What are friends for | Sunday Observer

What are friends for

17 January, 2021

Most of us have friends. Some of them are fair weather friends and others stick to us throughout life. When we were students we had so many friends but we do not know where they are now.

Once we leave school most of our friendships come to an end. When we start working we make new friends. In our jam packed lives finding time to sustain friendships can seem harder than ever. How do you juggle with a job, a busy family life and commitments to parents, children and society?

Psychoanalyst Constance Buxer says in most people’s lives there are periods when friendship slips down the priority scale. This happens when we get caught up in our routine at work and at home.Then we develop a kind of tunnel vision. However, our need for friendship may be greater than ever, simply because our lives are challenging. As Buxer says s, with a good friend you can let down your hair. A lasting friendship comes as a wonderful gift which can be a blessing in times of distress.

Lilian Rubin who wrote the wonderful book Just Friends says people with friends are generally healthier and happier than others who have no such relationships. When you have a trusted friend by your side, there is less depression and anxiety, and longer life spans. I have seen how people with no friends suffer when they retire. Most of them die prematurely because they feel that their lives are empty and they have no purpose for living.

Old friends

When we make new friends what happens to our old friends? This is a tricky situation. Many of us have almost forgotten our school friends and most of them have moved away from us and may be living in distant places or abroad. When they get married and have their own children they invariably forget their old friends. There is nothing we can do about it.

They say’out of sight is out of mind’. Especially, if you happen to go abroad, you will not bother to be in touch with your old friends. When we advance in life we begin to develop new interests. Sometimes, we may not have the time to think of old friends who stood by us.

When I got married there was some strain with my female friends. Before marriage we used to meet or talk over the phone almost every day. Now, they are also married and having theirchildren. In such a situation it is practically impossible to sustain our old friendships. When once they come to know that you are married, they invariably stop calling you. They also do not miss your company because now they have their own new friends.

Sometime, after my retirement I went through my address book and sent New Year greeting cards with a personal note to some of my close friends. I never thought anybody would respond. But I heard from three or four of my school friends. It was like a wonderful gift to catch up on their lives. However, only one New Year card was returned to me with a note apparently written by a woman. It said: “Sorry, my husband is no longer with me.”


Anybody can start a friendship, but it has to be nourished with constant contact. If you do not contact your friends, they will think that you are no longer interested in them. Therefore, if you value somebody’s friendship, give them a phone call or send a note.

Unless you take the initiative, your friendship will die a natural death. If you have no time to write lengthy letters, just send a short note asking how they are doing. If you have e-mail, just post a hello.

Unlike some of our so-called friends, dogs are loyal to their masters. In fact, they want someone to love, honour and obey. Many dogs love their owners unconditionally. Dogs welcome their masters when they return home with wagging tails and enthusiastic leaps. Barbara Woodhouse, author of No Bad Dogs says there are no bad dogs, only inexperienced owners. With a little firmness and a lot of love, you can have an obedient and happy pet. If you do not have a human friend, at least have a dog as your friend.

Sometimes, we hear of people who have no friends. One day, the head of a government department where I worked publicly declared that he had no friends but only colleagues. When he died there were a few people who were his relatives. Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, used to get thousands of appeals for pardon from soldiers who had left the military. Each appeal had been supported by influential people. One day he received an appeal from a soldier who had no friends to support him.

“What!” the president exclaimed. “Has this man no friends?”

“No, Sir, not one” said the adjutant.

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

Friendship coaching

In schools and universities popular students have too many friends. However, there are always a few students who are least liked by others. Steven Asher, a University of Illinois psychologist, designed a series of friendship coaching sessions for unpopular students. They were coached to act in ways Asher had found typical of more popular students. They were encouraged to say something nice about others and to smileand offer help to others. A year later, students who were least liked by others became popular in the class.

Several books have been written on friendship and how to make friends. As a student, I was impressed by Dale Carnegie’s How to make friends and influence people. However, you cannot learn everything about the subject by reading books. It is necessary to remember that you cannot live alone. If you try to lead a solitary life, you will never achieve a truly happy and successful life.

The help and company of other people is a necessity to all of us. When you step out of childhood you will realise that next to self-respect and self-control, the ability to be friendly and to influence others are the most powerful factorsto succeed in life. In the 1960s and ‘70s there were regular agony columns in national newspapers. I can still remember the Ask Aruni column written by a senior journalist. Most of the readers who consulted Aruni were seeking friends because they were feeling lonely. Aruni deftly handled them telling them how to make friends or social contacts. Those who have no friends do not blame themselves but put the blame on society. They overlook the fact that the herd does not join the individual, but the individual has to keep up with the herd. If you understand the meaning of ‘herd instinct’ which is particularly strong among some animals, you will find that all of us need friends.


Listen to John Richard who said, “What seems to grow fairer to me as life goes by is the love and grace and tenderness of it; not its wit and cleverness and grandeur of knowledge, but the laughter of little children and the friendship of others.” A.C. Benson wrote, “I have grown to believe that the one thing worth aiming at is simply of heart and life; that one’s relations with others should be direct and not diplomatic, that meanness, hardness and coldness are unforgivable sins.”

Some time ago, I had to work with a colleague who never smiled. He always had a serious look on his face. My colleagues called him a “miserable devil” but for others he was a “pleasant chap.” If you wish to make friends, you need to smile with others. Having a smiling and pleasant expression keeps your face moderately cheerful. Otherwise, you will lapse into a sullen frown. When I joined a media organisation for the first time, I used to smile with everybody. To my surprise my immediate boss advised me not to smile with everybody! I did not ask him why because I was a new recruit. He used to give orders and shout at others for the slightest mistake. One day he shouted at a girl who came late to office. She simply said, “God bless you!” and he did not know what to do.

Main factors

There are three main factors to be considered when making friends. In the first place, think of your own personal qualities. Then you need opportunities to meet people. Thirdly, you must have the ability to break down the barriers of approach. If you need friends, you have to go out and seek them. They will not turn up unexpectedly at your doorstep. As everyone desires company your attempts to find friends will not be in vain.

Real friendship has to stand the test of time and the strain of everyday activities. Look out for people with common interests. If you enjoy long walks, find a person with a similar interest. If you do not like swimming, there is no point in having a friendship with a swimmer. Sometimes, you will be thrown into the company of another person, for instance, on a long train journey. If you find that he is getting ready to have a nap, do not disturb him. But if he is a friendly person, be bold and open up the conversation. Show a genuine interest in others. Then you will never run short of friends.

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