You listen when I have a problem. You catch me when I’m about to fall. You bring so much joy into my life. Thanks for being my friend through it all.
This quote on Pinterest is just one of the thousands of other quotes expressing joy and gratitude for friends and the gift of friendship on the Internet.
Reading them, I started to think about the qualities of a true friend. I came across Aristotle’s quote: Being a good man and a good friend is the same thing.
It made so much sense—a good person would also be a good friend.
Who then is a good person?
My thoughts went to the ancient Hindu epic poem, the Ramayana. Through the exemplary life, character and deeds of King Rama, we are shown how to be good and live a noble life.
I picked up the book and found a beautiful description of the qualities of a true friend in it.*
The qualities of a true friend
A true friend…
Gives with no ulterior motives: In every friendship there is reciprocal giving and receiving, but when the giving is done with expectations of some return favour, it takes away from the beauty of a relationship. It then becomes merely transactional. There is no genuine care or concern.
When a true friend gives and shares with you, it is as an expression of her love and concern.
Supports you in times of need: When you are in distress, her heart will melt and she will love you a “hundred times more” in sincere empathy. She will regard her own “mountain-like sorrows to be a like a mere grain of sand, and the troubles of her friend to be mountain-like, even though they may be as trifling as a grain of sand.”
Such a person would do anything to lovingly support and help you through all difficulties.
Hides your faults and brings out your good qualities: A good friend understands that no one is perfect (including herself) and so accepts and loves you for who you are. She will encourage and lift your spirits by validating your good traits and downplaying your weaknesses.
You could think of a true friend to be like your favourite cotton shirt—it’s comfortable to wear, hides your faults from others, and brings out the best in you.
Stops you from taking the low road: This is a very important trait. A friendship that is based on pleasing each other for the convenience and comfort of keeping it going is not a true one.
If she sees you making choices that are detrimental to your higher good, she will firmly but kindly restrain you and lead you to the “path of virtue.” In this way, a noble friend always has your back and wants to see you grow and succeed in life.
A false friend
The Ramayana also gives us the signs of a false friend.
A false friend…
Harbours some evil design in her heart: She may show you she cares, but is secretly jealous of what you have, and wants to see you fail and suffer. She wants to be in your company only to take advantage of something that you can give her.
Contrives to speak bland words to your face and harms you behind your back: This type of a “friend” tells you what you want to hear. She has no real interest in you or your life. She’s only focused on her own needs and interests.
Her mind is as tortuous as a snake: Honesty and straightforwardness are noble traits that we value and respect. But a friend with a mind that is changing, scheming and manipulative, is someone dangerous to have in your life. She can cause you great harm without feeling any sympathy or guilt.
The Ramayana advises us: “One should bid goodbye to such a friend.”
A good person
Learning the traits of a true friend from the Ramayana can help guide us to being better people and thereby, better friends.
Unconditional giving, sincere love and caring, empathetic and helpful in times of difficulties, accepting of others as they are, seeing the good in others, staying on the path of goodness and encouraging others to do the same…these are all qualities of a good person.
It’s easy to see how such a person would also be a true friend.
*Ramayana, chapter 4, section 6, verses 1-4
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