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"Ancient Friendship for Modern Men" Chapter 7 - Beware The Narcissist

The Primary Path – Beware The Narcissist - Progressive Categories

Cicero guides us through true friendship, a concept he built from Aristotle who walked the planet nearly 300 years prior. Aristotle called true friendship, “primary friendship” and expanded the category of friends further.

Not much is known about Aristotle, and many of his writings did not survive as they were never meant for publication. Aristotle was a student of Plato, and Plato a student of Socrates. Aristotle at one time tutored Alexander the Great. Of his writings which survived, he influenced the early Middle Ages as well as the Renaissance. His influence Is felt in Judeo and Islamic Philosophies and Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century forever sealed Aristotle’s influence in Catholicism.

Aristotle dealt with a variety of subjects in his writings, including friendship. The depths we could go with Aristotle are as deep as the ocean floor, so we’ll skim the surface on his philosophy on friendship.

Aristotle defines the relationship between two virtuous individuals as primary friendship. If we review his definitions, we will find unity between his writings and those of Cicero on true friendship centuries later. Aristotle expands our categories of friendship beyond primary, to friendships of utility and pleasure. These types of friendships would be familiar to you. Often friendships at work are for the purpose of moving the company forward and creating a harmonious work environment, purely for utility. And there are those in our lives we would not share our deep thoughts, but we enjoy their company over drinks or what the connection with them gives us access too.

We might file friendships of utility and pleasure under associate or acquaintance. Aristotle and Cicero both understood these types of relationships, but for both these relationships lacked affection and tended to be temporal.

Author Suzanne Stern-Gillet writes in her book “Aristotle’s Philosophy of Friendship” about the subcategories of friendship. She writes, “…friendships of utility and pleasure can be compared to processes. Being essentially instrumental, friendships of utility not infrequently fade out once their goal has been achieved, and their desirability depends on that of the ends they serve.” She continues about friends of pleasure and states, “They are at the mercy of the partners’ superficial and changing interest or tastes, and as such, they are prone to ebb away whenever they cease to be a source of entertainment or diversion for them.”

A Friendship of utility or pleasure is not built upon the good of the other, they come from a selfishness, or a using of the other person. In these relationships we lack trust and may not see the other person as a second self. We are lacking affection in these relationships.

"The narcissist will believe their relationships are deep, but they will not grasp the reality."

Stern-Gillet writes, “In perfect friendship, he (Aristotle) indicates each partner makes the other the ends of his activities as a friend, and any benefit that he himself stands to derive from the association is incidental to his motivation.”

Can every relationship we have be or become a primary, or true friend? No, not every association will grow into the goal of true friendship. You’ve met many a person who you would not deem virtuous. You may even know or have known some people with evil motivations. There are people who you may be drawn to, but they rejected a deeper friendship, or may have been mentally incapable of such. Our past experiences should not deter us from seeking out true friends, and there are many a path to primary friendship.

I would imagine you have not sat down and defined the different relationships in your life. But here is your call to do so. If you define the relationships in your life you take another step closer to the intentional pursuit of others. There are probably a lot of different relationships for you to consider: your family, neighbors, coworkers, clients, and social circles. This is not going to be an easy task and before we get started, we need to define our purpose and develop some categories where we place our current relationships.

Our goal should be True Friendship. This is to have in our lives people we are affectionate towards because we see in them as a second self. People we serve simply because of who they are, and our desire is to see them thrive and succeed. We want them to know there is someone who cares about them, supports them, and is available to them in meeting their needs.

The path to primary friendships will be full of secondary and tertiary relationships. In our lives we will encounter countless numbers of individual who will never be in our inner circle, but if we are seeking true friendship, we can live our life with sincerity in all our connections. This is, to be always a virtuous person, and to attract other virtuous individuals through our actions. To understand the dynamics and purposes of utility and pleasure relationships and to choose not to abuse or take advantage of others.

You never know when an encounter can grow into a deeper relationship. If we are unkind, demanding, or dismissive with the waiter at our table we might miss an opportunity of discovering a true friend. Who wants to befriend a demanding person or a stingy tipper?

We begin every encounter with kindness, grace, and believing the best about someone we know nothing about. We offer kindness and interest, and even in the small ways we attempt to meet a need in their lives. It can be as simple as a greeting or showing gratitude. The individual who is seeking true friendship in their lives will always interact with others in a way which shows the other more valuable than themselves.

Ungrateful, demanding, arrogant, expectant, dismissive, lording individuals will miss the opportunity to experience true friendship in their lives. Their connections will always be utility and pleasure. The narcissist will believe their relationships are deep, but they will not grasp the reality. The object of their utility or pleasure will use them in the same way and will be waiting for the moment to come when there is no longer a connection because the other party knows they are not virtuous. If you exhibit these traits, it’s time for the reflection we spoke of in an earlier chapter.

If we approach all interactions in our lives with sincerity, we widen the path to true friendship. This does not mean we close the door to conflict. If we are in human relationships there is always a potential for conflict, but again, the sincere seeker will respond kindly in conflict. Part of what makes someone a true friend is how they manage conflict. We’ll expound on managing conflict later within what I call “The Two-Year Relationship.”

Aristotle introduces us to the farming grounds of friendship. If at work, church, our children’s school events, the couple next door, or the people we sit at the bar with on Thursday nights, we have the opportunity for discovery in our utility and pleasure connections. I stand with Aristotle and Cicero and say these types of relationships are fleeting, not fully fulfilling, but a part of life. I believe we error in calling them friendships. They are associations, connections, and familiar, but they are not worthy of being called friendship. These connections are simply, friendly. This is true of your social media connections as well. You do not have a true friendship with your 1,276 “friends” on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, etc. But you do have a farming ground.

Social media is now another part of your life where you must show sincerity. If you are aggressive and unkind in your posts, you have much reflection to do as such behavior will close the door to true friendship.