There is a current cultural meme regarding living life without friends and close acquaintances that promotes the philosophy of solitude. It’s loosely based upon Stoic theories of self-reliance. It reads something like this, “It’s better to be alone than in the wrong company.” For the most part, I agree with this meme. However, without sufficient introspection and consideration, we are wise to take this path with foresight and caution.
The American Sociological Review has confirmed that society is in the midst of a “loneliness epidemic”. Time and money pressures, along with urban sprawl, suburbanization, and electronic entertainment are major factors that contribute to this epidemic. Some investigators compare the average numbers of people who one in whom one can confide about important matters has decreased markedly. For example, in 1985 that average number was “3”; in 2004 the number was “2”; and in 2020, that number was “1”. According to informal surveys, the number for a significant share of the population in 2022 is now “0”.
There’s no sugar-coating the fact that for the vast majority of people, having one or no friends or acquaintances translates into loneliness. The solitude meme is immediately unhelpful for such people because considering solitude requires a fair amount of mental gymnastics. Human beings are social creatures. We require others for our basic, biological survival. In recent times, the concept of having close friends is thought of as a luxury, not a necessity.
A person might be able to successfully cope and even live a reasonably good life when engaging philosophical and spiritual techniques for a satisfying solitairy lifestyle. However, solitude is put to the test during times of personal crisis such as illness or incapacitation. Unless one is independently wealthy, meaningful individual crisis intervention is hard to come by in many parts of the world. Most of us are ill equipped to go through life without at least one reliable friend or companion.
We do not need pro-friend propaganda because the benefits of friendship are self-evident. There are people who help us become happy and encourage our souls to bloom. We naturally feel grateful and lucky when we have at least one such person in life. At some point in everybody’s life, the inner light is dimmed through no fault of our own. A meaningful encounter with another human can brighten the inner light again. We are fortunate when we have someone to refuel the inner lamp that emits joy and meaning.
“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”–Lucius Annaeus Seneca
As Seneca implied, friendship consists of a good deal of give and take. We have our friends’ backs and they have ours. In true friendship, this is more than loyalty; it’s devotion. A true friend will never throw you “under the bus” regardless of any situation.
When we look back at our past, we can honestly ask ourselves which person or people meant the most to us. We consider that those who gave pat advice, criticism, homey pet remedies, and solutions were not the people who mattered most. The person who chose to share our pain with true empathy and listened with his/her heart meant the most to us. The person who was “real” with tenderness and warmth was a true friend indeed.
Being a friend often means that one knows the skill of timing. There is a time to stand aside and allow another person to proceed with total abandon. Then there is the time to prepare for disaster aid to pick up the debris when the episode is over. A true friend knows when this is or is not the best thing to do then follows through. No one is a friend who demands inaction or denies another the right to grow.
Unofficially, today is Friendship Day. In my opinion, this should be a red-letter day. Friendship represents a larger part of us. A friend is a peer who extends and enhances a private life. Of all the people we encounter in life, a true friend is the most precious.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes former U.S. President, George Washington. “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”