You might not be such a good friend as you think you are - A simple philosophy of friendship

in philosophy •  2 years ago  (edited)

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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Nicely written article, and always a good topic. But I would like to comment about what you said, that your definition of a good or a bad friend might 'sound selfish' as if that is necessarily a negative thing.

We are genetically programmed to be selfish (Egoistic Gene-Richard Dawkins and so much more bibliography). Any attempt to deny that whether it relies on pure and honest motives or evil ones is unfortunately a, quite tricky and convincing sometimes, lie. The only actual way we are able to perceive and understand the world around us is by our point of view and alone. This doesnt mean that you cannot try to understand a situation from someone else's POV (empathy etc) but it also doesnt qualify as a realistic solution. And simply because no matter how advanced or experienced your mind can be (rational knowledge) you cannot compete with the experiential understanding of the other person. Each and every one of us sees the world in a specific way every second it passes based on a series of different factors. So you can never fully perceive the entire emotional, cognitive and biological spectrum of another person's actions.

The reason I said that is because its where my definition of friendship comes from. For me, a good friend is a person you share common beliefs, interests and experiences with but when the time comes to argue/fight/disagree over something he consciously chooses you (the friendship) over his ego because he simply understands that you can both be different and yet somehow connected.

Sorry if It was too long haha, good article anyway :)

Thanks for the compliment and insightful reply!

I agree that selfishness isn't necessarily a bad thing. The way I phrased it in this post mostly betrays an unconscious influence of our current culture (which sees being selfish as a negative thing), I think. I try to be very aware of such biases, but you can't catch them all I guess. :-)

Agreeing to disagree is definitely a very strong foundation for friendship. I couldn't be friends with someone who doesn't respect my right to a different opinion. This doesn't mean however that friends shouldn't speak up against each other if they feel the other is crossing the line. It's a bit of a fine line, that surprisingly enough works very naturally and effortlessly in a healthy friendship.

It's not something I'm prepared to shame you for, but I felt like this needed more in order to to be a legit deepthink post. I agree that someone who doesn't just listen when you're having a bad day is being less than ideal as a friend, but what is it about that behavior that makes someone bad friend material?

I felt like you should have dug deeper into your justifications as well as justifying the value of avoiding a bad friend with a more thought out argument. As it is I'm left thinking that all you've really said is, "Bad friends are bad. Good friends are good. Bad friends don't listen. Good friends listen."

I would challenge your thinking on the underlying claim that I think you are making when I interpret this with the best charity that I can. I came to a breakthrough in my therapy a few years back when I was talking to my group about how I could never connect with my mother. I love her but we've had a hard time being friends. That just made the hardships we put each other through all that more painful.

The therapist told me that I really should just look at someone like my mother as who she is and expect her to be nothing different from that. I can't expect to change her to think more critically. I also can't shame her for having simple interests. I can either accept her for who she is and expect nothing different, or I can reject her completely from my life as a person I don't have anything in common with.

Funny enough, that really helped. I wanted to have my Mom feel closer, but I couldn't change her. From that point on, I started to see nothing else in her but the features that I liked and dealt with her for the sake of her virtues rather than what was missing.

The point is, if you know someone who doesn't listen to you when you talk to them, yes they are narcissistic. You shouldn't talk to them about your issues, because you know they will try to one up you. If they are toxic and annoying in any other way, it might warrant removing yourself from their company as much as possible. Otherwise, you should just watch what people do and expect them to repeat the same behaviors in the future. From there, just act accordingly. Talk to the friend who listens, not the lesser friend or acquaintance who perhaps literally can't.

I feel you are focusing too hard on the listening and as a result miss the deeper point of the post. I would even argue that the part about listening constitutes only a minor point at best. Heck, the last paragraph of your reply pretty much sums up the whole point I'm making at the end of the post.

I'll quickly try to summarize my points again, and hope they come out more clearly this time:

  • Thesis: it is a moral duty to remove bad friends from your life and surround yourself with only good friends.

  • How do you define good and bad friends?

    • Good friends build you up and want the best for the best part of you.
    • Bad friends are only interested (often unconsciously) in pulling you down. Not listening is only one of the bad signs, jealousy of your fortune is another example of bad friend behaviour. Their actions are often times a result of their own disappointments in life.
  • Why is it moral to remove bad friends from your life?

    • Putting up with their behaviour gives them tacit consent to continue their abuse towards themselves, you and others. (Giving a clear sign that you're not putting up with their behaviour might even wake them up and improve their lives.)
  • Hence, it is your moral duty to end bad friendships and remove these people from your life.

