How to Be a Friend

Two Men Contemplating the Moon, Caspar David Friedrich, 1825

Two Men Contemplating the Moon, Caspar David Friedrich, 1825

friends are the finest and most beautiful adornment of life.

Today, I read this little book on friendship by Marcus Tullius Cicero titled De Amicitia or How to Be a Friend.

Cicero dedicated this short essay to his best friend, Atticus. Cicero was devoted to Roman politics during the first century BC, a time of civil war, while Atticus watched from a safe distance in Athens. They exchanged letters over the years that displayed a friendship of rare devotion and warm affection.

He was influenced by Plato and Aristotle who wrote about friendship centuries before, and his work serves as a compelling guide to finding, keeping, and appreciating the people in our lives we value not what they can give us, but because we find in them a kindred soul.

The book contains 10 timeless advice on friendship:

  1. there are different types of friends: be they business associates, neighbors, or acquaintances, the rare friends we bind ourselves to on a much deeper level are the ones that deeply change our lives, just as we change theirs.
  2. only good people can be true friends: people of poor moral character can only have friends of utility. real friendship requires trust, wisdom, and basic goodness.
  3. choose friends with care: take our time, move slowly, discover what lies deep in a person's heart before we make the investment of self that true friendship requires.
  4. friends make you better: a true friend challenges you to become better because they appreciate the potential inside you
  5. make new friends, keep the old: always be open to new friendships, including younger people. no one is a sweeter friend than someone who's been with you from the stat, cherish and maintain them
  6. friends are honest with each other: friends always tell you want you need to hear, not what you want them to say. only a real friend will risk your anger by telling you the truth.
  7. reward of friendship is the friendship itself: there are practical advantages to friendship – advice, companionship, support in difficult times, but at its heart true friendship does not keep score or seek repayment
  8. a friend never asks another friend to do something wrong: a friend will risk much for another, but not honor. friendship is based on good ness, it cannot exist if evil is expected of it.
  9. friendships change over time: all of us change with time, but core values and qualities that formed the friendship survives the test of time. Like fine wine, the best of friendships improve with age.
  10. without friends, life is not worth living: "Suppose a god carried you far away to a place where you were granted an abundance of every material good nature could wish for, but denied the possibility of ever seeing a human being. Wouldn't you have to be as hard as iron to endure that sort of life? Wouldn't you, utterly alone, lose every capacity for joy and pleasure?"

below are a few quotes that I liked from the book.

on death of Atticus

We shared all our public and private cars, we lived together in the same home, soldiered together in the same campaigns, and enjoyed the very essence of friendship – a common set of beliefs, aspirations, and opinions.

I am deeply moved by the death of a friend such as I will never have again, or I least such as I never had before.

If the recollections and memories of such things had died with him, I wouldn't be able to bear the loss of a man so near and dear to me. But these experiences are not dead. To the contrary, as I reflect on and remember our time together, the memories are nourished and strengthened.

If you let your sorrow overwhelm you, you're not showing how much you loved your friend, only how much you love yourself.

On divinity of the soul

Socrates [...] always maintained that human souls were divine. He believed that when the soul left the body, the road back to the heavens lay before it – with the easiest path awaiting souls that were most virtuous and just.

on friendship

friendship is nothing other than agreement with goodwill and affection between people about all things divine and human. With teh exception of wisdom, I'm inclined to believe that the immortal gods have given nothing better to humanity than friendship.

How can live be worth living, as Ennius says, unless it relies on the mutual goodwill of a friend?

What could be sweeter than to have someone you can dare to talk to about everything as if you were speaking to yourself? How could you enjoy the good times of life if you didn't have someone who was as happy about your good fortune as you are? And adversity would be a terrible thing to bear unless you had someone who felt its weight even more than you?

All things in nature and indeed the whole universe, whether stationary or in motion, are held together by friendship and torn apart by discord.

friendship arises from nature itself rather than from any need, along with an inclination of the soul joined with a sense of love rather than a calculation of how useful the relationship might be.

real friendship cannot be the child of poverty and need

friends are the finest and most beautiful adornment of life.

on loyalty

the foundation of stability and constancy that we seek in a friendship is loyalty, for nothing can be stable that is disloyal. We also need to choose a friend who is honest, sociable, and sympathetic – that is, someone who is motivated by the same things as we are. All these things contribute to loyalty between people.

on principles of friendship.

first, never to lie or deceive (for a geniuine man disagrees openly with a friend rather than hiding his real thoughts),

second, always to reject slander brought by another and not even to be suspicious or believe that a friend has done something wrong.

In addition, there should be a certain pleasantness of speech and actions between two people that gives a special flavor to friendship. [...] friendship ought to be more amiable, genial, and relaxed so it tends towards sociability and ease of every sort.

on helping your friends (and family)

if you have an advantage in virtue or talent or fortune, you should share it freely with your family and those you are close to.

If your parents are of humble birth or your relatives are not as gifted as you are in brains, energy, or fortune, you should increase their resources and improve their honor and standing in life.

For the fruit of talent, virtue, or any other excellence we might have is best enjoyed when shared it with those nearest an dearest to us.

someone who is superior ought to bring himself down to the level of his friends and try to raise them up when he can.

Only give them what they can handle. [...] even if you can do a great deal for your friends, you have to always consider how much help would do them any good.

on the most beautiful kind of friendship

the most beautiful and natural kind of friendship, the one sought in and for itself.

Every person loves himself, not for any kind of profit he can make from this love but because he is dear to himself on his own account.

Unless we can transfer this kind of feeling to friendship, we will never find true friendship.

A friend is, quite simply, another self.

on choosing the right friends

you should love after you have judged, not judge after you have loved

we pay the price for negligence in many things, but most of all our carelessness in selecting and making friends

on caring more about friendship

take great care in forming friendships in teh first place so that we don't begin to love someone we might someday hate

our carelessness regarding something as important as friendship deserves the strongest condemnation, for it is the one thing in human life that everyone unanimously agrees is useful

one way or another, friendship creeps into every life and allows no way of living without it

on not letting friends become enemies

nothing is more disgraceful than to wage war against someone you once loved

first make a great effort to see that discord doesn't arise between you and your friends. But if it does, make it seem that the fire of your friendship burned out on its own rather than being stamped out.

don't love too quickly and don't give your friendship to those unworthy of it.

on truth and criticism

listen to the advice and criticism of a friend when given in a spirit of goodwill.

Truth can be troublesome if it brings about hatred, which is poison to friendship but much worse is the kind of indulgence and acquiescence that allows a friend to rush headlong into destructive behaviour.

some people's most bitter enemies are more helpful to them than their sweet-seeming friends, since the former often tell the truth but the latter never do.

to graciously give and receive criticism is the mark of true friendship. You must offer your corrections with kindness, not harshly, and take them patiently, not with reluctance.

on virtue

It is virtue that creates and preserves friendships. Virtue is the source of compatibility, stability, and permanence. When virtue has raised itself up and shown its light and has seen the same light in someone else, it is drawn to that person and receives what it gives another. From this sharing either love [amor] or friendship [amicitia] shines forth, for they both come from the same word [amare]. To love someone simply means that you care for another person without putting your own needs or advantage first. Yet this blossoms in friendship anyway, even though you weren't actively pursuing it.