On Friends and Friendship…

One of the sound bites echoing through corridors of my mind is the saying that a friend in need is a friend in deed. It broadly manifests as childhood friends, school friends, amiable neighbourhoods, college friends, career friends, best friends, boyfriends and girlfriends. Being part of an eco system of relatives and absolutes, acquaintances and strangers, friends and foes and many other dualities, I have, probably like others of my age, been through a string of school and college reunions over the last couple of years. It was a really pleasant experience catching up with old friends, many of them mellowed in their features and deportment and a few still retaining vestiges of their old selves and unrefined attitudes akin to unchanging stripes of leopards.

We spend entire lives building relationships. From preschool, where we all learn that “it takes a friend to make a friend,” through adulthood, where we mingle at coffee houses, bars and around water coolers, we crave closeness with other human beings.

We just need to know that someone out there connects with us.

Whether we have a small group of close friends or an expanded group of personable entities, each of our friendships brings something new to our lives, inspiring us to see the world in novel ways, giving us a reliable shoulder to lean on, and an enthusiastic cheerleader to root us on.

Friendships come in all sorts of forms: serious ones, like the college friend you discuss politics and social issues with, silly ones, like the boisterous squad you eagerly play Holi with, chill ones, like your wine and Netflix buddies. Some friendships just keep growing, turning out into rewarding relationships that add to joie de vivre.

Every friendship offers something totally unique — and irreplaceable. Every friendship ultimately contributes to making who we are.

This is why we spend so much time cultivating these equations and learning how to be a good friend. This is why we show up in reunions after separations, at graduations, at weddings, and at funerals. This is why, near or far, our friends hold a special place forever in our hearts.

We all know a true friend is hard to find. So when you do find one, hang on tight. It also does not hurt to let your best friends know every now and then just how much they mean to you.

But like all cherished values, even friendship has undergone a steady transformation over the years. In the corporate world, where I spent all my career years, there are mostly no friendships anymore as it is purveyed in the form of contacts and networking. You become a resource to the management and your success and efficacy is measured by the extent of your network. That said, there is an element of truth in such an assessment because of the fact that networking is a force-multiplier, by way of enhancing value of a resource to an organization and the efficacy it provides in the everyday business of life.

Who is a real friend, is a question often doing the rounds and eliciting widely different answers, ranging  from proverbial friend in need is a friend in deed to a varying verbiage of  similarity that the human mind is capable of conceiving. The legendary pugilist Mohamed Ali observed that “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” Shakespeare captures another facet in stating that “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” Albert Camus exhorted, “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Another perception of friendship is embedded in the feeling about some people arriving and making such a beautiful impact on your life that you can barely remember what life was like without them. Friendship impresses a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing. Helen Keller, who found light in darkness, enthused “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” Henry David Thoreau chips in expansively to affirm that “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”

One of the challenges of modern times may be the almost endless circumstances and situations parading before our mundane lives for the eventual, though not always, zooming in on a person conforming to the definition of a true friend. The journey of such a discovery is often frustrating because a real friend is a rarity. A close and objective analysis would reveal the aspect of underlying greed and selfishness in the statement that a friend in need is a friend in deed, which is neither love nor friendship because the self-serving motive is to use the other as a means. Here it needs to be understood that no human being is a means, every woman or man is an end unto herself or himself.

The real question is whether one is capable of extending a friendly hand to another who may come his or her way, as exemplified by Portia stepping in appropriately with her courtroom eloquence to save Antonio from the clutches of a spiteful Shylock in the Bard’s drama which still keeps playing through varying shades of character and nuances of situations in life’s grand theatre. No need to keep sifting through life’s situations or looking out to discover that rare entity that one can call a friend who may turn out to be a disappointment or not appear at all. In comparison, even maritime explorers of yore out in the turbulent seas to discover new lands had a greater chance of success going by huge number of countries that  since attained cartographic definition. Hence, instead of worrying about who is a real friend, the question is am I friendly to people? While human love is characterized by a degree of consummating lust and possession, friendship takes love to a higher and more refined plane where it is devoid of the grossness of desire, possessiveness and exploitation. It is not needing or avariciously tapping the potential of the other but only privileging, by kind sharing that rains down from generosity of spirit. You have an abundance of material riches and countless other graces you would wish to share. And whosoever is ready to share your joy with you, dance to the rhythm and sing the song of your life, you become grateful to him for being afforded the opportunity of giving. As a true friend, there is no expectation from your side to make him feel grateful and obliged to you. A genuine friend always feels grateful to those who enable him to exercise the virtue of friendship by being recipients of his munificence..

