Building better friendships | Sunday Observer

Building better friendships

1 November, 2020

Some people have many friends and others have only a few. Surprisingly, there are people who have no friends. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, used to get thousands of appeals for pardon from soldiers involved in military discipline. Each appeal would usually be supported with recommendations from influential people. One day there came an appeal from a soldier who had no friends to back him up.

“What!” exclaimed Lincoln, “has this man no friends?”

“No, sir, not one,” said the adjutant.

“Then,” said Lincoln, “I’ll be his friend.”

We need friends mostly when we are in trouble. Good friends always come to our rescue. A poor Russian soldier, during the reign of Emperor Nicholas, was sitting in his barracks in complete dejection. He had many debts to pay but he found no way of paying them. He listed them all on a sheet of paper and wrote underneath, “Who shall pay them?” Apparently, he too did not have any friends.

The soldier fell asleep. After some time the Emperor happened to pass that way and seeing the sleeping soldier stopped by him. He read the items of debts in the sheet of paper and thought for a moment. He then took a pencil and wrote the answer, “Nicholas.” When the soldier woke up, he could not believe his eyes. He wondered whether the emperor would really pay his debts. The next morning, however, the soldier received the much needed money from the royal treasury.


I had met Roy only twice before he died suddenly. I was surprised to find his house overflowing with people at his funeral. I approached a man standing near the door and asked, “Why are there so many people here?” The man looked perplexed and I felt like a fool.

“Oh, they are mostly just friends,” he said. I left the funeral feeling awed at the loss felt by the people there. The experience flooded me with images of my own friends. Some of them stood by me through times of tears and laughter and the others had simply drifted away.

I soon realized that being a good friend and having a loyal friend can enrich our days and bring lifelong satisfaction. However, friendships do not happen automatically. They have to be created and nurtured. Like any other skill such as driving, building friendships has to be practised. During my career I made many friends. Some of them are no longer living. Those who live still contact me from wherever they happen to be. However, a large number of friends have drifted away. Yet, I have a strong feeling that friendships can be built and nurtured.


Beware of fair-weather friends who will stick to you in prosperity. They will leave you at the first sign of adversity. Therefore, we have to be somewhat selective in making friendships. You do not need to have a large number of friends. A few dedicated friends would be sufficient. If you make friends a priority in your life, you will never run short of friends. Some people give a lame excuse by saying, “I have no time for making friendships.” Yet we have time for things we truly want to do.

Some people maintain a “Friendship book” and go through it every now and then. If you are unable to maintain such a book, have an address book. Try to be in touch with them at least on their birthdays. It may not be possible for you to meet them. But you can call them or send them birthday cards just to indicate that you still care for them. In modern times we are always busy with our work. We spend our leisure time watching meaningless teledramas and playing computer games. If you say that you have no time for friends, it is a diabolical lie.

As I stated earlier, friends are needed mostly in difficult times. When you fall ill or meet with an accident, you feel a greater need for friends. If nobody comes to see you in hospital, how will you feel? If you pay a visit to a government hospital, you will see some patients waiting for somebody to see them. If nobody comes, they feel lonely and unhappy. Seemingly trivial acts of caring will deepen friendships. Steven Duck, author of “Friends for Life,” asked people to recall the most important conversation they had had during a day. He found the talks that matter most tend to last only two or three minutes. You do not have to write long letters to maintain your friendship. Even a short note inquiring about someone’s health is enough.


You need friends to open up your heart. Tell them your deepest feelings about fears, disappointments, positive and negative emotions. If you cannot confide your secrets, you do not need friends. While at university my granddaughter became friendly with two girls. She brought them home and treated them lavishly. One day, however, the two girls went shopping without telling her. When she met them she blurted out how miserable she had felt. The two girls who realized the value of friendship apologized and all of them learnt a valuable lesson in friendship.

With friends you should not hide your weaknesses. Steven Duck notes that especially in the early stage of friendship, it is more endearing to admit your faults. Friends will always support by letting us know that we are not alone in our human frailties. Let them know your ins and outs and they will appreciate it.

We often hear the old adage “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This happens when we spend a lot of time with a friend. We may start to notice annoying traits in our friends. For instance, I had a female friend when we were preparing for G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination. She was close fisted like her father. But she had many other virtues to compensate for her miserliness.

Robert Weiss, a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, says, “A recipe for friendship is the right mixture of commonality and difference. You’ve got to have enough in common so that you understand each other’s differences and there will be something to exchange.” If you want to practise the art of friendship, follow the advice given by the French novelist Alexander Dumas: “Forget what one gives, and remember what one receives.” In other words, practise generosity. Always give what you have without expecting anything in return.


One day, Dr. Bernie S. Siegel, author of “Peace, Love and Healing” got a call from a policeman friend who said morbidly, “I have nothing to live for. I called to say goodbye because I’m going to commit suicide.” Siegel said, “If you do, I’ll never speak to you again.” The policeman, instead of shooting himself, went to see Siegel for a heart-to-heart chat.

Friendship demands a big slice of unselfishness. Our affection should be strong enough to overlook differences of opinion or sudden moodiness on the part of our friends. If we want a really sincere friendship, we must be prepared to accept responsibilities which go with it. This means that we must give generously of our sympathy and understanding and not merely expect our friends to give generously to us.

In the end you realize that Robert Louis Stevenson was right when he said, “A friend is a present you give yourself.”

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