Hope this clarify things. Shame I couldn't get this across in the post itself. I promise to try harder next time, senpai. :-D

Also, I think a child-parent relationship is a totally different beast than a regular friendship. For one you can un-friend someone quite easily (and this happens all the time), but you can't un-child or un-parent someone. So you are almost forced to accept all the bad parts about your child or parent. Which brings a whole set of new problems, but also its own unique kind of beauty.

You haven't met my family. A narcissist for a father will really put the need to not let blood be that strong of a bond on your mind.

That said, this is what I was really pointing out, structure. I assumed you had a structure in mind, but it came out vague. I also think you'd be good to go deeper with it. It isn't horrible, but it's also not your best work. I'm just confident you could do better and I think we want to push for that in deepthink.

Please be just as critical of my deepthink posts. I'm not always at my best either. Like when Alexander_Alexis pointed out my typos (Ahh! Look away! Edit! Ediiiiiitttt!!!!!). I still respect you in our new community. I just wanted to help push the bar with my feedback.

you can un-friend someone quite easily

I'd just like to say that if you can unfriend someone easily, you were never their friend!

Yeah that's a poor choice of words.

The way you explain about the friendship concept, i really like the way it is.
Resteem it.

Greatly appreciated!


Great!! You are talking the truth. I want to tell you that it's difficult in this period to found confidence in friendship. It s not just with friend it can be with family, neighbours,any one around you.
So be careful .

Never trust anyone blindly. Not even yourself. :-)

Thank you for the reminder of the importance of friends. Life is not about getting rich in goods, but rather getting rich in fellowship. Without friends we have loneliness. To have friends you have to start with being friendly. Friendships can last a lifetime. I liked your idea about knowing if a friend is a good one. Especially the thought that a good friend can be told something bad about yourself, and you know that he or she can and will keep a confidence.

Just a quick thought after reading your comment: the fear of loneliness often drives people to stay in a friendship, even if they know that the relationship is not good for them.

Hey @gamesjoyce. I really appreciate your deep thoughts, so much, that I even mentioned you in one of my latest posts.
Feel free to check it out.

Thanks @himshweta, that's truly a great compliment. Greatly appreciated!

Liked your post and looking forward to reading more from you in the future!

This is a complicated issue. In my experience, almost as complicated as romantic love. What you say here talks mostly about what you can do, consciously. But there's that whole other side of who you happen to be. Just like we don't get along well with all members of the opposite sex (if we're straight), similarly good friendships just happen sometimes, and the specific traits that bring people together are too complex to describe. And sometimes people, as they grow, grow apart, and sometimes they grow together. 'Chemistry' plays just as important a role in friendships as it does in romance. When it comes to women, mostly young women, there's often an underlying sexual element in their friendship (read Why We Love if you think I'm just wetdreaming! note that it was written by a woman!), and the same was often true for males in ancient Greece. So much of it is cultural, and different people might have different views of what constitutes a proper friendship. Personally I find most relationships - both friendly and romantic - to be awfully distant and cold. People don't reveal secrets, don't expose themselves, because they're worried about getting hurt. And who wouldn't, in this kind of world we live in. I think if people are good, good friendships will naturally evolve from that. So we should concentrate on being good, tho that's a harder thing to do than most people realize (it often requires infinite patience and understanding).

I do agree that most friendships are a result of pure luck or coincidence. That's why they come and go and vary in quality. How long they last doesnt always define their character though. Some of the most valuable friendships I had only lasted for a short while.

I've known my best friend for a long time though. Is it pure luck? Do we share a crucial amount of views? Or have we over the years learned how to negotiate our friendship? I like to believe its a combination of all these things and some more we are not aware of ourselves. Just like you said, it's a complicated issue.

It chills my heart to read that you find most relationships distant and cold. Let me just send you a digital bro-hug. ;-)


hello good thinking and explanation of a good friend and a bad friend, and the fact where u dont encourage to immediately shun people who are wallowing in self misery but first try to pick them up and work together towards happiness :-)
please read my post.

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maybe before dropping the friends, try offering some constructive criticism (if they aren't so far gone)... I've suffered from poor social skills most of my life, and didn't realize how selfish it was to respond to problems with my own problem instead of first focusing on what a person was talking to me about.

Thanks for writing though! We definitely become like the people we spend time with, so it's important to choose wisely!