– Mon ami, dit ma mère, ne craignez-vous pas que, parmi ces enfants, il n’y en ait de mauvais ? – Les mauvais eux-mêmes, répondit mon père, lui seront utiles s’il est intelligent, car il apprendra à les distinguer des bons, et c’est une connaissance fort nécessaire.

France, Anatole. “Le livre de mon ami.”

Within the gulf that distinguishes the one from the all – the gap between the island and the rest of the world – exists from time to time the equally unique and no less intuitive state called friendship. Bearing in mind the overwhelming instinct each of us has for survival – a primordial urge which survives from Neolithic time and well before – it is perhaps strange that we have developed (or maybe humanity always had) a similarly compelling inspiration called friends. My experience is that friends are as imperative to well-being as food and shelter. Certainly an argument can be made that given the alternative one may be inclined to opt for food and shelter before friends; but in general the deprivation of any one of them can amount to the same thing. You would think therefore that it behooves us to do what we can to maintain the friends we have. Curiously among some the preservation of friends is no more enduring than the maintenance of a salad.  This is so notwithstanding whatever we may or may not have learned from childhood; that is, if indeed we learned anything about the distinguishing feature of friends. For some people, friends – like any other ingredient in society – merely come and go.

Competing with this amorphous view of friends is the adage about keeping one’s friends close but keeping one’s enemies closer.  This is not to diminish the value of real friends but rather to cover all possible bases. It’s strictly a pragmatic device. Meanwhile the analysis of what recommends a true friend remains topical. It is first wise to keep in mind that friends, like any other element of society, can from time to time prove to be challenging. It has been suggested that the safest and most fortuitous way of overcoming this challenge is to recall that it is unrivalled to remain your own best friend; that is, to befriend yourself first.  This may sound a bit dippy or purely philosophic but I have interpreted the endorsement as a way of keeping aright in choppy waters.

If we were to reckon our tentative friends by some external standard, as plausible as it may seem, while at the same time contradicting what we adjudge within ourselves to be appropriate behaviour, we fail to hit the mark.  That is, the guide to our assessment of friends is our behaviour, not theirs. While this sounds contradictory, to a degree it is; but that doesn’t make it wrong. What it is that strengthens any relationship is complicated. It most certainly cannot depend solely on one party and not the other. Importantly the object is defeated from the outset if one of the parties persists to deny the legitimacy of the relationship in the face of one’s preferred intention.

Were the characterization of friends to require such complex analysis, it obviously becomes more difficult to resolve its worthiness.  Yet it can be assured that attempting to ignore the friend for any other putative reason will meet with even greater dilemma of exactitude. When one is young the significance of friends is less cogent than when we are older. It is not long however before we recognize that friends represent the distilled feature of our lives, the sublime extract of our communal nexus. The prospect of winning but being alone is hardly good calculation.