Friends are the spice of life. They are our rampart in times of distress, the confidante to our innermost thoughts, and reinforces us in times of weakness. Of all the people we know throughout life, there are only a few that fits the bill. An even rarer find are your true friends; those that do not leave you even when things get really tough.

What makes someone a friend? How do they stand out from the rest of our acquaintances? Seneca, in his letter On True and False Friendship said that the crucial element is trust.

We should not trust everyone, nor should we try to make all of our acquaintances our friends. It is healthy and prudent to be selective on whom do we put our trust. But if you consider someone your friend, then your trust must be absolute:

When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment.

It is very important to vet people before they come into our lives. But once we consider them true friends, our default stance should be of absolute trust. This is hard to do and sometimes we do the other way around:

Those persons indeed put last first and confound their duties, who, violating the rules of Theophrastus, judge a man after they have made him their friend, instead of making him their friend after they have judged him.

Trust By Default

What if someone whom you considered a friend turned out to be unworthy of your trust? It is a painful event when something like this happens. But when done by someone whom you consider a friend, that pain gets amplified.

If you experienced betrayal of trust, it is easy to conclude that people are untrustworthy. Even those whom you consider friends can stab your back under the right circumstances. But this naïve point of view is not good as well.

It is equally faulty to trust everyone and to trust no one.

How do we avoid getting into either extreme?

We focus on things we can control. Which is, it is up to us to decide whether we become friends with someone. But how that other person values your friendship is not in our control.

Being on the other extreme end (trusting no one) hinders the possibility of having deeper relationships with others. Lack of trust in people also serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy, according to Seneca:

You should share with a friend at least all your worries and reflections. Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal. Some, for example, fearing to be deceived, have taught men to deceive; by their suspicions they have given their friend the right to do wrong.

The Perfect Friend

There is none. Even your closest friends are just human and have innate flaws. Your most loyal friend will one day do something that will challenge your trust with each other. We have to accept that our friends could hurt us, in keeping with the principles of Stoicism.

Discuss the problem with Nature; she will tell you that she has created both day and night.

Just as you are not always good nor always trustworthy, so are your friends. The most painful wounds are the ones caused by our closest friends. But this is part of the richness of life, and should not always lead to terminating bonds. Just as we learned to trust them, we can also learn to forgive.

Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

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