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Judge not thy friend until thou standest in his place.
—Rabbi Hillel
What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?
—George Eliot
A friend is a person before whom I may be sincere. Before whom I may think aloud.
The only way to have a friend is to be one.

A great deal has been written about friendship—much of which is fine and true, but some of which is very poor and inadequate. In reality this is one of the most vital questions of life—this matter of friendship, that we often treat so lightly and superficially. We speak of, as our friend, almost anyone who is not actually antagonistic to us. But, after all, how comparatively few know or live the true meaning of friendship! How few of us have any realization of what constitutes the friendship that will last—that in its very nature cannot die—the friendship that knows no change, that is the same in storm as in sunshine, that knows, and therefore gives no heed to what others say or do, to others' opinions or criticisms or recriminations. It is easy enough to be a friend; when one gains as much or more than one gives. But such times are not the test of friendship; at such times it is difficult, perhaps, to distinguish between the true and the counterfeit friendship. For there is a counterfeit friendship that passes muster in many of the relations of life until some keen-edged circumstance pierces the shell, the superficial, and reveals the seed of truth or of falsity within. There is what might be characterized as a "give and take" friendship, genuine enough after its kind, but of so low an order that there is really nothing of a lasting element in it. True friendship can only give, give continuously, freely, unquestioningly, with no thought of self or gain or return of any kind—an unconscious giving— an outflowing from the heart as natural as breathing. There are probably as many motives for giving as there are gifts, but the truest motive is because there is a need. To give in answer to a genuine need is to give as God gives, as nature gives, as friendship must give to be worthy the name.

Many people think that friendship cannot exist where there are differences of thought and action—"my friend must believe and do as I do," they say, "or there can be no companionship." Now, as a matter of fact, the true friend never exacts anything, never questions, never doubts. A friendship that depends only or chiefly on similarity in superficials has a very insecure foundation. Nor does true friendship require that motives shall be laid bare. Indeed, what spoken word can fully reveal the deepest, strongest motives? All true judgment is from the heart. If the heart of one friend touches another in love and faith, then the anathemas of all the world will count as nothing. It is the motive back of every action that counts, that is the starting-point of all, from which everything works outward to the surface, immaturely, and mistakenly at first, perhaps, but by degrees more clearly and truly. The trouble is, we mistake results for causes, effects for the effort, the motive behind them, and so our judgment, being superficial, is unjust and hurtful. Each of us is given judgment to reason out life's problems, but how few of us reach the same conclusions. It would not be unsafe to say that no two of us arrive at exactly the same. We are fortunate if at last we come to understand ourselves; we can never wholly understand another—the source of his impulses, the mainspring of his motives. Therefore, we can never judge. And, therefore, faith is a necessary element of true friendship. As we have faith in others they will grow to worthiness of it.

It is easier to see in others what we have in ourselves. A man who is seeing only evil in others, who is always suspicious and untrusting, proves in this that he has less of loyalty, of good, in himself than the man whose simple faith and genuineness calls out whatever there is of these qualities in others. And so when we are disappointed in our friends it can never be that they are wholly to blame. No matter what our starting-point may be, whatever comes to us, whatever we discover, comes because it finds fellowship in some degree, be it ever so little, in ourselves. So there can never be any real friendship that does not possess the quality of faith. No matter how much we may "like" another person—likes and dislikes are dependent upon moods, upon the state of our physical organism, upon any one of a dozen things that come and go and have no bearing on the real life—we can never hope for any depth or richness of companionship unless there be also a deep, generous, and abiding faith. It is not necessary that we approve of or wholly understand what our friend does—no one of us acts invariably from only the highest motive; but there is, nevertheless, something in the life of each of us that is worthy of trust, that is steadfast and deserving of loyalty, that even when we do not understand we can yet believe in and build on. The circumference of life may be disturbed, but the heart of life with each of us is absolutely good and true and steadfast. Each of us has God at the center, and in friendship this center is what we deal with, else it is no true friendship. It is only from this center that we touch the same center in others—we can be of more service in life by "walking hand in hand with our own ideals"; so and only so do we help our friend to live true to his own ideal. When any cloud of seeming misunderstanding appears above our horizon we should hold firmly in mind the unshakable belief that the motive was good, however mistaken the method, and that there is an adequate explanation for everything—when the right time arrives. This side of life—the side on which understandings and misunderstandings lie—is the side where changes and development are going on—we must look for fluctuations, and, anticipating them, rise superior to them.

It is easy to play the part of a friend when the majority are on our side and antagonism would be unpopular. But it is when we only are left by the side of our friend that our loyalty really counts and that it may show its own character. Symbols pass—the usages and opportunities of friendship—but the spirit of it endures throughout the lifetime, for the spirit that is beneath it is eternal. The true friend is he who most generously proves his friendship when it is most needed—when the way is dark and rough, and the soul of his friend is beset in its struggle toward the realization of its ideal. It does not materially matter how we may differ on the surface of things. We must learn to discriminate between people and things. It may be that we have a different religion, as we call it; he may be a pessimist and I an optimist. We may be the truest friends, nevertheless. For these are both the same at bottom, as are all convictions honestly held; for all religions at last resolve themselves simply into love and service.

I think I do not speak too strongly when I say that friendship is one of the most precious, if not the very most precious, thing in life. It is the true comradeship, where the soul of one touches the soul of the other. Of course, the more points of outer agreement, the better, in a way. But these are not essential. The two things needful are the eternal giving—of one's abilities, one's life, one's self—and the impregnable faith that knows, though it can neither see nor understand, and that trusts despite all outward appearances or circumstances.

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Charles Brodie Patterson

  • Canadian New Thought author
  • Born in Nova Scotia in 1854 and died on June, 22nd 1917

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