These days people throw around the word “friend” with an extraordinary glibness. “Joe’s my friend!” may mean nothing more than “I used to work with Joe at McDonalds.”
News flash: being in a position where Joe will recognize you on the street does not automatically make Joe your friend.
So what is a friend exactly? I’m going to set aside a discussion of sufficient conditions for friendship here and simply focus on one necessary condition. My dad is not a philosopher, but some years ago he said to me “A true friend is a person who would always wish you well.” I’ve come to recognize that he was right. And when we really let that criterion sink in, it becomes clear that most of us come up woefully short.
The other day “Dave” told me how his buddy “Chuck” was helping him out. Dave has been working in one profession for awhile, but things haven’t been going well. So Chuck, who works in another profession, has taken Dave under his wing. Chuck’s been showing Dave the ropes just in case he ever wants to change professions. Now he’ll have a place to land.
A good friend, right? Maybe so.
But maybe not.
You see, in one sense it is easy for Chuck to be generous with Dave. After all, Chuck is in the place of power. He isn’t under threat.
However, imagine for a moment that Dave does change professions and joins Chuck. And then over the next two years Chuck’s career begins to spiral while Dave excels. It’s at this moment that my dad’s criterion becomes relevant. Obviously Chuck would lament his own career spiral, but if he is a true friend he will at least draw comfort knowing that his friend Dave is excelling.
And Chuck may do just that. I don’t know him so I can’t speculate.
But I can make a judgment about myself. If I were in that scenario, it likely wouldn’t be long before I resented Dave. His victories wouldn’t be mine. Rather, they’d be salt in my wounds. I’d start making snide comments about Dave to others. I’d ask myself why I ever offered him assistance in the first place.
In short, I wouldn’t be a true friend.
When I hold up my relationships with others to that standard, I find that I am friends with fewer people than I’d hoped.
But don’t take it personally…