Parlor Talk: Keep Your Friends Close And Your Friends Closer

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On a recent trip to Dublin to visit my boyfriend’s family, I got a lesson in friendship that I didn’t quite expect. Drinking beers outside of a pub in town, the lads are all crowded around the table to welcome home the old and discuss the new. There’s about seven of them, all friends since their early teens, and all inspiring. I sit back and listen, “we’re starting our own magazine, the first edition is looking great”, “I’m submitting my new film to a festival, ”we got past the first round for Ireland’s Got Talent.“  These men, all the same age as me, have managed to accomplish so much in their 20’s, fulfilling their dreams, and having fun while doing it. And their secret? They have each other.

Since Ancient Greece, successful men have understood the importance of male camaraderie in both personal and professional development. Even Aristotle, one of the fathers of philosophy drew from ideas of Socrates and Plato to discuss friendship in The Nicomachean Ethics, one of his best known works. In it, he describes the three types of friendship, those based on utility, pleasure, and goodness, all properties of Philia, translated to ‘brotherly love.’

The first, friendship of utility, essentially translates to a, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” ethos, and friendship of pleasure, focuses on immediate gratification, the beers, and shared laugh. The final, highest form of Philia, friendship of goodness, focuses on a deeper connection based on love and admiration for the other. Here, the aim is to care selflessly, to aid in finding, and wanting what is best for each other.

To bring Aristotle’s philosophy into a modern sense, how can we, as men of our own social circle, provide our friends with the accountability and support they need, while enjoying times spent together? To achieve a friendship based on goodness, one needs to work on and combine the qualities of Utility and Pleasure.

Friendship of Utility, a relationship that is based on the two parties gaining some sort of benefit from the other is the first level, and one that Aristotle understandably considers the most superficial. No offense to Aristotle, but in the age of social media and networking, utilization is key. Acknowledging and taking advantage of the benefits provided to us is the only way one can prosper in the urban jungles we live in. Utilizing that friend from college that we don’t know too well, but we know can get us an interview for the job of our dreams is the helpful tool needed to get yourself through the door. Of course networking can also lead us to building deeper personal relationships, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. Just like we all have our going out friends, our work friends, and our close childhood friends, not every friendship is going to be built off a strong connection. Some can be for pure professional development, and it doesn’t make them any more or less of a friend, just a different one. Discussing and sharing skill-sets with your male friends can serve to improve and benefit the group, and in the end, allow for more connections, or maybe an even deeper one. Surrounding yourself with friends that have strong passions, will only inspire and incite you to follow your own.

What hasn’t changed much since Ancient Greece, however, is the use of a good beer to bring a group together. A Friendship of Pleasure, named for its short-term benefits, is characterized by its qualities of like-mindedness amongst friends (the similar sense of humor, the shared hobbies) and the instant pleasures they gratify. It’s no secret that with this world comes its hard days and hard thankless work weighing our shoulders down and tightening our collars. What better remedy, what better escape from that world is a group of friends present and ready with a fun activity. Taking time off your busy schedule is imperative to clearing your mind and helping you present yourself at your best. Having a circle that is there for a distraction when you need one, or a celebration when you deserve one, makes way for a better you.

Lastly, and something that the modern man could use the most, is a friendship supported by a solid foundation. During a time when men struggle to be open and emotional with each other, a friendship of goodness is the revolutionary impact that a strong male social circle can provide. Having someone that we as men can talk freely to about the good and bad in our lives and to do so without judgment is pertinent to our emotional well being. That, to me, is where the real ‘Locker Room Talk’ exists, one that shows the honesty and support that is friendship.

We all have different ways to categorize our friends, and many different types of friends to categorize. If you had a hard day at work and need to let off some steam, you might be texting a different person than you would if your girlfriend just broke up with you and you need a chat. Or maybe you need help building a website and text your web design pal, and a friendship of utility then also turns into one of pleasure. However you mentally organize, all three of Aristotle’s friendships have a place in our lives and a position to positively impact them. 

Speaking outside of philosophical terms, Aristotle’s break down of friendship is, as most of philosophy goes, simply just a framework. Rather than thinking of it as a hierarchy of stages or mutually exclusive entities, what we can take from this idea is the different types of enjoyment friends can offer, and the general importance of friendship in whichever form it comes in.  Whether you have three distinct friend groups that each fulfill a role, or a strong group of four friends, we as men of profession, pleasure, and passion, should strive to have some form of all three.

The aforementioned Irish friend group, via years of love and support, has learned to encompass all three types and reap the joys and advantages provided by each. Through encouragement, laughter, and understanding, they decided to work together and use each of their talents to collaborate and achieve a common goal; to discover and exercise their individual passions. They’ve edited and starred in each others projects, traveled the world together, and had many personal conversations. And by building each pillar of friendship to stand up on its own, they’ve climbed to the top in collective strength, helping the others stay on top. Be it a friend group that numbers in two or one that numbers in ten, surrounding yourself with like-minded men that care about you and your growth, is the route to a happier and more fulfilled version of yourself.