor or bitterness. This greatness of soul, this taking of the extra step, this turning of the cheek, this is the quality that enables us to have the joy of a lifetime in the form of a friendship or lose it.

The third quality that should be stressed in the teaching of friendships is the importance of being genuine. Many young people today can see through all the defenses and facades that many adults have in their relationships with other adults. They refer to this as game playing or role playing. But by and large, many of the normal young people of today have more hang-ups than the adults they criticize. And as a result, they are not real, they are not genuine in their relationships with their peers. They might criticize their adults for having a double set of values, but they are just as guilty of the same psychological crime. Because so many of them have such a tremendous problem finding their own identity, or how to cope with their loneliness, they are quite afraid to mention this to their peers less they be subject to embarrassment, humiliation or criticism. And this inability to be genuine causes many of them to participate in practices that are not only immoral, but amoral.

Cultivating the ingredients of generosity in their relationship with others, greatness of soul in their way of life and being genuine with their peers - these are some of the major ingredients that will prevent your children from becoming the loners that are so overwhelmed by the practices of the society in which they live.

But friendships are not cultivated just to avoid social evil practices of the day. The motivations have to be higher. Every friendship enriches your personality. It gives you insight into the life of another who has been led by the Holy Spirit. A solid friendship enables you to realize that in the presence of your friend that your secrets as well as your sins are sacred. Friendship is an antidote for boredom and loneliness, but also a quality that enables you to grow up in the friendship of God and in the sight of your neighbor. I think the greatest words ever written on the subject of friendship came in a lecture on this subject by Cardinal Newman. As he was leaving his post in Oxford and planning to become a convert to Catholicism, he said, "O loving friends, should you know anyone who has helped you by word or act, if what he has said has told you what you knew about yourself or what you did not know about yourself, if such a one has read to you your wants and feelings and offered you comfort by doing so, if he has made you feel that there is a higher life than this daily one, or encouraged you, or soothed you, if what he has said or done has ever made you take an interest in him, and feel well inclined to him, remember such a one in time to come, though you hear him not, and pray for him that at all times and in all things he may know God's will and be always ready to fulfill it." A person who has this friendship with you has a touch of heaven on earth.

If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman,
I shall feel that I have worked with God.

- George McDonald