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The Basis of the Best Relationships
Spoiler alert: it takes time to get there
“A broken friendship may be soldered but will never be sound.” — Thomas Fuller, 1732
Who’s your go-to friend for any occasion?
That friend who makes you smile, gives you sound advice, and who would drop everything in an instant if you found yourself in a crisis.
Once you have that person pictured in your mind, I’d like you to answer this: what is it about them that makes you feel that way?
You’ve probably known them for a while; maybe your whole life. They’ve shown up for you before: they came through when you’ve needed them and gave something when you were lacking.
Ultimately, you trust this person.
A Friend in Need
The proverb “a friend in need is a friend indeed” is one that rolls off the tongue, but have you stopped to consider what it means?
If looked at cynically, it could mean that someone who needs help is suddenly in need of a friend to help them out.
But I like looking at it from the other direction: meaning that a person who helps you in your hour of need is reliable and therefore worthy of your friendship.
“By mutual confidence and mutual aid
Great deeds are done, and great discoveries made.” — Homer, 8th century BC
That reliability of your friend, the confidence you place in him — those attributes don’t appear suddenly. They’re the result of consistent and repeated actions over time, like callouses grown from a consistent tug of war, an endless back-and-forth of give and take as one kindness is repaid by another.
Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us “the only way to have a friend is to be one,” and we know the friends who put in the same level of work and commitment that we put into our friendships. If the teams are imbalanced in that tug of war, one side loses balance and falls back on itself.
In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle wrote of the virtue that friendship is, and how some friendships were born of utility or of pleasure; they last when each of the friends is equally useful or pleasurable to the other.
“We cherish our friends not for their ability to amuse us but for ours to amuse them.” — Evelyn Waugh, 1963
But for Aristotle, the key to true friendship was to move beyond necessities and instead to focus on virtue itself:
“Friendship being divided into these kinds, bad men will be friends for the sake of pleasure or of utility, being in this respect like each other, but good men will be friends for their own sake, i.e., in virtue of their goodness. These then are friends without qualification; the others are friends incidentally and through a resemblance to these.”
But knowing that you’re paired with another good person takes time—that give-and-take of friendship that Emerson echoed two millennia later. Aristotle reminds us:
“Nor can they admit each other to friendship or be friends until each has been found lovable and been trusted by each. Those who quickly show the marks of friendship to each other wish to be friends. But they are not friends unless both are lovable and know the fact, for a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.”
Ah, there it is. The magic word that undergirds all relationships.
Trust is the basis of all thriving relationships; lack of it is the decay that rots them away.
Without trust, you have nothing.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
The latest episode of Timeless Leadership is up; we were joined by Margot Bloomstein, author of Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap.