Sam Radford

April 2, 2021

Friendship is almost always underestimated

I stumbled across a beautiful short essay on friendship earlier today. It was an evocative reminder of the power of friendship and our need for it.

It’s by the poet and Christian mystic David Whyte, and I’ve included the middle segment here:

Through the eyes of a real friendship an individual is larger than their everyday actions, and through the eyes of another we receive a greater sense of our own personhood, one we can aspire to, the one in whom they have most faith. Friendship is a moving frontier of understanding not only of the self and the other but also, of a possible and as yet unlived, future.

Friendship is the great hidden transmuter of all relationship: it can transform a troubled marriage, make honorable a professional rivalry, make sense of heartbreak and unrequited love and become the newly discovered ground for a mature parent-child relationship.

The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence. 

Through the eyes of a friend we especially learn to remain at least a little interesting to others. When we flatten our personalities and lose our curiosity in the life of the world or of another, friendship loses spirit and animation; boredom is the second great killer of friendship.

Friendship, as my friend Ryan never ceases to stress to me, is important. When we have conversations about work-life balance, the focus is usually on finding the balance between work and family. But that’s not enough. It’s a balance between work, family, and friends.

And, let’s be honest: we men in particular aren’t great at friendship. We have buddies; colleagues we’ll go for a drink with; guys we’ll catch a game with. But friends, real friends? Most of us don’t have many.

Friendship requires vulnerability, and too many of us still think that’s a weakness rather than the super-power it actually is.

We could probably all do with this framed and on a wall somewhere:

“A diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble”.

It’s never too late to starting cultivating friendships, new or old!