Friendships are some of the truest joys of life. A well-lived existence will include a few or at least one honestly meaningful friendship.
Aristotle is universally one of the most glorified and prolific western philosophers of all time. Around 2000 years ago, Aristotle noted down his observations on the most commonly formed friendships, and his views still hold some truth in today’s world. His words were:
“In poverty as well as in other misfortunes, people suppose that friends are their only refuge. And friendship is a help to the young, in saving them from error, just as it is also to the old, with a view to the care they require and their diminished capacity for action stemming from their weakness; it is a help also to those in their prime in performing noble actions, for ‘two going together’ are better able to think and to act.”
Aristotle outlined three kinds of friendships that occur, two of which are more accidental than intentional.
The Accidental Friendships – Utility and Pleasure
These constitute the friendships that we get or fall into without realizing it. They are of two kinds: Friendships of utility and Friendships of pleasure.
Friendships of utility are not based on any sort of affection between the parties involved. Alternatively, they’re in it for some benefit that is received from maintaining the relationship. Think of the friends you have at work or a neighbour who you borrow tools from.
The second kind of accidental friendships is those of pleasure. This is the type shared by college mates, people in the same sports league, choir, salsa classes etc.
Both of these friendship forms, generally end once the circumstances of the relationship change. For example; once the benefit you received by being friends stop such as when you switch jobs or move houses. Friendships of pleasure end when tastes and preferences change and are some of the most short-lived. You will definitely love the moments spent together but once situations surrounding your friendship change, the connection may never be the same again. We go through various phases of interests and we see our friends change along the way.
Most of our friendships fall into either of these two breeds and although there is nothing wrong with maintaining relationships such as these, Aristotle felt such friendships may lack in depth and quality.
The point here is that although accidental friendships are necessary and enjoyable, there are more meaningful bonds that can be formed out there in the world.
The Intentional Friendship – Virtue
The most preferable forms of friendship according to Aristotle are those of virtue. Unlike the types of acquaintanceships we develop for benefit or pleasure, this particular bond is formed based on a shared appreciation and understanding of the virtues held by the other person. The parties choose to stay in each other’s lives because the people themselves and their personal qualities act as the incentive to stay.
Rather than being brief and fleeting, these are the sorts of connections that often may last a lifetime. Individuals who lack a level of empathy and care for others may be unsuccessful in forming these kinds of relationships because they may prefer finding benefit and pleasure over deep connections.
Time and trust are vital for building friendships of virtue. We tend to form closer bonds with people who have been there for us through the ups and downs or those who you have faced mutual hardships with. The beauty of such friendships is that they automatically bring about the rewards of being beneficial and pleasurable (I.e. Accidental friendships). It’s natural to enjoy spending time with a person if you respect and care for them. And if they are nice enough to create such a deep bond with, then you will gain some utility too. These will be the best people to have around when you require a bit of mental and emotional support.
Albeit that these bonds take a bit of time and intention to form, but when they blossom, the relationship is one that is lasting and full of trust, admiration, and awe.
There is a reason why some of Aristotle’s work is still widely read and applied to this day. He hoped that people spent the necessary time and effort to cultivate virtuous relationships.
The reasoning is simple. The people in our lives directly shape the quality of the life we live. While we may hopefully live a long and fruitful life, it is still however too short for shallow friendships.