It’s that time of year again… the holiday season is upon us and we get the opportunity to really think of our friends and family. Historically it’s a time to come together, to reinforce those bonds with gifts and toasts and sometimes too much wine.
And, if we are lucky, we actually like those people and if we don’t… well, it’s a little trickier.
Of course this year, things may be quite a bit different depending on where in the world you are. Here in South America, we are getting a bit of summer break from never ending pandemic, but I imagine for many of you reading this, the situation is less optimistic.
Instead of clinking glasses, you might be clicking zoom invites. The continuous rotation of holiday parties has been contracted to a few small gatherings or replaced with familiar faces Brady Bunch boxes.
But that doesn’t mean that those relationships have to go unnoticed or un-nourished. Indeed, it is the exact opposite… It is exactly the moment to discuss what makes a good friend and how to be one.
This is something the ancients thought about… a lot.

Aristotle and Phyllis

Aristotle spent a great deal of time contemplating friendship, especially in his Nicomachean Ethics. He outlines three different types of friends, though clarifies that only one is truly good.
The first is the friendship that is useful or beneficial (to sumpheron, in the Greek). It’s not exactly good in itself, but because it leads to or produces something that is more valuable. This might be a friendship found with work mates, at the gym or at a book club.
Then there is the friend that is “good” in a pleasurable or pleasant (to hedon) manner. While Aristotle does not think that pleasure is the highest good (indeed it can be bad!), he does allow that some pleasures or being pleasant is a sort of goodness that common sense agrees with. This might be your golf partner, or drinking buddy. The kind of friend with whom you get together for coffee and have a pleasant chat… but perhaps don’t discuss Aristotle.
The last is the one we are after… the “good” that we can call intrinsically good, noble or fine (to kalon), one that is based on virtue. This is the BFF, the mate you can call at any time for any reason, who appreciates you for who you truly are. It is a friendship in the fullest sense.
Strictly speaking, however, it does mean that both parties have to be virtuous, which has its own set of complications… and perhaps it is here that we should propose our inquiry of the week. Now that we have identified the type of friend we are trying to understand, we ask:
What Makes a Good Friend? And how can you be one?
As always, you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].