Recently, I had the pleasure of teaching a unit about friendship with my students. During the progress of this unit, I was reminded of my nephew, Bryan. Let me share with you how this connection came to me, because I believe it is a valuable lesson worthy of being shared with my friends and family all over the world.
As part of the unit, we dealt with Aristotle’s ideas about friendship. Aristotle identifies three kinds of friendship in the book, “Nichomachean Ethics”. These are: 1. utility, 2. pleasure, and 3. goodness.
Although Aristotle acknowledges two schools of thought about whether we choose our friends because they are like us, or whether they differ from us, he takes a clear stand on which of the three types of friendships he considers to be the best. In fact, he states: “But the friendship of the good…is perfect.”
As I reflect on this, agreement with Aristotle is clearly indicated. Yes, in forming a friendship, we would like our friends to be useful to us, and vice versa. We would also like to enjoy pleasant moments, having fun, in the company of our friends. It is this point which forms Aristotle’s opinion that friendship based on goodness is the best type of friendship.
Let me ask two questions here. Would you or I wish to continue a friendship with someone who was unwilling to help us, or worse, gave us help which was worthless, of no value? The answer is, if you will allow me to answer for both of us, NO!
Let me ask my second question now. Would you or I wish to continue a friendship with someone who was boring, with whom there were no enjoyment, no fun, no pleasant moments? The answer, again, if you will permit me to answer for both of us, is NO!
Such friendships, based on pleasure and / or utility, can only be temporary. As we have seen, the friendship is terminated, when it no longer provides the utility or enjoyment one is looking for. Time and time again, we have experienced friendships in which we “give more than we get”. Sooner or later, common sense, or the need for self-preservation, dictates that we end such an unsatisfying friendship.
However, a friendship based on goodness is quite a different matter. Aristotle tells us that friends who are good, “…equally wish good to one another, inasmuch as they are good; but their goodness is inherent in themselves; and those, who wish good to their friends for the friends’ sake, are friends in the greatest degree; for they have this feeling for the sake of ‘the friends themselves… Their friendship therefore continues…and virtue is lasting.”
Friendship inherit in yourself, to wish good for your friends’ sake, are friends in the greatest degree.
As I reflect on the legacy of my nephew, Bryan Keith Baker, a year after his passing, I am convinced that Aristotle’s concept of friendship based on goodness applies perfectly to Bryan’s life. Yet I beg you not to take my word for it, because I am biased in this matter, being his uncle. Instead of my words, let’s please take the words dedicated to Bryan by his friends in this beautiful poem:
He was different, he was special…
unique in a thousand ways.
He was giving, he was loving,
and we’ll miss him all our days.
His legacy was friendship,
he was so giving of his time.
His bequest was his faith in God.
His child, family and friends
were constantly on his mind.
He knew sorrow in great measure,
and was stung by illness too;
but neither could defeat him…
nothing his faith couldn’t subdue.
Of course, the Lord will welcome him
with Angels magnifying;
the beauty of the celestial place,
devoid of pain and crying.
But forgive us Lord,
for sinning, for wishing
he was here.
It’s hard to give up someone
we have come to love so dear.
Because you see,
he was different,
he was special…
unique in a thousand ways;
he was loving, he was giving,
and we’ll miss him, miss him,
all of our days.