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The Virtue of True Friendship

“I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects.”

― Oscar Wilde

Two children giving a pinkie swear stating to be best friends forever is a beautiful act which many might consider naïve, at most cute. If we pause at this moment a surge of the eternal reveals itself in the children’s innocence tying the little fingers together they are tying Mercury to Mercury and an oath is made of friendship. No other planet could be more proper for such oath. Mercury which is bad with bad and good with good, a communicator, thief and deceiver, the amalgam wherein Eros with all his love and contempt flows like the pulse of a dagger. ‘Friend’ and ‘fiend’ share etymological roots as much as ‘host’ and ‘hostile’. Friendships, like marriages, concords and pacts of whatever orientation often see this turn from friend to foe due to Mercury playing out misunderstandings, disagreements, betrayals, disappointments and deceptions in the field or Eros. Communication breaks down and pacts are broken into shards of resentment and hatred.

Aristotle addressed several forms of friendship, like friendships born from utility, from pleasure and from ‘the Good’. For him it was important to judge well the quality of the bond we made so it could stay in its place void of disturbance. For instance a friendship of utility would be a bond made due to reciprocal needs. It is a friendship based in ‘one hand washes the other’; it is rooted in our usefulness for one another. Colleagues and neighbours would fall into such categories, where it is about reciprocal usefulness that generates a bond. Friendships of pleasure are those rooted in how agreeable a person is to us. It is not about the virtue of the person, nor about love, it is about how witty our friend is, how this friend stimulates us, like those sharing our hobbies or our drinking buddies. Friendships of ‘the Good’ on the other hand are those bond we make due to shared virtue, that we see and share a common Truth. This is the bond where altruism is found, where we do good, because we are good and the love is not motivated by gain or ulterior motives. Such friendships will last as long as the friends continue to strive towards being good as a virtue, as a permanent quality. This last form of friendship is found as the ground of Epicurus philosophy, where this form of friendship is considered as the one thing that gives meaning to life, that form of love that reigns supreme. He says that true friendship induces khara, a sense of joy not related to hedonistic pleasures, but a state of tranquillity, peace and joyousness. There is work involved in this, a work of building intimacy through understanding, forgiveness and love. This love found in true friendships was of an empyrean character, not temporal and wanting like hedonistic pleasure filled love. He also suggest that true friendships starts from utility, but that in this we choose to develop this friendship due to the virtue perceived in it. We recognize such friendships on how it brings a sense of freedom and happiness that is perpetual.  

It is good from time to time to contemplate these ideas and bonds we rarely reflect upon. When we say, “he is a friend”, when a “friend brought hurt”, when a friendship ends, what are we talking about? Friendships often ends because of lack of reciprocity, because of misunderstanding, but more often because we fail in recognizing a given relationship for what it is and want it to be something it is not. If we want our drinking buddy to be our confidant in a dark chapter of our life and he then tell the colleges about your distress, it is a deception in the making by lack of recognizing the quality of friendship held with this person. In the same vein, for many the word ‘friend’ is so ambiguous and personal in valour as we can see in social media for instance, where the word ‘friend’ has been emptied for meaning and virtue to such level that it can signify whatever connection, bleak or strong, in reference to intimacy or sheer absence of it.

Traditional astrology differentiate between these bonds very clearly, husbands and wives belong to the seventh house, cardinal, strong, opposing and fulfilling you for the sake of your growth. True friendships on the other hand is a matter of the succedent 11th house where we also find our good daimon, whilst drinking buddies and colleges were placed in the succedent 5th house where we find the tavern and those pleasures.

Hence a true friend is tied to us through our daimon, a shared virtue where we find our hearts beating in the same Truth, which brings a desire for commitment. True friendships are like marriages, in good days and in bad days, born from the meaningful joy of ‘one hand washing the other’ where the usefulness of one with the other encapsulates everything and brings joy and freedom.

When Oscar Wilde told he choose his enemies for their good minds and his friends for their wit and appearance, he saw what Aristotle and Epicure advised, realizing the proximity between a friend and a foe and that there was important qualitative differences in these bonds. Not only this, he demonstrated great discernment in not mistaking ones colleague for ones confidant and naturally Wilde concluded these observations with seeing an enemy turned into a friend as the greatest achievement because of his keen eye where he saw what is for what it is and not something else.

If we follow this example we will not despair when a friendship shatters, we will not seek to be where we are not wanted, we will not force a bond that is not there and we will not turn a 'buddy' into 'family', we will realize that we made an error born from perception and want. True friendships are born from agility, kindness and joy, the shared virtue brings friends together in shared truth. 

Friendships born from ‘the Good’, from shared virtue was and still remains rare because it calls upon an inherent goodness that we wish to see multiplied in ‘the other’. It is a goodness that contaminates our world with the spirit of joy and freedom, a joy born from love moving easily and freely and a freedom resting in certainty that our shackles and distress will always be broken when we reach out to our friend. The Epicurean friendships are a growth along the same octaves where we make stunning symphonies together, where a triton or a broken tangent is easily mended by a higher harmony. Recognizing the seed of such bonds in the utility of shared joy and freedom is the first step towards good fortune as it hits the pulse of Mercurial goodness and allows the world to dance in the clouds of a content Eros...

Art: Rembrandt: Christ and Magdalene

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