Why friends matter

Why friends matter

How much love a child needs is difficult to judge. Some children need more, some less. A child who has received little attention and love at home is extremely vulnerable in the world. S/he will seek the missing affection wherever they can find it. Wild vultures can smell carcass from miles away. Human vultures detect need with the same daunting accuracy. A vulnerable child goes to the first port of call that promises attention, because attention is mistaken for love by those who were deprived of it. The success of paedophiles in corrupting children is partly down to the vulnerability of the victims. Poor parenting creates vulnerable young.

We think of friends in different ways. They may be people who share interests, standards, humour. Sometimes they are useful connections – more acquaintances than friends. They can be people we study with, play games with, enjoy theatre with, those who share our taste in food. We know that there will be very few really good friends in our life. People we do not see for years but with whom we pick up immediately and completely when we reconnect with them again are rare. We turn to them in times of great joy and traumatic sorrow. We cherish them.

Functional friends, those with the best connections and influence, can also be real friends but that is unusual. It is always best if we know which of our friends fall into which category. The purely functional won’t know you if you get into some kind of scandal. Indeed, most of your friends will be ‘very busy’ if you need help. Understandable, really, they have their lives to lead, their positions to maintain. Sometimes we will be surprised by how helpful a complete stranger can be. 

When I joined a vast organization I felt quite alone. Someone who had only just met me took me out to dinner and made himself helpful in my understanding the whims and fancies of the place. He seemed to have no agenda but to help. I was touched by that. We never became great friends but we kept in touch. He died, I think rather tragically, too young. I think of him once a day for his kindness. He would have been a good friend when I first started work.

And this is the time when you need to choose your friends most carefully. Of course, you should do that at every stage of your life. Good influence works at all times; bad influence is ever undermining your standards, your personality and your resolve. Siren voices tempt the easy way early in life and parents, guardians and employers should be aware of the good – and bad – influence they can have at every stage. From observation I would say that they often aren’t. The price is high.

Friends are there to help the process of ‘fledging’, of leaving the security of home to make your own way. They can ease the passage that is sometimes rough but that nobody in their late teens or early twenties will ever admit is daunting. This can be the loneliest time in your life. It is a time when you need a mentor, an older person you can talk to, not be coached by*. I was fortunate to have such a person when I first arrived in London with no money, no home, no job and no connections. I was very vulnerable then. My mentor was a saviour to me.

But you need good friends all your life. They will be largely self-selecting if they are really friends. When you start to become friendly with them ask yourself these questions:

Will this person be a challenge to my thinking?

Can they raise my eyes above the horizon of daily living?

Would I appreciate them being with me if I was facing the end of my life?

If I was totally lost in some way – physically or morally – would I seek their advice?

You don’t have to answer ‘yes’ to all these questions. But your answers should tell you if they are likely to be good friends or simply acquaintances.

Friends matter because we are social beings, best when interacting with others. One of the most terrible forms of torture is solitary confinement. We are just a whisker away from it all the time.

Your good friends ensure that you don’t become isolated.

That’s how we survive.