Neither identical nor opposite: the secret of good friends


Let’s think for a moment about our closest and most enduring friends. Do they look like us, do they belong to the same social class? Or does good friendship exist to a greater degree between different people?

There are studies that indicate that the similarities between people, in terms of interests and tastes, sense of humor, beliefs and ambitions, positively influence the formation of friendships. This means that it is quite probable that the reason we become friends has to do with having something in common in one of those areas.

Similar economic status, belonging to the same social class, also seems to have some impact on a friendship, but to a lesser degree than the other factors. It favors it to the extent that it increases the probability of agreeing in certain places and on certain matters. However, it does not seem to ensure that a friendship lasts.

And the duration is precisely what characterizes a good friendship. When we hear about people who are good friends, we assume that they have known each other for a long time. No one becomes a good friend overnight. It is necessary to spend time together for the relationship to consolidate as a good friendship.

What is a good friendship?

If similarities in interests, ambitions, or social status contribute to the formation of friendships, what factors promote people to form good friendships?

It is something that has been debated since ancient times. Plato was the first to ask himself these kinds of questions, or rather he left it to his teacher, Socrates, to develop them : Are good friends alike, or are best friends the ones that differ the most?

Socrates came to the conclusion that those who are equal have nothing to contribute to each other. If they are identical, they will hardly be good friends. At the opposite pole, those who are not at all alike also have nothing in common and, therefore, are not candidates to form a good friendship.

A middle ground

Socrates does not say clearly who are those who establish a good friendship. He insinuates that they will be somewhere between those who are, respectively, the same and different: they have “certain goodness of the soul in common” without these virtues being identical. Thus, for example , those who are just will have something to contribute to the humble who, in turn, will complement the brave.

In this way, friendships can form a virtuous circle that allows each party to be themselves and, at the same time, fit in with the others in common life. “It seems that friendship holds states together,” observes Aristotle , Plato’s most influential disciple. And about the friendship between those who are in their maturity, he adds: “Two are more capable of thinking and acting.”

Improving each other is only possible when friends are not exactly the same, but complement each other. One can perceive something and share it with his or her friend, who had not realized it until that moment. The perception of one contributes to broaden the horizon of another.

Among the factors that promote the formation of good friendships are, then, trust and benevolence, two virtues that build bridges between people. They create ties that hold, as Aristotle affirms, a community or an entire society together.

Put yourself in the other’s place

There is more: in a good friendship the parties seek to equalize so that no one is above or below the others. Inspired by Plato and Aristotle, the German thinker Hannah Arendt  argued , already in the 20th century, that in friendship the parties equalize without becoming identical. Through a sincere and transparent dialogue, the parties come to share their world and make it easier for each one to put themselves in the other’s shoes.

But this mutual understanding must not lead to the point of totally uniting without being able to distinguish and recognize each other. This is where mutual respect comes into play : the permanent attempt to be equitable and resolve their differences dialogically, which means that there is always a dose of tact in their interactions.

Why does a friendship end?

Sometimes the differences between friends can become so great that the friendship suffers: a person’s tastes, interests, or ambitions are transformed to such an extent that little remains of what they had in common with their friends. Or he changes so much in his manner that his friends can hardly recognize him. A friendship does not usually survive such drastic changes.

At other times, two friends, like those described by the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan quartet Two Girlfriends , can maintain a multifaceted relationship that contains equal parts trust and mistrust, goodness and badness, respect and lack of distrust. it. Perhaps Ferrante’s portrayal is quite true to how many friends live out their friendships: encouraged by their similarities, challenged by their differences.

Author Bio: Jonas Holst is Associate Professor of Philosophy and History of Thought at the Universidad San Jorge