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Qualities of a Good Friend

By October 30, 2015June 29th, 2017Private Musings
qualities of a good friend article cover

Do you ever meet someone likeable and wonder “but would they make a good friend?”

When we go through life with an open heart, it’s easy to accept people into our world, and to include them as our friends.  As the world gets more complex, my tendency is to open my heart more to engage in the straightforward acts that I know – like how to connect with another person, and experience the wonderful joy of friendship.

But as social media has grown to connect us, it has also served to muddy the issue. I’m not sure if we need more vocabulary to express what we intend by “friend”, or if we need to just reinforce our personal boundaries. Because I think there is room for all of it — casual friendly contacts that we connect with to reinforce a past or a shared interest, and the deep bond of a shared paths in life.

Finding Clarity

What I don’t see is clarity on this distinction, and I feel it when I’ve gotten caught in the middle of a misunderstanding, or when I’ve connected at a deep level with someone who only related at a surface level. We miss out on the opportunity of making the most of whatever relationship is in front of us, and connecting authentically then and there.

A true friend is someone who supports your best self, your highest self, what is in the best interest for your life’s path — even at times when you can’t. Maybe particularly at times when you can’t. At its essence, friendship is a soul contract.

Soul Friends

Several years ago I met someone ( a true friend) who introduced me to the concept and book by John O’Donahue, Anam Cara, a Gaelic word for soul friend. In Celtic tradition, this friend is also our teacher.

Relationships are like mirrors for us to better understand both ourselves and our life lessons. What we need to see and learn is reflected back to us in the relationship.

Within a friendship, the qualities of understanding, recognition, and support construct the relationship. Deep sharing is a gift of friendship and is a connection among humanity. Within those connections of friends we can find abiding joy and kindness.

New Definitions

The litmus test of true friendship used to be whether there was someone you could call in the middle of the night to talk to, or in an emergency. Oddly,  in a lovely way,  there are a lot of good-hearted people out there who would be happy to help and would willingly respond to such phone calls. The current litmus test of true friendship is whether a friend truly supports you in the areas they know you care about where they have zero personal interest.

This doesn’t take away from the joy and the opportunity within the other levels of friendship — those friends who make us laugh at work, or help us feel like we fit in at the gym, or just by looking at us somehow give us an indication they like us. It’s a great feeling to belong and be part of humanity together. These are all opportunities to practice our deep connection, even if it goes no further.

Our Part

Everyone has basic character virtues to their benefit. When we practice them with others, we ourselves become stronger individuals. And who doesn’t enjoy being in the presence of someone who is honest, kind, respectful, forgiving, and loyal? That’s the list I aspire to with my relationships.

Perhaps you have a few more or some different ones. We can practice these with all connections — true friends and casual acquaintance. It’s the level of ourselves that we give away that we can choose to vary.

We still have the opportunity in more casual friendships to be our authentic self, just to connect at an appropriate level. Our Facebook friends do not need to know every last detail about us just as that celebrity is most likely not our real friend.

Many years ago, I came up with the definition of an ideal mate as someone who could understand and accept me. Luckily I have that person in my life.


Perhaps understanding is beyond what is reasonable to expect, though. Maybe it’s enough to just accept.  As we are defining for ourselves what makes a good friend, it’s only right to ask ourselves how to be a true friend beyond the virtues we extend.

I’ve noticed that I uphold my friends to be the best self they say they want to be … except sometimes they don’t want to be that way, and there’s me, still holding on to that vision of them. If I’m to fully accept my friends, that means letting go of that vision when they let go and leaving them some breathing room to recreate their own lives as they see fit.

My best approach to practice this is to fully believe they will get where they want to go because I know they are capable. I want to be there waiting for them, loyal, as they’ve gotten to the other side of where they’re going — regardless of whether their path was filled with joy, sorrow or a combination. I choose to continue opening my heart and focus on being a  true friend rather than having one.

A Blessing

John O’Donohue provided a Friendship Blessing in “Anam Cara”. It captures both the essence of friendship and what we give and take from the connection.

May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
May they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth, and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam cara.

For a related article you may enjoy “5 Major Life Lessons We Need To Teach Our Children…. And Ourselves!“.

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