Creating friendships with the motive of using people goes against the canon of true friendship even though it exactly is how friendships manifest in the highly manipulative and competitive world we are in. If you have anything in plenty, share it, and whomsoever is a beneficiary is your friend. There is no obligation on that friend to either reciprocate the gesture or to come to your aid in a time of distress. If it happens, well and good; but if it does not, it is still deemed to be perfectly okay as it is totally up to the other person whose actions should not be your concern. It is not for me to feel that my friend was nowhere in the scene in a time of need.

The focus ought to be on one’s own self, on draining out negativities of greed, anger, hatred, envy and arrogance, and ushering in freshness and spontaneity, thus forming the wellsprings of  care, affection, sensitivity, love and compassion. What we call love has grosser dimensions of biology but friendship is animated by the subtler and elevated aspects of life and informed by the finest spirit of humanism. So while one may only fall in love, one rises in friendship.


55 thoughts on “On Friends and Friendship…

  1. There is no obligation on that friend to either reciprocate the gesture or to come to your aid in a time of distress. If it happens, well and good; but if it does not, it is still deemed to be perfectly okay as it is totally up to the other person whose actions should not be your concern. – what a liberating way to celebrate friendship! Brilliant!

  2. Beautifully described and written Raj. I’m inspired to reach out to a dear friend who moved away last year. just to tell her how much her friendship means to me. 🙏

  3. “Friends are our second selves,” said Aristotle and I have always felt the emotion of this quote deep down in my heart… a true friend is the one who can understand us, without any explanations, who doesn’t think of leaving us ever, not the one who expects something in return but the one who loves us with all our imperfections. Two of my friends met at a common gathering once and the one who knew me since childhood told the other…’yes, she is a good friend if you can bear with her.’ 🙂

    “Friendship takes love to a higher and more refined plane where it is devoid of the grossness of desire, possessiveness and exploitation.”…well said Raj! I agree with you but such friends are hard to find in modern era, which is swayed by success, jealousy and connections. I think you haven’t read my reflections, which I had shared about this topic. Here is the link:

    Thanks for a wonderful description of friends. Stay blessed!

    • Thanks Balroop, for coming in with your take on friendship together with subject link to your old post, which I just read. You have very nicely elaborated on the attributes of a good friend who maintains friendship through thick and thin. My point is only that each one should really be one instead of looking out for another one.

  4. Raj this is written wonderfully, this reminded of all the friends I have had over time, from school to college to university. Look back and reflecting how many have moved on and now I have have a few close friends, whom I deem to be my best friends.

    Thank you for this thought provoking piece on friends and friendship.

  5. Great write, Raj. Good subject to explore.

    “A close and objective analysis would reveal the aspect of underlying greed and selfishness in the statement that a friend in need is a friend in deed, which is neither love nor friendship because the self-serving motive is to use the other as a means.” Ah. Well. Hmm. Let me say I have had my share of these kinds of friendships. I have been accused by my eldest daughter of staying in relationships far beyond their expiration date. I am, it is true, loathe to give up on anyone. But I’ve reached a point in life where if it’s not reciprocal after a number of years (and I’m not at all desirous of tit for tat), I’m just gaining distance from this kind of person.

