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Friendship of Character and the Character of Friendship

There are many reasons why a man should be called my friends. I like him because he has shown me some little consideration, because he has admired my work or borne with my weaknesses. He has listened to me while I talked, and has not shut his ears to what I had to say, as so many others have done. He has not been bored by my explanations or wearied by my disquisitions upon the subjects in which I take so deep an interest. And so I like to think of him as my friend.

But a sounder basis of affinity exists for those who have eyes to see and hearts to feel. In proportion as we are conscious of the influence of our own lives upon those of others so does responsibility lie with us to exert that influence in the highest degree of conscious effort. Influence is the outward but invisible sign of an inward and spiritual character. It is felt and known more in the exercising than the suffering, but it needs a healthy introspectiveness to keep it in order. There is, in fact, no greater responsibility in the system of our lives than that entailed by exercising the emotion of friendship. The chance-dropped word, the unconsidered action, be they for good or ill, these are they which bear witness for or against us when the daily judgment of our peers is passed. For it is just the spontaneous emanations of the spirit within that tell of the worth or unworth of the life they embellish. When my friend leaves me alone with the pleasant memory of his bachelor comradeship he thinks less of the value of my wedding gift than of the tone of my voice as I bid him Godspeed.

Consider then how important it is that the source should be kept pure and clean. It is this exercising of unseen influence that gives us the most satisfying and the happiest friendships, because it is the index of natural adaptability of spirit. Our moods, our emotions, our interests, all find a response when character is the basis of friendship, for character is the source of our influence, and it is influence that unites us. If I feel that my life and the life of my friend act and react upon each other I am led to realize that my share of the responsibility is to be met only by making my life the source of none but healthy and noble actions. I must realize that I am as essential to him as he to me. And if my friendship is not limited to one, how much more (if comparison be permissible) is it necessary that all those threads of communication should be strong and reliable? The man is no friend who can receive without giving of his best in return. He must give his sympathy whether of joy or sorrow; he must seek to learn the character of his friend that so he may draw forth of him all best and highest,—he must be fain to consider him in all his dealings. Above all must he so order his own life that no deed may be done whereby the other could be offended; he must set a watch upon his own ways that no little impediment may hinder the highest exercise of his influence for good.

We cannot fail to see the basis upon which all the more beautiful structures of friendship rest. The various circumstances of community of interest, accidents of companionship, even mutual adaptability of temperament, do not constitute bonds of satisfying oneness between those whose characters are not attuned. Character is the source of our influence, and it is only the fellow character that is most delicately attuned to ours that can perfectly respond, like the familiar instance of the two violins in such complete harmony that a note sounded upon the one will repeat itself upon the other. Intellect will strengthen such a bond as this; experience and observation will show its responsibilities; a normal introspectiveness will bring a fuller appreciation of its value. Sympathy—no less than a voluntary adaptability—is an essential; but it is usually an outcome of the pre-existing harmony of character.

Then, if I feel that my friend is necessary to me, I shall be no less sensible that it is my duty to be necessary to him. Who am I that I should receive all and give nothing? Why Should I be piqued by those little peculiarities of temperament in him when I have so much to overcome myself? He is not of necessity perfect because I admire him; because he is true I need not therefore take the less pains to be worthy of his regard. And the more I am sensible of the need to exercise self-restraint and self-discipline so much the more should I be grateful to him for having laid a valuable responsibility upon me. "A man that hath friends must show himself "friendly," said a philosopher of a bygone age, and if we understand "friendly" to mean "worthy of friendship," here we have the conclusion of the whole matter.

It is impossible to define, even within the broadest limits, the nature of those characters which are likely to harmonize. They may differ vastly, or they may be cast in apparently similar molds, but that which unites them is invisible, intangible, yet none the less terribly real. "Terribly," truly, for its rupture means the shaking of the foundations of being. We know not how many lives have been embittered, despoiled, shorn of their warmest glory by the breaking of one friendship. For we know not all the delicate ramifications of our influence, and when the source of that influence has been befouled by bitterness what are we to expect of its flow? Happy indeed shall we be if we can look back through the vista of years upon our pathway without fear and without self-reproach, conscious that of ourselves, too, may Shakespeare's words be said—

He was my friend, faithful and just to me.

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Clement Laurence

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