Essay on Friendship


“Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried
Grapple them to thy soul, with hoops of steel:
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new hatched, unfledged comrade”.
— Shakespeare

Everyone wants a good friend, most men complain of the absence of good friends, a few get good friends, very few are good friends. The only way to have a friend, says Emerson, is to become one. Love begets love. We get what we deserve. It takes two to make a quarrel, it takes two to make a friendship. A good man finds goodness in the whole world; a man without sincerity misses sincerity in everyone around him. The world is a mirror; laugh at it and it will laugh back at you; weep before it and it will weep back at you. Do unto others as you would that others should do to you. The reason why people can’t find good friends is that they are themselves not good friends. We want that we should remain selfish, proud and unsympathetic but that our friends should love us, live for us, and die for us, though we would not lift our little finger to help them when in distress. Friendship is a matter of give and take; there cannot be all the ‘give’ on one side and all ‘take’ on the other. Friendship is the disinterested commerce between equals, said Goldsmith.

Community of age, interest, profession or politics makes for friendship. We find one old man is the friend of another. The retired men go for a walk with other retired men. We see fat men together. A fat man picks up another fat man for a friend. A tall man likes a tall man. A congressman takes a Congressman as a friend. A staunch Arya Samajist has a friend of the same religious views. A student loves another student as a friend. A friend should be our own image. ‘Friendship is the marriage of the soul,’ says Voltaire. Such friendship or marriage of souls can be between two equals in age, similar in opinions, views and achievements. Friendship is one step lower than love; the lover and the beloved are mad and are ready to challenge the whole world. They love not wisely but too well. They are willing to do or die for each other. The one is the other’s whole world. But friendship lacks that fire and passion. As Byron says, “Friendship is love without his wings”.

A friend is a guide, philosopher and friend. He gives good advice. He is ready with his sympathy in times of illness or loss. He rejoices in your good fortune. If you get a lottery or win a prize, he is happy as if the gain were his own. He finds no difference between your house and his own. Two friends are like one soul living in two bodies. As Aristotle says, “What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies”.

Those who drink wine together or who are members of the same club become friends. Friendships formed over the wine cups are the strongest ties. “From wine what sudden friendship springs!” says Gray.

There is a story about St. John. When he was very old, so old indeed that he could hardly walk or speak, he was taken into an assembly of Christain children. His only message was ‘Love one another’. He again repeated, ‘Love one another’. ‘Have you nothing more to say?’ someone asked. ‘Nothing,’ he replied, ‘for if you do this, nothing more is needed’.

“The world is great, the world is wide,
Kind hearts are beating on every side”.

As with individuals, so with nations. Men want friends; countries also need friends. One country signs a treaty of friendship with another country. Free India has also signed treaties of friendship with other countries. We claim to be friends to all and enemies to none. That is the great principle of our foreign policy.

A school-day friend reminds us of our past. He brings memories to us of those early days when life was young, free from worries and together he and I went to school. Such a friend seen in later life brings to our mind the remembrance of the golden period of our life. As Disraeli says. “There is magic in the memory of schoolboy friendship; it softens the heart and even affects the nervous system of those who have no heart”.

The friendship of Krishna and Sudama is a classical example of friendship in India. Sudama,. the poor Brahmin class-fellow goes to Lord Krishna, king and God. Krishna hugs him to his bosom and converts his poor life into a rich one. Friendship knows no rank, it makes no distinction between a king and a beggar. A friend is a friend, whether the world goes right or wrong. Lamb says, “Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother, why wert thou not born in my father’s dwelling?”

A proverb says, “Prosperity makes friends, adversity tries them”. A full purse never lacks a friend. If you are a millionaire or have just got the lottery, you will be attended by a host of friends. When the purse is empty, friends turn away. False friends love not the man but his money and the comforts that money can buy for them. Such men are opportunists. Alas! their friendship is a business proposition. Their friendship is based on the hope of some gain from you. ‘A rich man is my friend, he will take me to a hill-station free of cost or he will give me money, when I am in need’. The eye is always on gain. And when such a friend loses wealth and position, his friends have no further use for him. When Darius was the King of Persia, the whole world claimed to be his friends, to win his favours. When Alexander defeated him and he lay dying, all his friends left him. We remember Dryden’s lines-

“Fallen fallen, fallen, fallen,
Deserted at his utmost need
By those his former bounty fed;
On the bare earth exposed he lies
With not a friend to close his eyes”.

