FRONT PORCH – Good friendship: A source of inexhaustible love and joy

This column is an abridged version of a reprint from 2018 with some changes.

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” – Muhammad Ali

Friendship is so essential to human thriving, happiness and joy that the Greek sage Aristotle wrote extensively on the subject, as have other philosophers, authors and wise men and women throughout the ages.

Friendship is one of the primary relationships in life. Many gays and lesbians, who were cast aside by their parents and families in earlier and current generations, often found new families and life-sustaining friendships in the LGBT community, especially during the worst days of the AIDS crisis.

Were it not for the friendship of others in the LGBT community, many gays and lesbians would have led lives of sometimes deeper isolation and desperation.

We tell friends things that we are afraid to tell family members, often because of the fear of being rejected or judged. Friends are often safe havens of compassion and acceptance.

In the Gospel of John 15:12-15 Jesus reminisces on friendship: “12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

“14 You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

The friendship he enjoyed with Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary was so profound that, moved by the loss of his friend and the grief of the sisters, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

This friendship and the friendship with others in the Gospel, including Peter, reveal the sinews and bonds of genuine friendship: shared values, the love of the other for their own sake, sacrifice and generosity, forgiveness and reconciliation and irrepressible and inexhaustible joie de vivre in the company of friends.

Jesus showed us through his example that friendships are necessary to live a life of holiness and goodness, a life of meaning and hope. The imitation of Christ is found in friendship.

As the saying goes, one can’t choose one’s family, which suggests that the bond of family is not easily or should not be broken. But the other part of the adage, often less considered, is that we choose our friends.

That we are free to choose our friends recognizes something essential: the voluntary nature of friendship which involves self-donation and the good of the other for the sake of the other.

A very dear friend recalls the death of a lifelong friend from the days of primary school, who struggled for years with a debilitating disease. The dying friend, in a coma in the hospital, likely unaware of her surroundings, was not alone at the end.

In her dying hours and moments, a group of friends watched over her so that she would not be alone at the hour of her death.

Some people enjoy great accomplishments, including climbing the heights of politics and business, but often bereft of genuine friendships. These are among the saddest people in life.

Aristotle distinguished three types of friendship of which we are all familiar: friendship of utility or use; friendship of pleasure; and true friendship, for which he used the Greek word, philia. It is noteworthy that the opposite of philia is phobia.

There are some whom we considered dear friends but who turn out not to be genuine friends because they lacked the capacity for a certain reciprocity or integrity. True friendships continue to deepen and to evolve throughout one’s life.

In Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship, Lorraine S. Pangle writes of Aristotle’s treatment of friendship:

“Friendship is perhaps the highest summit of the moral life in which virtue and happiness are united. Friendship is a worthy outlet for the talents and energies of great-souled people.

“Friendship likewise completes and goes beyond justice. The goodness shown in noble friendships seems higher than justice because it is entirely dependent upon one’s own character and choice and is not defined or compelled by law.”

Pangle continues:

“Acts of friendship seem both more truly generous and more conducive to one’s own happiness than acts done strictly because they are moral.

“Acting for the sake of what is good means having primary regard for one’s own virtue and the good of one’s own soul, whereas acting for a friend seems to be self-forgetting. And spontaneous acts of friendship tend to be more pleasant than impersonal acts of virtue for the doer as well as for the recipient.”

Self-absorption and ingratitude are circles of hell, in which self-pity and selfishness corrode our capacity for self-donation and friendship.

The accumulation of material goods, the endless hunt for status or the perfect body, unquenchable expectations, and ceaseless comparisons to others and envy, do not bring happiness.

But genuine friendship creates more happiness and peace and joy than most other things in life. Good friendship is a source of inexhaustible love and joy, which are never depleted but endlessly replenished, unlike the many endless cul-de-sacs and dead ends in which some often desperately seek measures of happiness and meaning.

Recall the times and experiences we have had with friends in late night phone chats, in long walks, in travelling, in sharing a meal, when tedium and daily struggles are suspended for the moment and we are able to enjoy the company of a friend, with no agenda and often no resolution to the struggles at hand.

An anonymous adage urges: “Friendship doubles joy and halves grief.” Winnie the Pooh’s advice? “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”

A recent documentary on the late comedian and actor Robin Williams chronicled his triumphs and struggles. At the heart of the film is the rich texture of his friendships, which brought him relief and comfort and sustenance in a life often saddled with addiction, depression and mental disability.

In the soundtrack of Man of La Mancha (Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”) there is a wonderful treatise on friendship in the song titled, “I Really Like Him”.

The character Aldonza, a working lady, is viewed by Quixote as a woman of beauty and virtue. She views Quixote as mad, deranged and delusional. Aldonza is perplexed by Sancho Panza’s devotion to Quixote.

Aldonza to Sancho:

“Why do you follow him?


“That’s easy to explain. It’s because... a... because...





“I like him!

“I really like him.

“Tear out my fingernails one by one

“I like him!

“I don’t have a very good reason

“Since I’ve been with him cuckoo nuts have been

“In season!

“But there is nothing I can do

“Chop me up for onion stew

“Still I’ll yell to the sky

“Though I can’t tell you why

“That I like him.”


“But what do you get out of it?


“What do I get? Why already I’ve gotten... I’ve gotten --”


“You’ve got nothing! Why do you do it?”


“. . .


“I like him!

“I really like him

“Pluck me as a scolded chicken!

“I like him!

“Don’t ask me for a why or wherefore

“Since I don’t have a very good because

“Or therefore

“You can barbecue my nose

“Make a giblet of my toes

“Make me freeze

“Make me fry

“Make me sigh or

“Make me cry

“Still I’ll yell to the sky

“Though I can’t tell you why

“That I... like... him!”

Such is the joy of true friendship, which, like in all other relationships, we are ever striving to be more generous and more loving, moving beyond hurts and disappointments to the summits of joy and understanding.


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