The above quote was said by Muhammed Ali. It’s one of my favourite quotes about friendship. Another quote that is less directly about friendship is, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” credited to Jim Rohn, I believe. Friendship is important. In a world where we are born into families we don’t choose – some of us get lucky – some of us do not, but our friends become our second sets of family members. And we are told early and we are told often, “Choose your friends wisely.”
As you get a grip on adulthood, or at least as you try to, you will realize more and more, the importance of making good friends. And we talk about it often – “good friends”- but what does it even mean? I often think that our socialization from our families, our cultural influences, our life experiences, and our fundamental values that reflect who we are and who we want to be, is reflected in the friendships we choose.
I think when we’re younger, it’s easy to value superficialities in people. Wanting to be friends with the people that we want to be like, for all the wrong reasons. As we grow older, as we have to face the difficulties of growing up, I think we find that we have to substitute the superficial for the significant, or we may find ourselves often feeling lonesome in a crowd full of people who don’t really know us very well. And who, if we’re honest, don’t really care to know us well.
We value what we value in people and no one can take those personal choices away from us. But sooner or later we understand that it is not an easy feat to find and keep good friends. Friends who accept us but challenge us to do better; friends who engage with us in the conversations and fears and hopes that are closest to our hearts. To have friends in difficult moments or at difficult periods of your life who know how to be friends is rarer, I think, than we like to imagine.
Indeed there is a certain comfort in maintaining the friendships of your childhood despite time and geographic changes, despite the changes that occur when you have specific experiences with different people that old friends cannot relate to. There is something special about people who knew you and know you when you are most impressionable and vulnerable to the world; when the difficulties of growing up haven’t made you scared to share who you are with people.
And yet I find that from every place in life, you can meet friends from every walk of life. Because more than anything else, the key to having good friends, is to be a good friend. Of course there will be a few that slip through the cracks, a few poor choices you make, a few times where you, yourself fail to live up to your ideals of friendship. But true and honest friends, the kind that you grow old with or at least remember fondly, do not happen by chance – you have to be a friend first.
Life is short but it is also incredibly long and to go through it without a few good friends, seems like a severe task, a task most of us would rather not undergo. But we must also realize that the people we choose to be around can and do make or break us. We easily become like those around us, sometimes barely realizing it. But whatever we become, because of the company that we keep, we ought to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and be comfortable with that person. Indeed, we ought to make sure that we can keep our own company; that we too can call ourselves, “friend.”