I have had occasion to think a lot about friendship, and I think the fundamental question one must ask is whether friendship is the result of some weakness or deficiency in the human condition? Are we to believe that the only reason people engage in friendships is in order to help each other by exchanging services? Is it correct to say that this most noble of activities is merely the result of the fact that people need others to assist them in their pursuits, and that they desire the benefit which others can give them? Is not the giving and receiving which occurs between friends merely a result of friendship, which in fact has nobler origins?
Goodwill and love, which are the true basis of friendship, can only arise when there is no interest in personal profit. Love, amour, is the basis of friendship. While there are people who enter into “friendships” for the sake of extracting some immediate benefit, these are not true friendships. Let us not be confused by such acts of false pretense about what friendship really is. Where real friendship is concerned, there is nothing but that which is genuine and true. Therefore, it is clear that real friendship is not the result of some deficiency, and is not about using other people for our own advantage, but rather comes from feeling true affection for them, from the depths of our heart.
We can see such affection happening even in animals, for it is surely natural. Likewise, in human beings, parents naturally feel love for their children, which nothing but the most outrageous of injustices could destroy. In the same way, affection can grow between people who recognize in each other those attractive qualities that are the result of character and goodness.
Goodness has the ability to inspire affection in others, even those we have never met before. For example, our ancestors Gaius Fabricius and Manius Curius warm our hearts because of their goodness, even though they lived long before us. Likewise, we all hate Spurius Cassius and Maelius, even though we have never met them. Look at Pyrrhus and Hannibal, with whom we fought against in order to achieve victory in Italy. Because Pyrrhus was a good man, we did not treat him harshly, but Hannibal, known for his cruelty, will always fill us with hate. Therefore, goodness has the strength to make us love even those we can’t see, even those who are our enemies in war.
Let us not be surprised how our hearts are stirred when we meet people of excellent character and goodness who are near us, who we can in fact have intimate relationships with. This is only natural. Further, when we see someone acting virtuously, for example, through acts of kindness, we can only help but feel affection for them. And when we ourselves are the recipients of such kind treatment, naturally we will come to like that person. Combined with seeing someone frequently, we can see how such factors bring our natural tendency towards liking our fellow brothers to greater heights of affection, which may ultimately flower in friendship.
As for those who say friendships are conducted on the basis of weakness, let us not listen to such people for one moment. If it were true that friendships were born out of depravity, than those with the least confidence would have the easiest time gaining friends. But, the truth is that this is not the case but its exact opposite. Those who have the most confidence, who do what is good and intelligent, are the ones who develop true friendships. While being able to support himself, and therefore not needing the help of others, he is nevertheless equipped with the best means for attaining friends. For example, my friend Scipio certainly did not need me. Likewise, I did not need him. However, since we both admired the good qualities which the other possessed, we were happy to unite as friends. Our friendship, although certainly beneficial to us both, was not brought about because of any such expectations.
True kindness and generosity is not done with the intent of being repaid. We act kind because it is a natural thing to do. Likewise, we do not enter into friendships because we are hoping for material gain, but because the friendship itself is profit enough!
It is not surprising that there are many who will disagree, and claim that the purpose of friendships is to benefit from the resources of others. But such people have debased their thoughts to such a level that they are unable to recognize what is truly good. Let us not be tempted by their promptings, but remain firm in our understanding that true friendship is the result of the mutual acknowledgment of goodness and character in another person.
Therefore, when two people have the taste for such things, they will naturally be drawn to one another. After spending time with each other, they will come to have love for one another, and desire to be loyal to one another. Only at this time, will they then benefit from their association. They will become noble rivals, challenging each other to be the best person they can be. In this way, friends make the most of their relationship. The friendship, because it is based on what is natural rather than some weakness, will endure through thick and thin.