What is a friend? Ten qualities in true friendship

In times of increased mobility where our interactions with other people more and more are through social media, it is worth reflecting on what is meant by true friendship.


Our present time is characterized by a number of phenomena that have radically changed our way of socialising with other people. Today, we have a geographical mobility that is unprecedented in history. It is not uncommon for people to move with just a few years’ interval and very few people stay in one place all their life.

During our lifetime, we also come into contact with a great many more people than any previous generation in the history of mankind, while the time and possibilities of cultivating a deeper friendship are becoming less and less.

The new social media have also fundamentally changed the way we interact with other people. The contacts are becoming more and more extensive while many measure their popularity and human value in how many “friends” and “likes” they have on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. The concept of “friend” has therefore been eroded, and increasingly lacking meaning.

But what is “real friend”? The list of friendship qualities below may provide some guidance, even if each of us needs to find out what we are looking for in true friendship.

  1. Satisfaction: It should be nice to be with the friend, something we look forward to, and something that gives us satisfaction and joy. A friend should make us laugh and feel good.
  2. Energy: Friendship should not drain energy. Certainly, we can and should accept the friend’s worries and feel her pain in difficult situations and vice versa, but friendship can never be based on a one-sidedness where one feels good by constantly dumping their worries and sorrows on the other.
  3. Respect: The friend’s personal qualities and ideals should be in harmony with our own. We do not have to agree with all the views of our friend, but we must feel respect for both the person and his opinions.
  4. Trust: We must feel that we can trust our friend. Such trust is based on truthfulness, that what we say in conficence is being kept that way and that the person is there for us in situations where we need help and support. If we are attacked or slandered, the friend should stand up for us.
  5. Common interests: Friendship is nourished by shared interests. This can be at different levels. We can, for example, have the same profession, a common social interest, similar leisure activities, or share a spiritual conviction. The area is of less importance, but it is imperative to be able to share interests with someone who understands what we mean.
  6. Intimacy and safety: With a true friend we should be able to be ourselves and safely put our guard down. We have so many faces and play so many different roles in different contexts, and we therefore need safe spaces where we can also show our vulnerability, our innermost feelings and weaknesses without fear of being judged and condemned.
  7. Support to grow as human beings: The friend should stimulate us to culture our best qualities. A true friend encourages us to do good things and points out, in a respectful manner, when we have done something less skilful. We all have our blind spots that we need help to identify.
  8. Reciprocity: Our feelings and interests for the friend must be reciprocal. Friendship is never a one-way street.
  9. Deep knowledge: True friendship requires that we know the other person at heart. As human beings, we are complex and have so many layers that must be peeled off one after the other, before we can finally reach the innermost core of the other person. Only then can we say that we really know the person and not just some superficial aspects of him.
  10. Timelessness: A true friend is always there for us. Whether we last met a week or eight years ago, we immediately continue where we last ended and without a need to rebuild anything. But timelessness is also giving time and space. Sometimes we need to be alone, and this need must always be respected by the other.

By reflecting on what true friendship means, we quickly realise that although having many acquaintances, most of us likely have very few real friends. To develop a deep friendship requires time, patience and commitment, and this is a lifetime investment.

Detta blogginlägg har inspirerats av “Buddhism and friendship” av Subhuti.

Illustration: Pixabay.com – ju_sajjad0

svensk_flagga   Detta blogginlägg på svenska

Author: Karl Ekdahl

International public health leader and creativity blogger.

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