What is Friendship?

  • The beautiful Japanese word kenzoku connotes a chemistry or a bond sourced in similarity of spirit.

    It suggests the sharing of certain fundamental values.

    It is in this sense that our most profound connections come from our power of choice — not birth or blood — because our values are chosen and developed by each one of us individually.

    Friendship, in a very real sense, comes from our capacity to value.

    Valuing is an individual choice. It comes from your thoughts.

    Our values are our passions.

    Our passions are largely willed.

    Those who value things most deeply, feel love most deeply.

    Friendship is a spectrum: there are different degrees, types, and depths. And yet they all have one thing in common:

    They’re all founded upon esteem and affection for the other person.

    Friendship is reciprocal.

    The friends whom you feel the most affection for are the friends who reflect your deepest values.

    You needn’t even have very much in common with your closest friends: provided you’re likeminded in certain fundamental things — this, more than anything, will bond you at the most fundamental level.

    Love is in this way mirror-like: it reflects those values you yourself hold most dear.

    “Natural love is nothing more than the fundamental inclination which is stamped upon every being by the Author of nature.”

    Said Thomas Aquinas.

    Like his teacher Aristotle, Aquinas believed that the highest love was friendship.

    Both, however, believed that friendship was just a precursor to understanding the love that is, in Aquinas’s words, caritas.

    One of the first questions Aquinas poses in his tract on charity is whether charity equals friendship. He answers this way:

    According to Aristotle (Ethics VIII, 4) not all love has the character of friendship, but only that love which goes with wishing well, namely when we so love another as to will what is good for him. For if we do not will what is good to the things we love but rather, we will their good for ourselves, as we are said to love wine, a horse or the like, then that is not love of friendship but a love of desire. For it would be foolish to say that someone has friendship with wine or a horse.

    But benevolence alone does not suffice to constitute friendship; it also requires a certain mutual loving, because a friend is friendly to his friend. But such mutual benevolence is based on something shared in common.

    Both also believed that love is active.

    Thus, when there ceases to be reciprocity, there ceases to be love.

    When there ceases to be an active and passionate mind, there ceases to be values.

    When there ceases to be values, the capacity for friendship is proportionately diminished.

    Love and friendship are both life-affirming and life-giving: they are an interplay of mirror-like reflection and exchange, and they both begin with the individual’s capacity to value.

    Life is largely a process of valuing.

    And valuing begins — and ends — in the individual mind.