Friendship is a fundamental part of life. For Epicurus it’s even a necessary precursor for attaining a pleasurable life. To him the evils we face, often times can’t be conquered alone. Hence friendship is the best defence against the perils of life and is an “immortal good that dances around the world”. The basis of this mutually beneficial relationship is loyalty.
But is everyone equally deserving of your loyalty and friendship? In this post I will argue that it’s harmful and even immoral to keep bad friends around. And that it’s your responsibility to yourself and others to surround yourself with only good friends.
© Colors in L.A.
First, however, we must distinguish a bad from a good friend. Let’s take the example of Billie. Billie is someone who you would consider a friend, yet you’re not sure if you can actually consider him a good friend. To find out, you must ask yourself two simple questions.
Can you tell him bad news?
And will he actually listen and offer sympathy and advice? A good friend will help you overcome bad news and offer sympathy. He’ll help you improve your situation and not allow you to wallow in misery. He accepts this responsibility, even if this means he has to be blunt or hard on you sometimes.
Billie is a bad friend however, if he immediately starts talking about how something bad or worse happened to him once. Or starts to berate you on how stupid you are that this thing happened to you. He will offer no sympathy or try to derail the conversation to focus on himself as quickly as possible.
Can you tell him good news?
And will he help you celebrate? A good friend is excited about good things happening to you, because he wants the best for the best part of you.
If Billie starts minimizing your fortune by talking about something good that happened to him once, he’s a bad friend. He will be jealous of anything good happening to you and try to downplay it. If you ever feel ashamed or small when telling someone good news, that’s a telltale sign that you are dealing with a bad friend.
By now it should be pretty clear why bad friends should be avoided. They will keep pulling you down to justify their own miserable existence. To prevent this from happening you definitely have the right to cut these people out of your life. Even if this means saying goodbye to longtime ‘friendships’.
This doesn’t mean that you should shun friends who have fallen on bad times. You must be a good friend and help them overcome their misfortunes, even if this means just listening and offering sympathy at first. If after a time they rather wallow in their misery and refuse to work with you towards a better future however, it’s time to leave them behind.
This might all sound very selfish at first, but this the only right longterm moral choice. If you put up with bad friends, you provide tacit consent for their miserable behaviour. You’re enabling their abuse towards themselves, yourself and others. Hence it is your moral responsibility to end bad friendships and surround yourself with people who facilitate your development.
P.S. This post is heavily influenced by the teachings of Jordan B. Peterson. If you enjoyed this post, you should check him out!
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