Who is Our True Friend (Part 2)

Marks of a True Friend

An ancient text says: "One who stands by you in times of famine, political revolution, and in the court of law is a true friend." True friendship is utterly selfless. Such friendship has four aspects: responsibility, care, respect, and knowledge. Friendship is an expression of intimacy between two human beings that honors and leaves the freedom of each intact. To love a person implies caring and feeling responsible for his life - not just his physical existence but his total well-being. The need for care and responsibility denotes that friendship is an activity, not a passion. Responsibility is not a duty imposed upon one from outside but a response from within. Responsibility and response have the same root: respondere, that is, to answer, to be ready to respond, to promise in return. Without respect for and knowledge of the loved person, love deteriorates into domination and possessiveness. Respect is not fear and awe. In keeping with the root of the word respicere, that is, to look at, it denotes the ability to see and know a person as he or she is, to be aware of his or her individuality and uniqueness.

True friendship is marked by mutual tolerance - tolerance that is loving, not grudging. Tolerance is the positive effort to understand another's beliefs, practices, and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them. Voltaire's dictum, "I do not agree with a word that you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it," is for all ages and places the perfect utterance of the ideal of tolerance. We often force our friends to conform to our convictions and we thus violate the rights of others. In true friendship there is no place for fear. Fear comes when there is a selfish motive, in the presence of which no true friendship can grow. A true friend will always trust you. You won't have to prove yourself to him in order to hold his loyal friendship. A true friend will never say anything behind your back that he would not say to you in person. The law of friendship tells us that true friendship cannot be taken for granted. It is like a plant that requires nurturing and caring, without which it withers and dies. The saint-poet Bhartrihari warns us: "A king is brought to ruin by evil counselors; an ascetic by moving in society; a child by being spoilt; a priest by not studying the sacred writings; a family by the wicked behaviour of children; good manners by bad habits; modesty by strong drink; agriculture by neglect; affection by absence from one's household; friendship by want of love; possessions by careless management; and money by waste and prodigality.

Part 3

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