Life offers continuous lessons, and the sincere learner welcomes the schooling negative and positive until his final moment on the planet. Our friendships past and present can and should be building our character at every turn. With successful and unsuccessful friendships should come reflection. I have failed friendships where the responsibility for the failure fell on me and my actions or lack of action. There are also friendships which I ended abruptly due to realizations about the other person. If we are intentionally pursuing others, we will have many different experiences.
Our introspection is the first step in serving others and a process we must return to with great frequency. This is how we achieve Cicero’s directive to be “fortified in virtue and wisdom.” It can be said the best friend to be and have, are those who are lifelong learners. Let’s define some ways we can search our souls and improve ourselves in the care of others and development of friendships in our lives.
Do you love yourself? I was told when I was single if I was unhappy as a single person, I would be even unhappier married. The warning I received was to never go into marriage thinking another person would be able to solve my problems or erase any sadness. Marriage was something for two people who have discovered themselves as individuals and who were content to be alone. In getting to know one another each discovers their love of the other person and wants nothing more than to love and serve the other person above themselves. If an individual comes to the marriage expecting the other person to meet their needs, improve their self-esteem, bring them joy, the marriage is in trouble. An individual is ready for marriage and to serve another only when they have their own life in order, a healthy understanding of themselves, self-discovered joys, and a self-love. Obviously, this person is not the narcissist, but the individual who can move through life in healthy relationships because they have much more to give, than to take.
Friendship is no different. You have the makings of a good friend to someone else if you have spent the time and reflection to understand yourself and to find joy in life without a dependence on others. This is not to say we are not all dependent on one another, nor is to say there is not a joy in being with others, it’s to say your joy is not dependent on others and their actions.
The only way we can fortify ourselves in virtue is to take the time needed to reflect and meditate. We must be willing to ask ourselves hard questions, find the answers and respond to our discoveries without distractions. Few men make time for such reflection. Even more so, most men don’t want to know or to have to make changes about themselves. Taking the time to sit quietly and reflect is something people have avoided for centuries. Blaise Pascal wrote about the problem in the 17th century. He was amazed at how busy and occupied people were in the mid 1600s. The passage included in his “Pensées” remains true, “All of humanities problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
If you are serious about fortifying virtue, caring for others, producing something good in the world, or finding God you must make time to be alone, read, meditate, reflect, and discern. This process will permit you to understand and define yourself, your belief, your failures, your motives, and your goals.
Have you ever taken a sabbatical? A sabbatical doesn’t have to be weeks, months, or years, it can be useful even if just a weekend. A couple of days away from our daily duties and familiar places can offer the solitude and quiet we need to reflect.
I was in my forties when I took my first sabbatical weekend. My friend David Bertch had given me the book “Consolation of Philosophy” by Boethius and I wanted the time to read it with intent and consider its application. I left work on a Friday afternoon and drove up to an old state park hotel at Lake Murray in Oklahoma. I checked in to my room and started reading. I read to late in the evening. I woke early and went for a quiet walk around the lake and then returned to my room to read. It rained most of the day and the sound of the falling rain was perfect for reading and meditating. The quiet permitted the powerful lines of ancient text to jump from the page deep into my soul.
Boethius shares a vision of Philosophy as a woman coming to him in his prison cell to consul him and elevate his understanding of his difficult situation. Here Is this man Boethius at the lowest point in his life after living a life of means and where he had great authority. He is falsely accused of treason against the king of the Ostrogoths, Theodoric who has sentenced Boethius to torture death. Philosophy asks him questions and he worked through his responses with her about his situation, his life, and his purpose. Boethius is sitting quietly working through the tough questions. Eleven hundred years before Pascal, Boethius is showing us how to sit quietly and ask ourselves difficult questions.
Boethius as one of the last ancient philosophers, would have us follow the very advice of Cicero. Boethius’ last written words to us before his death are, “Avoid vice therefore and cultivate virtues; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope and put forth humble prayers on high. A great necessity is laid upon you, if you will be honest with yourself, a great necessity to do good, since you live in the sight of a judge who sees all things.” In Boethius’ last hours he was still attempting to improve himself and his understanding of the world.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher.
The ancients in their thoughtful moments are calling us to a virtuous life. In our quiet moments we may consider our character past and present with a desire to cultivate better patterns for the future. This type of reflection seldom comes in the busyness of life.
Time for reflection must be scheduled into our lives to care for ourselves and to prepare us for the care of others.
If we take the time to reflect about our value to others as a friend, what questions can we ask ourselves?
What are your motives in your relationships with others? In the relationships you currently enjoy are you meeting their needs in excess of what they provide you? Are you in the relationship solely because of what you receive from them?
There are plenty of unvirtuous motives in the pursuit of others. Personal gain should not be the motive. We may benefit in many ways from our relationships, but the motive in the pursuit of others is how we might improve their lives and how we respond virtuously in our relationship to them.
Casual interactions may not require such reflection, but as we come closer to others, we should be thoughtful about our interactions.
If we reflect on our lives and our motives, we should also reflect on our means. The methods we use to reach and interact with others are important and differ by individual. Knowing what you love and enjoy provides ways for you to develop relationships. Whether through sports, books, games, work, hobbies, religion, politics, passions, you can use these as methods of introduction and interaction.
David Bertch and I built our friendship from a love of reading and talking about books. My friendship with John Pribble grew from hiking and climbing together. My relationship with Darrin Kirby began from working closely together. My friendships with Monty Jones, Richard Sammons and Britt Lane began from interacting at church on religious ideas. All the different areas of our life we enjoy can be mediums for meeting and growing relationships.