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Friendship: Chapter 3 - The Fruits of Friendship

By Hugh Black

      Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.--ECCLESIASTES.

            O friend, my bosom said,
            Through thee alone the sky is arched,
            Through thee the rose is red,
            All things through thee take nobler form
            And look beyond the earth,
            And is the mill-round of our fate,
            A sun-path in thy worth.
            Me too thy nobleness has taught
            To master my despair;
            The fountains of my hidden life
            Are through thy friendship fair.

            - EMERSON.

      The Fruits of Friendship

      In our utilitarian age things are judged by their practical value. Men ask of everything, What is its use? Nothing is held to be outside criticism, neither the law because of its authority, nor religion because of its sacredness. Every relationship in life also has been questioned, and is asked to show the reason of its existence. Even some relationships like marriage, for long held to be above question, are put into the crucible.

      On the whole it is a good spirit, though it can be abused and carried to an absurd extreme. Criticism is inevitable, and ought to be welcomed, provided we are careful about the true standard to apply. When we judge a thing by its use, we must not have a narrow view of what utility is. Usefulness to man is not confined to mere material values. The common standards of the market-place cannot be applied to the whole of life. The things which cannot be bought cannot be sold, and the keenest valuator would be puzzled to put a price on some of these unmarketable wares.

      When we seek to show what are the fruits of friendship, we may be said to put ourselves in line with the critical spirit of our age. But even if it were proven that a man could make more of his life materially by himself, if he gave no hostages to fortune, it would not follow that it is well to disentangle oneself from the common human bonds; for our caveat would here apply, that utility is larger than mere material gain.

      But even from this point of view friendship justifies itself. Two are better than one; for they have a good reward for their labor. The principle of association in business is now accepted universally. It is found even to pay, to share work and profit. Most of the world's business is done by companies, or partnerships, or associated endeavor of some kind. And the closer the intimacy between the men so engaged, the intimacy of common desires and common purposes, and mutual respect and confidence, and, if possible, friendship, the better chance there is for success. Two are better than one from the point of view even of the reward of each, and a threefold cord is not quickly broken, when a single strand would snap.

      When men first learned, even in its most rudimentary sense, that union is strength, the dawn of civilization began. For offence and for defence, the principle of association early proved itself the fittest for survival. The future is always with Isaac, not with Ishmael--with Jacob, not with Esau. In everything this is seen, in the struggle of races, or trade, or ideas. Even as a religious method to make an impact on the world, it is true. John of the Desert touched here a life, and there a life; Jesus of Nazareth, seeking disciples, founding a society, moved the world to its heart.

      It is not necessary to labor this point, that two are better than one, to a commercial age like ours, which, whatever it does not know, at least knows its arithmetic. We would say that it is self-evident, that by the law of addition it is double, and by the law of multiplication twice the number. But it is not so exact as that, nor so self-evident. When we are dealing with men, our ready-reckoner rules do not work out correctly. In this region one and one are not always two. They are sometimes more than two, and sometimes less than two. Union of all kinds, which may be strength, may be weakness. It was not till Gideon weeded out his army, once and twice, that he was promised victory. The fruits of friendship may be corrupting, and unspeakably evil to the life. The reward of the labor of two may be less than that of one. The boy pulling a barrow is lucky if he get another boy to shove behind, but if the boy behind not only ceases to shove, but sits on the barrow, the last end is worse than the first. A threefold cord with two of the strands rotten is worse than a single sound strand, for it deceives into putting too much weight on it.

      In social economics it is evident that society is not merely the sum of the units that compose it. Two are better than one, not merely because the force is doubled. It may even be said that two are better than two. Two together mean more than two added singly; for a new element is introduced which increases the power of each individually. When the man Friday came into the life of Robinson Crusoe, he brought with him a great deal more than his own individual value, which with his lower civilization would not be very much. But to Robinson Crusoe he represented society, and all the possibilities of social polity. It meant also the satisfaction of the social instincts, the play of the affections, and made Crusoe a different man. The two living together were more than the two living on different desert islands.

      The truth of this strange contradiction of the multiplication table is seen in the relationship of friends. Each gives to the other, and each receives, and the fruit of the intercourse is more than either in himself possesses. Every individual relationship has contact with a universal. To reach out to the fuller life of love is a divine enchantment, because it leads to more than itself, and is the open door into the mystery of life. We feel ourselves united to the race and no longer isolated units, but in the sweep of the great social forces which mould mankind. Every bond which binds man to man is a new argument for the permanence of life itself, and gives a new insight into its meaning. Love is the pledge and the promise of the future.

