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Chapter 4: self: Virtues of Character

What Would An Ideal Friend Be Like?

Some of the reason why we aren’t, collectively, so good at friendship, is that we don’t have a clear idea of what a really good friend might be like.

It may therefore be worth trying to draw up a list of an ideal candidate, so as to focus our desires and spur us on to acquire the sort of character we would want to find in others:

1. The ideal friend knows how to show weakness

The ideal friend doesn’t try to prove how robust and successful they are; on the contrary, quite often they let us know awkward and potentially embarrassing things about themselves. They show how much they trust us by confessing failings and sorrows which would open them up to possible humiliation from the world beyond. They offer us the gift of their vulnerability.

2. They’re genuinely interested in our sorrows and difficulties

And yet they’re not shocked, or even surprised, by the weird and stupid things we’ve done. They’re not judgemental – they don’t come down harshly and critically on our weaknesses because they know themselves well enough to be alert to their own odder and more troubled sides, and they do us the graceful favour of assuming that – behind the scenes – we’re as radically imperfect as they are.

3. The proper friend is reassuring

They don’t just flatter; they understand how easily we lose perspective, panic and underestimate our own ability to cope. They know we’ve got zones of fragility that need to be treated gently. Sometimes they get us to laugh at ourselves, when on our own we’d be inclined to self-pity or rage.


4. A true friend helps build our self-understanding

There are so many things we don’t entirely comprehend about who we are. We get agitated or defensive and we don’t really know why. We find it tricky to pin down our goals. We might have some strong opinions but it can be difficult to explain really why these ideas matter to us. The right friend listens and helps us piece together the best account of our fears and excitements.

5. They help us think

More often than it’s comfortable to admit, we don’t quite know what we think until a proper friend gently asks us to expand on a thought, to explain why we’re impressed by it and to find good answers to possible objections. They see the potential in what we’re saying when we can’t.

6. They help us to like ourselves

The good friend likes us in ways we’re not easily able to. Normally we’re intently alive to our own shortcomings; it’s more obvious (from our point of view) what’s disappointing or frustrating about us than what’s endearing or attractive. We need a friend because we’re liable to be so very unfriendly towards ourselves.

We tend to think that a true friend must be someone we spend a lot of time with. But actually the ideal other becomes part of us: we internalise who they are, how they speak, the way they smile, the way they pause or get enthusiastic. They continue to inhabit our brain, even when we haven’t been in touch for a while or when they are far away. They are always with us.











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