    You are lucky in that you found some kindred souls in your reunion groups. I was raised in an upper middle class neighborhood of southern CA, and I swear, all my friends in a huge graduating class are Republicans or Fundamentalists or simply stuck in what money can buy. I went to one reunion, our 25th, and I’m unlikely to attend another. My life has been SO out of that box, we have little in common. Two people I can think of that seemed on a similar wavelength heard I lived in Hawaii and immediately invited themselves to be our house guests, which I did not encourage, lacking any sort of reciprocal invitation to visit them on their home turf.

    All this being said, I’ve got a handful of really great close friends, female as well as male, and that’s enough for me. The kind of heart-to-heart understanding we share transcends distance in both space and time. I feel very blessed. Also that my husband and I are very best friends, ‘grosser dimensions of biology’ notwithstanding. It took me 3 marriages, but this third was the charm I was looking for. In 24 years, I’ve not found him lacking in either friendship or partnership.

    All the best, Raj! ❤

    • Thanks very much Bela for gracing this space with your interactive presence. I was pretty amused at your feedback on people wanting to discreetly encash on your Hawaiian domicile. True friends are such rarities that anyone can at best have only a few. That said, it is an equal, if not more, obligation on each one to be a friend while seeking one, as otherwise it may only be futile seeking. This is notwithstanding the reality of a few unsolicited exploitation at the hands of advantage hunters and fair-weather visitors who may be there today and gone tomorrow. My bachelor son, a marine engineer in his late twenties, disinterestedly remarked sometime back to my persuasive suggestions to him to find a mate. His stark response was, “it is needless to search for a life partner if one is really looking for love and companionship. Just keep a dog and one gets both in abundance”. And I just left him at that…

  6. Such a thoughtful piece on friendship, Raj. My favourite line is, “Every friendship offers something totally unique — and irreplaceable.” This is so true. Friends come and go in our lives, and a lot of the time it is rare that a friend will be by ourside or near us for our entire lives. It is nice that you went to your high school reunions. My class have never had these sorts of things too often, and when we do, I am usually not in the country (having gone to school mostly in Singapore). I did make quite a few friends at university but these days we have all gone our separate ways or at the very least are busy with our lives in the working world.

    I agree with you on the “motive of using people”. As you mentioned, it is one thing to get to know someone to make connections, but another thing altogether when you want to make friends with them not for the person they are, but for the things that they have or the people they know. These days my circle of friends whom I can count on are small and I wouldn’t have it any other way. At least you know who has got your back.

  7. Another superb article, Raj, and one chiming with my own published thoughts of late in the matter of Loving Kindness — Mettā (Pali) / Maitrī (Sanskrit). Now, we come to the maxim you cite: “A friend in need is a friend in deed“. How ambiguous! Even moreso, its far commoner phrasing: “A friend in need is a friend indeed“. How readily these platitudes are handed out despite their deficiencies in comprehensibility! Still, we seem to grasp the intended sentiment nonetheless, and I do feel there to be a great source of succour in those we intuitively sense and trust as friends — this truth (if it is that) seems to strike home in our hour of need. Perhaps one definition of true friendship, that is to say maximal friendship, is being prepared to sacrifice as much for the other as one would for oneself? This makes true friendship an exceedingly rare thing, of course, something to be treasured immeasurably. With gratitude, Hariod.

    • In total conformity with your thoughts, I am, Hariod. Of particular interest is your exceedingly appropriate observation of the ‘friend in need is a friend in deed’ statement, which is high on alliteration and negligible in content. It makes some sense if the words ‘in deed’ are conjoined to ‘indeed’, as you rightly added. The search for true friends is bound to become easier if each one also becomes one. The very process of being one is also an act of gratitude for the many graces which most people are privileged with. Let us, therefore, rise in friendship with all enthusiasm. With warm regards..,

  8. I enjoyed this meditation on friendship. The definition of friend has become distorted with the rise of social media. I also think we don’t realize the importance of becoming friends with ourselves.

    • Thanks Julie, for your reflections on the subject. The world of friendship
      is indeed distorted with pervasiveness of social media. If it is ultimately egging people on to find positive energy in spending time alone increasingly in introspection, the overall impact may well be salutary.