      Besides this cosmic and perhaps somewhat shadowy benefit, there are many practical fruits of friendship to the individual. These may be classified and subdivided almost endlessly, and indeed in every special friendship the fruits of it will differ according to the character and closeness of the tie, and according to the particular gifts of each of the partners. One man can give to his friend some quality of sympathy, or some kind of help, or can supply some social need which is lacking in his character or circumstances. Perhaps it is not possible to get a better division of the subject than the three noble fruits of friendship which Bacon enumerates--peace in the affections, support of the judgment, and aid in all actions and occasions.

      First of all there is the satisfaction of the heart. We cannot live a self-centred life, without feeling that we are missing the true glory of life. We were made for social intercourse, if only that the highest qualities of our nature might have an opportunity for development. The joy, which a true friendship gives, reveals the existence of the want of it, perhaps previously unfelt. It is a sin against ourselves to let our affections wither. This sense of incompleteness is an argument in favor of its possible satisfaction; our need is an argument for its fulfilment. Our hearts demand love, as truly as our bodies demand food. We cannot live among men, suspicious, and careful of our own interests, and fighting for our own hand, without doing dishonor and hurt to our own nature. To be for ourselves puts the whole world against us. To harden our heart hardens the heart of the universe.

      We need sympathy, and therefore we crave for friendship. Even the most perfect of the sons of men felt this need of intercourse of the heart. Christ, in one aspect the most self-contained of men, showed this human longing all through His life. He ever desired opportunities for enlargement of heart--in His disciples, in an inner circle within the circle, in the household of Bethany. "Will ye also go away?" He asked in the crisis of His career. "Could ye not watch with Me one hour?" He sighed in His great agony. He was perfectly human, and therefore felt the lack of friendship. The higher our relationships with each other are, the closer is the intercourse demanded. Highest of all in the things of the soul, we feel that the true Christian life cannot be lived in the desert, but must be a life among men, and this because it is a life of joy as well as of service. We feel that, for the founding of our life and the completion of our powers, we need intercourse with our kind. Stunted affections dwarf the whole man. We live by admiration, hope, and love, and these can be developed only in the social life.

      The sweetest and most stable pleasures also are never selfish. They are derived from fellowship, from common tastes, and mutual sympathy. Sympathy is not a quality merely needed in adversity. It is needed as much when the sun shines. Indeed, it is more easily obtained in adversity than in prosperity. It is comparatively easy to sympathize with a friend's failure, when we are not so true-hearted about his success. When a man is down in his luck, he can be sure of at least a certain amount of good-fellowship to which he can appeal. It is difficult to keep a little touch of malice, or envy, out of congratulations. It is sometimes easier to weep with those who weep, than to rejoice with those who rejoice. This difficulty is felt not with people above us, or with little connection with us, but with our equals. When a friend succeeds, there may be a certain regret which has not always an evil root, but is due to a fear that he is getting beyond our reach, passing out of our sphere, and perhaps will not need or desire our friendship so much as before. It is a dangerous feeling to give way to, but up to a certain point is natural and legitimate. A perfect friendship would not have room for such grudging sympathy, but would rejoice more for the other's success than for his own. The envious, jealous man never can be a friend. His mean spirit of detraction and insinuating ill-will kills friendship at its birth. Plutarch records a witty remark about Plistarchus, who was told that a notorious railer had spoken well of him. "I'll lay my life," said he, "somebody has told him I am dead, for he can speak well of no man living."

      For true satisfaction of the heart, there must be a fount of sympathy from which to draw in all the vicissitudes of life. Sorrow asks for sympathy, aches to let its griefs be known and shared by a kindred spirit. To find such, is to dispel the loneliness from life. To have a heart which we can trust, and into which we can pour our griefs and our doubts and our fears, is already to take the edge from grief, and the sting from doubt, and the shade from fear.

      Joy also demands that its joy should be shared. The man who has found his sheep that was lost calls together his neighbors, and bids them rejoice with him because he has found the sheep that was lost. Joy is more social than grief. Some forms of grief desire only to creep away into solitude like a wounded beast to its lair, to suffer alone and to die alone. But joy finds its counterpart in the sunshine and the flowers and the birds and the little children, and enters easily into all the movements of life. Sympathy will respond to a friend's gladness, as well as vibrate to his grief. A simple generous friendship will thus add to the joy, and will divide the sorrow.

      The religious life, in spite of all the unnatural experiments of monasticism and all its kindred ascetic forms, is preeminently a life of friendship. It is individual in its root, and social in its fruits. It is when two or three are gathered together that religion becomes a fact for the world. The joy of religion will not be hid and buried in a man's own heart. "Come, see a man that told me all that ever I did," is the natural outcome of the first wonder and the first faith. It spreads from soul to soul by the impact of soul on soul, from the original impact of the great soul of God.

