Friendships with the right entities are essential not only to survive but to survive well. We all need proper friendships. When we are sick, we approach a friendly doctor ; when in legal difficulties we go to a friendly lawyer ; when short of money, we seek out the one who can give us some monetary assistance. As a matter of fact, as we all have realized, we always need help throughout life. Human beings are effectively very small and quite helpless without the active assistance of others. It is not surprising that Lord Krishna specifically states in Geeta : “Living entities were created to assist each other by offering to them the fruits of their labour. This way they can obtain all their desired objects” (3.10).
Therefore, it is important to develop and cultivate friendships from the start of one’s life – beginning with one’s parents, siblings, other relatives. Genuinely good persons are rare, and one needs to search for them. And for that, one needs to know what a good person is like. In Geeta, a good person has been described as “Peaceful, self-controlled, austere, pure, tolerant, honest, knowledgeable, properly behaved and religious” (18.42). How to test whether a person is good or not ? The real test of a good person – friendly person – is when one is in distress. One can have many fair weather acquaintances, but friend is the one who stands by in the times of difficulties.
Having found such a person, one seriously needs to cultivate him or her. Friendship is not a passive activity. It has many active responsibilities. And as mentioned in Geeta, it must be based on the serving principle that is to help and assist. Having mentioned that, it is essential to mention that friendships are always mutual, based on give and take. Wise people have opined that good friendships are nurtured by giving gifts, accepting gifts, feeding, being fed, revealing one’s heart and being privy to secrets of a friend.
As mentioned earlier, one must start with one’s immediate family first. Someone was mentioning that families have become close neighbourhoods these days with TV or the internet being the ones, one spends most of one’s free-time with. No wonder families are breaking up and personal problems are getting compounded. Earlier, the family members regularly used to meet at least for eating together when most of the family concerns were debated and sorted out. Now practically everyone is an authority on everything. No wonder we are so confused these days. Sooner we realize that we need to become friends with our family members, better off we shall be. We can assist others in becoming good persons by setting good examples. “As a superior person conducts himself or herself, others follow. Whatever standards he or she sets, for others, those are the guidelines (3.21).
Friendship once started must be nurtured carefully. It requires the right activities. Friendships grow by assisting, helping, appreciating, being grateful for the favours done ; these are some of the bedrocks upon which lasting friendships are founded. Both the parties must progress, not that one prospers at the cost of the other. Then again, there should be a proper mix of interaction and leaving the other person alone, that is respecting one’s privacy. Friendship is best kept when it is not burdensome. In Geeta, Lord Krishna warns : “All relationships must be free from too much attachment or envy”. Over-dependence on anyone person is a recipe for disaster.
What are further benefits of such friendships ? One can seek what one needs, especially advice, from a true friend. This may be an improvement on what one is thinking. Rather than being whimsical which is the cause of most of our woes, one needs to test one’s thoughts by discussing these with a friend. This way one is sure of being objective which is essential in preventing mistakes. And to obtain the best advice, one needs to come clean and not reveal only partial information. Unfortunately, many of us succumb to the temptation of withholding information that reflects poorly on us. Of course, the other person must be deserving of being privy to one’s inner-most secrets. Time spent with true friends always brings some benefit, whether spiritual or material. Good friends are very valuable assets. Therefore, it is smart to have a number of good friends.
Some relationships are doomed. If the relationship is one-sided with too many demands made upon one party, it is actually exploitation. Also, when one party takes the other for granted. Again, when one party goes out of the way repeatedly, the days of relationships are numbered. All people who are not prepared to improve, do not deserve to be our friends. But in case of close relations, exceptions need to be made ; we need to find ways to keep the relationship going.
Finally, who is our best friend ? Lord Krishna declares : “I am everyone’s best friend” (5.29). One should have faith in God ; should seek His guidance through the scriptures ; and “let the scriptures be your guide” (16.24). Such behaviour is sure to bring rich rewards in the shape of many great friends in our lives, including God Himself.