  9. Beautiful rumination on friendship Raj- as you say, “a real friend is a rarity” and I feel a reason for that these days is often people don’t know how to be friends to themselves first. The collective is often teaching the idea of looking out instead of within, encouraging “what can I get as there is so much lack” rather than “what can I give as there is abundance”. I really feel for the young people growing up who have never known a world without social media, it must be very challenging for them to discern what true friendship is. I really love your closing line “So while one may only fall in love, one rises in friendship”. Thought-provoking as always! Le grá 💚

    • Thank you Laura for your thoughts on friendship. The evolution of values such as friendship through rapidly advancing technology may very well be one of the fields for social scientists to ponder over and suggest options. In the meanwhile, proactive friendliness appears to be the right prescription. Best…xx.

  10. A great write Raj.. Friendships are so important and valued.. Your description here touch upon many aspects of friendships.. True friendships are few and far between.. And I so agree with your last paragraph. And I am so very fortunate to have a hubby who is also my greatest friend xx

  11. Wonderful article on friendship and friends. Incidentally, just yesterday, I commented on a story where the hero had to choose between his love and his friendship.The blogger left the ending open and asked for readers’ opinion. I voted for friendship, because, I think, this is the only relation where we have the minimum expectation with maximum love. We are in our very own selves, without wearing any masks when we are with friends.
    “Friendships come in all sorts of forms”- that’s so true… 🙂

    On a lighter note, the post reminds me of a very popular Airtel ad in India, whose jingle goes as “har ek friend zaroori hota hain”…

    • Thanks Mani for your vote for friendship, as that is the kind of endorsement it should enjoy in our priorities. About your quip on Airtel, I am an Airtel customer since long years, still continuing with my brand loyalty inspite of all the high voltage promotion blitz of Jio…😊

  12. A wonderful ode to friendship here, Raj! I agree with you that good friends are hard to find and we need to nurture those relationships when we find them. I have many acquaintances but that is not the same.. True friendships are beautiful (as is your writing) 🙂

  13. A beautiful post Raj, it is seemingly less and less important to many to have “real” friendship, contact relationships…many live in a virtual world and don’t feel the need to reach out. A real person to person friendship is invaluable and irreplaceable.

  14. This goes to my heart. I live in loneliness. Although I find it easy to enjoy nature and everything that comes to me through my senses (and I enjoy it fully), I just do not experience friendship. When I see a sunset, or when I see the wind making ripples in a wheat-field after rain, my self and what I see become one. Effortlessly I feel that my life is for real. Not so with me and people. I do enjoy their company, but however distanced or intimate we get, I still feel it’s like I’m playing with tin soldiers, and the thing I’d call “me” does not involve itself with what I’d call the “you”. This is how I live in loneliness, and this is why your thoughts about friendship go to my heart, helping me, perhaps, to really see my longing for friendship.

  15. Raj your words on friendship ring so true. Looking back all through our lives we’ve had friends and acquaintances. I remember in my school days we used to classify them as best friends and just friends which perhaps did not mean much. But on growing up the friendship assumed deeper meaning depending on our ability to understand each other.

    But as life itself is changeable friendship too becomes time-bound. And to avoid disappointment we need to remember friends will come and go as nothing really is permanent. So I wonder if there is some truth in the saying “to make friends with ourselves” not in a selfish way but in a deeper sense.

    Thank you for this beautiful quote. Regards


  16. Relatable thoughts! For me, if one is selfless enough while helping me out repeatedly, I can consider him/her to be a true friend. There could be others factors too depending on the situation, but it does take a lot to be a true friend!

  17. This is the essence of Awakening, that’s when true and meaningful friendships form for then we cease to be driven into relationships by desire and need for approval from others.

    As you have said, the corporate machine has changed so much of the intricate qualities of men and thus most are just like empty skeletons walking around, without a heart that can neither love nor be loved.

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