      Christ's ideal is the ideal of a Kingdom, men banded together in a common cause, under common laws, serving the same purpose of love. It is meant to take effect upon man in all his social relationships, in the home, in the city, in the state. Its greatest triumphs have been made through friendship, and it in turn has ennobled and sanctified the bond. The growth of the Kingdom depends on the sanctified working of the natural ties among men. It was so at the very start; John the Baptist pointed out the Christ to John the future Apostle and to Andrew; Andrew findeth his own brother Simon Peter; Philip findeth Nathanael; and so society through its network of relations took into its heart the new message. The man who has been healed must go and tell those who are at home, must declare it to his friends, and seek that they also should share in his great discovery.

      The very existence of the Church as a body of believers is due to this necessity of our nature, which demands opportunity for the interchange of Christian sentiment. The deeper the feeling, the greater is the joy of sharing it with another. There is a strange felicity, a wondrous enchantment, which comes from true intimacy of heart, and close communion of soul, and the result is more than mere fleeting joy. When it is shared in the deepest thoughts and highest aspirations, when it is built on a common faith, and lives by a common hope, it brings perfect peace. No friendship has done its work until it reaches the supremest satisfaction of spiritual communion.

      Besides this satisfaction of the heart, friendship also gives satisfaction of the mind. Most men have a certain natural diffidence in coming to conclusions and forming opinions for themselves. We rarely feel confident, until we have secured the agreement of others in whom we trust. There is always a personal equation in all our judgments, so that we feel that they require to be amended by comparison with those of others. Doctors ask for a consultation, when a case becomes critical. We all realize the advantage of taking counsel. To ask for advice is a benefit, whether we follow the advice or no. Indeed, the best benefit often comes from the opportunity of testing our own opinion and finding it valid. Sometimes the very statement of the case is enough to prove it one thing or the other. An advantage is reaped from a sympathetic listener, even although our friend be unable to elucidate the matter by his special sagacity or experience. Friends in counsel gain much intellectually. They acquire something approaching to a standard of judgment, and are enabled to classify opinions, and to make up the mind more accurately and securely. Through talking a subject over with another, one gets fresh side-lights into it, new avenues open up, and the whole question becomes larger and richer. Bacon says, "Friendship maketh daylight in the understanding, out of darkness and confusion of thoughts: neither is this to be understood only of faithful counsel, which a man receiveth from his friend; but before you come to that, certain it is, that whosoever hath his mind fraught with many thoughts, his wits and understanding do clarify and break up in the communicating and discoursing with another; he tosseth his thoughts more easily; he marshalleth them more orderly; he seeth how they look when they are turned into words; finally he waxeth wiser than himself; and that more by an hour's discourse than by a day's meditation."

      We must have been struck with the brilliancy of our own conversation and the profundity of our own thoughts, when we shared them with one, with whom we were in sympathy at the time. The brilliancy was not ours; it was the reflex action which was the result of the communion. That is why the effect of different people upon us is different, one making us creep into our shell and making us unable almost to utter a word; another through some strange magnetism enlarging the bounds of our whole being and drawing the best out of us. The true insight after all is love. It clarifies the intellect, and opens the eyes to much that was obscure.

      Besides the subjective influence, there may be the great gain of honest counsel. A faithful friend can be trusted not to speak merely soft words of flattery. It is often the spectator who sees most of the game, and, if the spectator is at the same time keenly interested in us, he can have a more unbiased opinion than we can possibly have. He may have to say that which may wound our self-esteem; he may have to speak for correction rather than for commendation; but "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." The flatterer will take good care not to offend our susceptibilities by too many shocks of wholesome truth-telling; but a friend will seek our good, even if he must say the thing we hate to hear at the time.

      This does not mean that a friend should always be what is called plain-spoken. Many take advantage of what they call a true interest in our welfare, in order to rub gall into our wounds. The man who boasts of his frankness and of his hatred of flattery, is usually not frank--but only brutal. A true friend will never needlessly hurt, but also will never let slip occasions through cowardice. To speak the truth in love takes off the edge of unpleasantness, which so often is found in truth-speaking. And however the wound may smart, in the end we are thankful for the faithfulness which caused it. "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head."

      In our relations with each other, there is usually more advantage to be reaped from friendly encouragement, than from friendly correction. True criticism does not consist, as so many critics seem to think, in depreciation, but in appreciation; in putting oneself sympathetically in another's position, and seeking to value the real worth of his work. There are more lives spoiled by undue harshness, than by undue gentleness. More good work is lost from want of appreciation than from too much of it; and certainly it is not the function of friendship to do the critic's work. Unless carefully repressed, such a spirit becomes censorious, or, worse still, spiteful, and has often been the means of losing a friend. It is possible to be kind, without giving crooked counsel, or oily flattery; and it is possible to be true, without magnifying faults, and indulging in cruel rebukes.

