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.