By Peter Kalellis
For the interest and inspiration of our readers, we will borrow some basic thoughts from two well-known and renowned philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. The concept of friendship was considered as the “Highest Good” by them.
KINDNESS IS LASTING
In Aristotle we find three kinds of friendship that are emphasized: The first is friendship based on utility, where both people derive some benefit from each other. Aristotle claims that friendship based on utility is shallow. On the surface, it starts with some excitement, but it is quickly dissolved. Those who seek utility friendships are looking for a business deal or a long term benefit.
The second is friendship based on pleasure, where both people are drawn to the other’s good looks, good sense of humor, positive attitude or other pleasant qualities. Aristotle claims that friendship of pleasure is usually built between the young people and it becomes more passionate during middle years. The first two kinds of friendship are only accidental because in both cases friends are motivated by their own utility and pleasure, not by anything essential to the nature of the friend. Both of these kinds of friendship are short-lived because one’s needs are initially met then new needs emerge seeking fulfillment.
The third type of friendship is based on kindness, where both people admire the other’s good character and help one another pursue acts of kindness. Friendships of kindness are the ones where both friends enjoy each other’s lifestyle. Aristotle calls it a “…complete sort of bond between people who are good and alike in virtue…” Kindness is an enduring quality, so friendships based on kindness tend to be long lasting. Such friendship is rare and takes the time to develop, but it is the best.
THE SPIRIT OF FRIENDSHIP
Aristotle also believed that it is through friendship that cities are held together. He also believed that friendships of utility and pleasure are equally important to keep the city together. Those with the moral virtue to enter good relationships are a major part of this, while friendships of utility and pleasure are as vital as friendships of virtue. However, it takes the character of those in the virtuous friendship for a stable community to exist. A great deal can be said at this time of American history that the recent election for a president caused so much anger, ill feelings and disharmony among people. Cultivating the spirit of friendship among our young and old people, peace and contentment can be restored in our nation.
Plato’s concept of friendship is a correct use of love among human beings, directing one’s mind to the love of the Divine. Platonic love in its original sense of the term is examined in Plato’s dialogue the Symposium which has as its topic the subject of love or Eros. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates explained two types of love or Eros—Vulgar Eros or earthly love, and Divine Eros or Divine love. Vulgar Eros is nothing but mere physical attraction towards a beautiful body for physical pleasure and reproduction. Divine Eros begins the journey from physical attraction towards beautiful form or body but transcends gradually to love for Supreme Beauty. This concept of Divine Eros is later transformed into the term Platonic love.
Daily experience suggests that non-romantic friendships between males and females are not only possible, but common in our times—men and women live, work, and play side-by-side, and seem to be able to avoid spontaneously sleeping together. Some friendships are between men or between women; others are between a man and a woman. Today some people focus on groups of friends as well as on individual friendships. Some friends are colleagues at work. They share a common interest in their profession or occupation. They often talk about topics related to their work. They may go out right after work on occasion to continue their conversation. But they rarely carry such a relationship to their home. However, the possibility remains that this apparently platonic coexistence is merely a façade, an elaborate dance covering up countless sexual impulses bubbling just beneath the surface.
In the last four decades being in practice of psychotherapy, marriage and family therapy, my personal experience indicates that Platonic friendships between sexes do not seem to last. There is always a possibility that the sexual attraction will get in the way. It is evident that men are much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. Most men like to believe that women are attracted to them. Reality tells us that what initially seems to be a genuine friendship between a man and a woman will eventually have human nature seek physical fulfillment, and the result is what we might think of as an innocent affair. If either the one or the other or both are married, what might be thought of friendship turns out to be a divorce. Does this mean that a good friendship cannot be platonic? The possibility exists that a few purely platonic friendships can be of lasting value when neither party has any sexual interest in the other.
Therefore, maintaining a true platonic friendship with a person of the opposite sex is possible. More than that, I think it is actually vital to creating a healthier and more sound understanding of the world around us. Reality is reassuring that men and women do see the world differently, and react in different ways. The point is twofold, first, truly platonic relationships are rare and should be cherished, they only add to our life. Secondly, don’t be intimidated if your male mate has a best female friend. It does not necessarily mean he harbors sexual feelings for this woman. In fact, this woman could be the reason why your man is so insightful and respectful to you in the first place. Likewise, don’t be intimidated if your female mate has as a best male friend. It does not necessarily mean that she harbors sexual feeling for this man. In fact, this man could be the reason why your woman appreciates you in the first place. Where there is genuine friendship there is no fear.
Genuine friendship casts out any fear.
Dr. Peter M. Kalellis is a psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, lecturer, and writer. He has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is the author of many books. He maintains his practice in Westfield, New Jersey.