I have heard that there is a view in Greece that one should not have friendships, because what is best is to not have to be concerned about the affairs of others. Such individuals say that one should only have loose friendships, which one can either bring closer or push farther away depending on what the situation recommends. In their view, happiness is the result of the freedom which one gains from not having to care about what happens to others. Likewise, there are those who believe that friendships should only be made in order to benefit from others. Both of these views are indeed ignoble, and one must not fall for them, for certainly genuine friendship is one of the greatest gifts ever given to mankind!
Besides, why would one want to be “free” of the cares of others when the greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping those in need? How misguided it would be to avoid doing good because it is troubling! To live a good life means to stand in opposition to that which is wrong, for courage to overcome cowardice, and for kindness to reign supreme. The wise man cannot help but feel distressed by the events going on around him. The just man cannot help but to seek to bring an end to injustice. Whoever has even a trace of humanity in his heart will shed tears when he sees the poor oppressed or his fellow brethren taken advantage of by the tyrant. It is this ability to have emotions which separates us from the world of inanimate things.
We must therefore not pay any attention to those who say we should not care for others. Friendship is a sensitive thing, and so when our friends are doing well we feel joy, and when they are in trouble we are deeply distraught. A true friendship inevitably includes distress, but let us not be deterred for this reason, in the same way that we must be committed to doing what is right despite the courage that is needed and the hardships involved.
Friendships are formed when we see in someone else the greatness of character that inspires admiration in all men, and so we seek to be close to such a person. For if we are to be excited by all sort of meaningless things, like holding prestigious public offices and fame, fine architecture and clothing, let us not ignore the affection of a truly great man, but rather seek to attach ourselves to him and reciprocate his love.
While it is nice to be friendly with others, the greatest value of true friendship is having someone who feels the same way about things as yourself. This is why good men are attracted to other good men, as nature greedily desires that which is consistent with itself. The goodness in man brings out his noblest qualities, and indeed protects whole nations. It is therefore in direct opposition to the person who shows no concern other than for himself.
True friendships are forged not for the sake of gaining any advantage, but out of love. Any benefit received is therefore only enjoyed because it has occurred within the context of mutual affection. Friendships are not the result of weakness, but rather the strongest and most independent of people serve as the best friends. Those who are the least of need, already having wealth and power, and more importantly goodness, are best able to enjoy true friendship. Besides, it is nice to be able to help out a friend. I, for example, am happy that there were time in Scipio’s civil and military careers that I was able to help him, and in doing so show him how much I appreciated him as a friend. Therefore, friendships are not created for the sake of advantage, but rather from them advantages naturally emerge.
Let us not listen to those who are only concerned with what’s advantageous to themselves, for they have no understanding of what true friendship is. In truth, there is no one on earth who would be happy with all the money in the world if he could neither love nor be loved by anyone else. This is in fact how a tyrant lives, without being able to trust anyone else, or feel any sort of affection, surrounded by ill-will. Surely, he is courted by flatterers, but this is disingenuous and will quickly come to an end once he falls from power, as so often is the case. For example, listen to the words of Tarquinius Superbus who when exiled exclaimed “At last, it’s clear to me who my true friends are – now that I’m no longer in a position to pay them back!”