A Lesson in True Friendship

By Jim Tonkowich Published on January 24, 2016

Earlier this week, I extended a business trip an extra day to ski at Solitude — in solitude since no one else was able to come along.

Skiing alone is okay, but not nearly as much fun as sharing the slopes with friends. Knowing this, my wife prayed that God would send me a friend. And he did.

As I drove from Wyoming Catholic College where I direct distance learning to Salt Lake City, I listened to lectures from the series “True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness” by Dr. John Cuddeback of Christendom College.

According to Aristotle, begins Cuddeback, a friend is one “for whom we have good will,” good will that is mutual and mutually recognized. Cuddeback goes on to explain Aristotle’s three types of friendship: friendship of pleasure, of utility, and of the good, what Cuddeback calls “true friendship.”

The first two, pleasure and utility, go together. Friendships marked by pleasure are the kind we have with, for example, folks with whom we watch football, play golf, shop, have lunch, hang out, or ski. These relationships are based on the mutual pleasure of being together.

Friendships marked by utility include work colleagues, fellow volunteers, next-door neighbors, and the like. These relationships are based mutual projects.

Most of our friendships fall into these two categories and can be good or bad depending on the object. Friends can enjoy running together or committing adultery together; working on a cure for cancer together or planning on a bank heist together. Whether good or bad, once the pleasure or project goes away, these friendships typically fade and are replaced by new ones in the next neighborhood, job, or activity.

By contrast, true friendship lasts and is always good because true friends push each other toward virtue, toward living good and more fully human lives.

True friends will each another’s good not for pleasure or utility, but for the friend’s sake alone. “A true friend,” says Cuddeback, “has discovered in himself, and continues to cultivate in himself, a true love of friendship for another person. There is not a more powerful or effective moving force in human life than this love. The friend realizes that he needs to be virtuous in order to be a friend. He is thus motivated to cultivate the virtues in his life.”

True friendship may not always be pleasurable or immediately useful. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” says Proverbs 27:6 and that’s particularly true when a true friend confronts us or holds us accountable. But true friendship causes us to grow in virtue and thus into the men and women God intends us to become.

Now back to skiing.

After a few runs to get my ski legs back, I rode up a chair lift with Walt who is about my age and a fellow a grandfather. He’s also the only middle aged, African American, expert snow boarder (and skier) I’ve ever met. “How do I get to a chair lift that goes to the summit?” I asked. After explaining, he said, “Let me do one more warm-up run here and I’ll take you over.”

Thus began our short, but very real friendship. The snow was coming down like crazy and Walt, a local, wanted me to see the best his mountain had to offer when it was blanketed with new snow.

Though I’m an expert skier, when I see signs reading, “Danger Cliff Area” or “Area contains many unmarked dangers including exposed rocks, cliffs, steep slopes, trees, avalanches and constantly changing snow conditions,” I typically pass. I can ski that sort of trail, but I no longer know why I’d want to.

The signs, however, didn’t deter Walt who took me down some of the best trails I’ve ever seen and pushed my skiing far beyond what I would have dared when skiing solo. As a result, I had a fantastic ski day — far better than I would have had alone.

Our brief encounter was, no doubt, a friendship of mutual pleasure and mutual utility. Walt probably wouldn’t have gone “timber bashing” alone either. But it reinforced what Dr. Cuddeback said about true friendship. Just as Walt pushed me beyond myself in skiing, true friends push us beyond ourselves in virtue.

Yet true friendship is an increasingly lost art in our fragmented, individualistic, and digitized world. We have lots of pals, plenty of associates, and hundreds of Facebook “friends” (who hardly count as friends), but few or no true friends.

That being the case, one of the best Christian witnesses we can have is to offer ourselves as true friends to our spouses, to our children, to other Christians, and to the solitary individuals in our lives who long as all humans do for true friendship.





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