C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”
Friendship is a curious thing. I think Lewis is on to something here. There is an exclusivity in friendship. You cannot be friends with everyone. Friendship is a mini-subculture. I like something weird and when I discover that you’re weird in the same way, a bond is created.
But there is something more to friendship. Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, says that there are three levels to friendship:
1. Friendship of utility or usefulness (the lowest kind)
2. Friendship of pleasure
3. Friendship that pursues the Good (the highest kind)
1. Friendship of Usefulness
The first kind is friendship on account of what the other person can help me do. This isn’t bad, but it’s not the highest. I’m friendly with the security guard at my office. He opens the door for me, protects me, and chases off solicitors. I like him. He likes me. We get along. But I’m not going to pay for his children to go to college. There’s a limit to our friendship.
Maybe you have a friendly plumber or jeweler and he gives you a “friends” discount. No shame in that. But recognize it for what it is. It’s a friendship of utility.
2. Friendship of Pleasure
This second kind of friendship is deeper, but not complete.
I meet people all the time. Yet sometimes you meet someone and you seem like instant friends. If the person I meet has done cave exploring in Belize, writes a blog, hunts, fishes, attends the Latin Mass, has a peanut allergy, reads Cornelius a Lapide, and can name Star Trek episodes by name, I just plain like that guy! We have fun together.
At root, I like this guy because he is a reflection of me. We have fun conversations and we ‘get’ each other. Conversely, sometimes we like others because they are not like us. Perhaps they inspire us because they already are what we want to be.
90% of our friendships are friendships of pleasure. We enjoy being with that other person. He or she is fun or stimulates your mind.
3. Friendship for the Good
Aristotle speaks of the highest form of friendship that longs for the betterment of your soul. This friend wants your soul to become more good and beautiful. These are usually multi-decade friendships. They are very rare.
Aristotle did not know about Christ or the beatific vision, but this kind of friendship through a Christian lens is the kind that will sacrifice for you. What Christians call “agape love.” This is the friend that wants you to get to Heaven more than he wants to have a good time.
When I was a boy, my father told me that I would likely have only five true friends in my entire life and two of them would be my parents. Now that I’m older, I would add my wife to that number. This sort of friend is all in for you. He want to the best for you. He will sacrifice a kidney for you. He will spend money to assist you. He will sacrifice time and energy for your betterment. He will tell you things that you don’t want to hear but need to hear.
Here’s an action item. It’s a clarifying task. Get out a sheet of paper right now.
Write down one example of each kind of friend in your life. Write down their names. They don’t need to be living. They may have died.
Next, ask yourself, am I a “Class A” friend to anyone? Would anyone in the world see me as the top level friend? If you don’t like the answer, ask yourself: “How can change this?”
Personally, I think it’s helpful to understand the levels of friendship.
Question for comments: How are these categories of friendship flipped around and used for evil? For example, some people pretend to be deep friends seeking the good, but they only want to use you.
People with a chronic record of pretending to serve the good only to use other people for their own needs are called “sociopaths.” Stay away from them. Have you met people that confuse the hierarchy of friendship to either hurt or use others?
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