I shall start by saying that I am guilty of Seneca’s criticism of his friend Lucillius. I would be a hypocrite to say that I have not called people friends and not seen them as people I can trust. I collected people I would describe as friends, the word losing all meaning. What is this criticism?
“If you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship.” – Letters from a Stoic III
He’s right, of course yet I feel it doesn’t go far enough in this particular extract. The question can be asked how can a person trust in friends as they trust themselves if they don’t trust themselves to begin with? Can you trust yourself to keep a secret? No? Then how can you trust another to keep yours. Before we go looking for faults in others, we – and I, for sure – need to remember John 8:7 about those without sin casting the first stone at the sinner.
“Think for a long time whether or not you should admit a given person to your friendship. But when you have decided to do so, welcome him heart and soul, and speak as unreservedly with him as you would yourself.” – Letters from a Stoic III
Are you kind to yourself? Are you honest with yourself? Are you respectful of yourself? Are you accepting of yourself? If the answer is no to these questions then how can you in good conscience admit that friendship knowing that you will not speak as unreservedly with them, heart and soul, as you would yourself? Now I’m not saying that you can only be a straight laced, no-issues neurotypical perfect human to be able to have friendship. That would be hypocritical as I like to think that now, in this moment, I have true friends. What I am saying is, how can we judge the measure of another’s friendship on these grounds if we don’t look inward first and find out what that means.
“Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal. Some men’s fear of being deceived has taught people to deceive them; by their suspiciousness they give them the right to do the wrong thing by them. Why should I keep anything back when I’m with a friend? Why shouldn’t I imagine I’m alone when I’m in his company?”
Bernard Shaw said something similar if I’m not mistaken about treating people greatly and they will be great. I am also guilty of what Seneca says, I have a friend that I feel to be a true friend yet due to our electric communication and the distance between us – and the film Catfish – I admit that I assumed the worst, laughably so. Yet I trust this person with myself and from our conversations, they trust me with themselves in our truest way. What irrationality is this suspicion? It’s like shit on the shoe – it stinks but it can be wiped off. Of course things happen, there are lapses and gaps and the trust seems to be thin, and circumstantial. Yet is this my own perception and ingrained taught suspicion or reality? The former, obviously – monitored and regulated by citalopram and philosophies.
Yet Seneca goes on to make another fair point which I think is key to remember:
“Trusting everyone is as much a fault as trusting no one (though I should call the first the worthier and the second the safer behaviour).”
We need to strike a balance in our lives, across all things. This expands to our social relationships and the emotion we put into them. A Jedi epithet is that desire unbalances us, and to an extent its true. Should we desire relationships or should we accept them as they come in balance and acceptance of when they do not – from acquaintances and colleagues to lovers. It’s like a balanced diet or balanced exercise regime. Stoicism and my preferred religious philosophies are about walking the middle path, in perfect harmony with the self and Universe. It permeates all our actions, a need for balance.
“For a delight in bustling about is not industry – it is only the restless energy of a hunted mind. And the state of a mind that looks on all activity as tiresome is not true repose, but spineless inertia…
A balanced combination of the two attitudes is what we want; the active man should always be able to take things easily, while the man who is inclined towards repose should be capable of action. Ask nature: she will tell you that she made both day and night.”
Find your balance in friendships and yourself. Trust carefully but wholly. Love reservedly but give love unreservedly – both for yourself and others. Find your middle way along The Way.