With this post, Hazrat Inayat Khan continues his examination of the topic of friendship. The previous instalment in the series may be found here.
Relationship is nourished by contact, kingship is maintained by reciprocity, but friendship is developed with love. There is no relationship that can be compared with friendship, for it is in learning the law of friendship that one understands ethics and morals, and also the relation between man and God.
There are three principal things to be understood in connection with friendship. The first is understanding without words. If there is no understanding between two persons, words are of no use. They may talk and talk, and discuss and discuss, and it will only go from bad to worse, for argument will never end. As it is said in the Vadan, ‘Why? is an animal with a thousand tails. At every bite you give it, it drops one of its curved tails and raises another’. Can argument bring about understanding? Never. Argument only increases argument, and so one can go on till two persons turn their back upon one another. Understanding is a gift of God, understanding is a soul’s unfoldment, and understanding is the greatest fortune one can have in life. It is with understanding that the foundation of friendship is established, and it is in understanding that friendship is secure. Without understanding there is no friendship.
And the next thing is a disinterested attitude. When a person thinks that by friendship he can get some benefit from the friend, or that the other may benefit by him, that is just burning the roots of friendship. In these material days so few of us understand what friendship means. Whenever there is a question of friendship, the first thought is: what shall I gain by this friendship, can his influence be of some use to me? That is not friendship. Whenever a thought of self-interest creeps in, that means the ruin of friendship. Every little thought of profiting by it means destruction; it can never develop into a real friendship, it will only develop into a business relationship. It will last as long as the business relationship lasts, it will prosper as long as the business relationship prospers, and then it will vanish. Such a relationship can never be called friendship.
In this world every individual is helpless in some way or another, and every individual is of use in some way or another. It can happen that a person depends unconsciously upon his friend for his own interest, and even then it will turn out to be a wrong attitude. It cannot bring about fruitful results, for friendship must be built upon a solid foundation, a foundation where there is always a desire to give, to be helpful and serviceable to the friend: no thought of taking, always a thought of giving and keeping back nothing. A real friend holds his life cheap for his friend. The one who considers anything more important, more precious than friendship, has not yet learnt the first lesson of friendship. There is no sacrifice too great, if it is made for a friend. If a sacrifice is not made for a friend, then for whom should one make it? A person would never learn how to make any sacrifice if it were not for a friend.
In our daily life, we take the word friendship too lightly, and we confuse the words ‘friend’ and ‘acquaintance’. An acquaintance is someone whom we have met, and he has seen us, and we recognize one another; we may have been introduced at a dinner party. We use the word ‘friend’ so freely in everyday language that we have forgotten the meaning of it. Generally we call anyone whom we have seen at a reception or party a friend, or anyone that belongs to our club, but even to have one friend in one’s life is the greatest good fortune.
And the third important thing in friendship is overlooking. No man in the world is faultless, no soul in the world is perfect. If on our part there is no desire to overlook our friend’s shortcomings, there can be no more friendship. Friendship is maintained by recognizing that a human being is imperfect, that he has his faults and shortcomings. There is always something in him to overlook, and if we go on doing so, there is always the possibility that he may develop those very qualities which are lacking, for we may add to our friend qualities that are wanting in him. Sometimes people meet once, and they feel they are friends. Sometimes people know each other for months and years, and so they grow to be friends; their knowing one another and coming together, in the end brings about the fulfilment of friendship. In such cases it develops as a result of their knowing one another.
Another odd thing sometimes happens, and that is when two persons are at daggers drawn for many months or years, and then suddenly throw their daggers away and become friends for ever; but this is unusual. I myself have seen people who have been enemies, working against one another for years, and from the day they became friends they have been the closest friends. Those who say, ‘I was his friend and he was my friend, but now we are not friends any more’, should realize that they have never been friends. It was a presumption on their part, a false impression. Can friendship be such a false thing? Can gold be gold at one time and not at another? Gold is gold, it never changes, it remains the same. Constancy in friendship is the soul of friendship. And that custom whereby a friend writes to another ‘Yours as always’ is wrong. If a plant remains as it has always been, it does not grow, and that which does not grow is not living, and that which is not living is dead.
To be continued…