      Besides the joy of friendship, and its aid in matters of counsel, a third of its noble fruits is the direct help it can give us in the difficulties of life. It gives strength to the character. It sobers and steadies through the responsibility for each other which it means. When men face the world together, and are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder, the sense of comradeship makes each strong. This help may not often be called into play, but just to know that it is there if needed is a great comfort, to know that if one fall the other will lift him up. The very word friendship suggests kindly help and aid in distress. Shakespeare applies the word in King Lear to an inanimate thing with this meaning of helpfulness,--

       Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel;
       Some friendship will it lend you 'gainst the tempest.

      Sentiment does not amount to much, if it is not an inspiring force to lead to gentle and to generous deeds, when there is need. The fight is not so hard, when we know that we are not alone, but that there are some who think of us, and pray for us, and would gladly help us if they get the opportunity.

      Comradeship is one of the finest facts, and one of the strongest forces in life. A mere strong man, however capable, and however singly successful, is of little account by himself. There is no glamour of romance in his career. The kingdom of Romance belongs to David, not to Samson--to David, with his eager, impetuous, affectionate nature, for whom three men went in the jeopardy of life to bring him a drink of water; and all for love of him. It is not the self-centred, self-contained hero, who lays hold of us; it is ever the comradeship of heroes. Dumas' Three Musketeers (and the Gascon who made a greater fourth), with their oath, "Each for all, and all for each," inherit that kingdom of Romance, with all that ever have been tied in bands of love.

      Robertson of Brighton in one of his letters tells how a friend of his had, through cowardice or carelessness, missed an opportunity of putting him right on a point with which he was charged, and so left him defenceless against a slander. With his native sweetness of soul, he contents himself with the exclamation, "How rare it is to have a friend who will defend you thoroughly and boldly!" Yet that is just one of the loyal things a friend can do, sometimes when it would be impossible for a man himself to do himself justice with others. Some things, needful to be said or done under certain circumstances, cannot be undertaken without indelicacy by the person concerned, and the keen instinct of a friend should tell him that he is needed. A little thoughtfulness would often suggest things that could be done for our friends, that would make them feel that the tie which binds us to them is a real one. That man is rich indeed, who possesses thoughtful, tactful friends, with whom he feels safe when present, and in whose hands his honor is secure when absent. If there be no loyalty, there can be no great friendship. Most of our friendships lack the distinction of greatness, because we are not ready for little acts of service. Without these our love dwindles down to a mere sentiment, and ceases to be the inspiring force for good to both lives, which it was at the beginning.

      The aid we may receive from friendship may be of an even more powerful, because of a more subtle, nature than material help. It may be a safeguard against temptation. The recollection of a friend whom we admire is a great force to save us from evil, and to prompt us to good. The thought of his sorrow in any moral break-down of ours will often nerve us to stand firm. What would my friend think of me, if I did this, or consented to this meanness? Could I look him in the face again, and meet the calm pure gaze of his eye? Would it not be a blot on our friendship, and draw a veil over our intercourse? No friendship is worth the name which does not elevate, and does not help to nobility of conduct and to strength of character. It should give a new zest to duty, and a new inspiration to all that is good.

      Influence is the greatest of all human gifts, and we all have it in some measure. There are some to whom we are something, if not everything. There are some, who are grappled to us with hoops of steel. There are some, over whom we have ascendency, or at least to whom we have access, who have opened the gates of the City of Mansoul to us, some we can sway with a word, a touch, a look. It must always be a solemn thing for a man to ask what he has done with this dread power of influence. For what has our friend to be indebted to us--for good or for evil? Have we put on his armor, and sent him out with courage and strength to the battle? Or have we dragged him down from the heights to which he once aspired? We are face to face here with the tragic possibilities of human intercourse. In all friendship we open the gates of the city, and those who have entered must be either allies in the fight, or treacherous foes.

      All the fruits of friendship, be they blessed or baneful, spring from this root of influence, and influence in the long run is the impress of our real character on other lives. Influence cannot rise above the level of our lives. The result of our friendship on others will ultimately be conditioned by the sort of persons we are. It adds a very sacred responsibility to life. Here, as in other regions, a good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - The Miracle of Friendship
   Chapter 2 - The Culture of Friendship
   Chapter 3 - The Fruits of Friendship
   Chapter 4 - The Choice of Friendship
   Chapter 5 - The Eclipse of Friendship
   Chapter 6 - The Wreck of Friendship
   Chapter 7 - The Renewing of Friendship
   Chapter 8 - The Limits of Friendship
   Chapter 9 - The Higher Friendship


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