The modern world is selfish; disinterested friends are few. The poor may be sincere friends, the rich are insincere. The world abounds in such fair-weather friends. Like a butterfly, they shift from flower to flower; when one flower has been sucked dry, they change to another. ‘Be not the fourth friend of him, who had three friends before and lost them; says Lavater. He who has been faithless to one friend is sure to turn faithless to you.

All good things are rare; so is friendship. Commercial friendship is the order of the day. If I want a job from an officer, I try to make friends with him. I call him to tea and dinner parties. I pay frequent visits to his house, I enquire about every trivial sickness of his children; but when the work is done, the friendship also cools. Tea parties and dinners are now not the expressions of friendship, they are a tribute to a man’s official position or an indication of our need of him. The whole motive is- what good can I get out of the man?

Most friendships break on the rock of money. I borrow a sum of money from a friend. If he refuses to lead it, he is rejected as a false friend; if he gives a loan, I hate him, for I feel he will expect or demand it back. As Shakespeare says,

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be
For the loan loses both itself and friend”.

The surest way to break a friendship is to involve it in loans and money matters. Small free gifts strengthen friendship; big loans strike at their roots.

Misunderstandings cause many friends to fall out. Too much love is also fatal to friendship. We begin to expect too much from our friends and when they do not once come up to our expectation, we turn away in broken-hearted despair, remembering Shakespeare’s line, “Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly”.

If a stranger does not come to enquire about our health when we are ill, we pay no heed to it. If a friend fails in that duty, we jump to the conclusion that he is not a friend.

“Alas! they had been friends in youth
But whispering tongues can poison truth;
They parted never to meet again”.
— Coleridge

We seem to expect perfection in a friend. If he makes one mistake, we turn away with an air of injured innocence. We should choose our friends slowly; but having chosen once, we should not be quick to throw them overboard. As Socrates says, “Be slow to fall into friendship, but when thou art in, continue firm and constant”.

The greatest use of a friend is that you can open out your heart to him and talk all your secrets to him, without fear of being betrayed. You would know that in this wide world, there is at least one heart who is all love and sympathy for you and on whom you can depend.

Blood is thicker than water. This might have been true in the bygone ages- but today friends are more sympathetic than relatives. A relative burns with jealousy; he runs you down and broadcasts your faults to shine by contrast. He is your rival and a competitor. He is a critic and judge. But a friend is a stranger, whose interests do not clash with yours. Your victory is an occasion for his joy, not heart-burning.

The greatest elegies have been written to mourn the death of friends, not of relatives. Milton’s college friend, Edward King, died, and Milton wrote the world-famous Lycidas. Shelley wrote Adonais, to mourn the death of Keats. Tennyson, shaken to his depths by the death of his friend Arthur Hallam, took 17 years in writing his great elegy, In Memoriam. Matthew Arnold wrote Thyrsis on the death of his friend, Clough. No poet ever wrote such great elegies on the death of his relatives. The crown goes to friendships. Gray says in his famous elegy, “He got from heaven (’twas all he wished) a friend”.

It is true that friendship may lead to vices too. I may learn the habit of drinking and gambling from my friend. Hence the saying that a man is known by the company he keeps. Man takes in vices more readily than virtues.

Some friends are displeased by frank criticism and difference of opinion. No two men can have the same opinions. A true friend points out my defects to me, he tells my virtues to the whole world. To expect the friend to say ditto to everything I say is no friendship. As Gandhiji says, “Friendship that insists on agreement on all matters is not worth much. Friendship to be real must ever sustain the weight of honest differences, however sharp they may be”.

An Indian believes in being the friend of the whole world. A Mahatma Gandhi says,” My goal is friendship with the world and I can combine the greatest love to greatest opposition to wrong”.

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