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The Purpose of Friendship

Q

What do you do when you realize that although you may have years of history, and found real value in each other in times past, that you kind of don’t like a friend anymore? That, after time spent with this person, you feel drained, empty, belittled or insulted. My father always used to tell me that, “you can’t make new old friends.” How do you distinguish if someone in your life makes you change for the better or if you are better off without them? —GP

A

What is the purpose of friendship? Obviously there are all kinds of physical reasons for our friendships—we enjoy someone’s company, they are easy to talk to, they make us laugh—but this is not the true purpose.

The kabbalists teach that one of the only true choices we make in life is our environment, and the friends we surround ourselves with. This has a tremendous influence on us because everything flows from there.

“The spiritual core reason for a friendship is that it can—and is meant to—help us change and grow.”

Consider this: You put an apple seed on the table and water it for months. Naturally, if you were to water it for a million years it still wouldn’t grow to become a tree. But if you put it in the ground and watered it, then it would become a tree. The potential for greatness is true in that seed always, but the environment—table versus ground—makes all the difference.

The same is true for people.

The spiritual core reason for a friendship is that it can—and is meant to—help us change and grow. Friends are people who call us on our issues, push us to grow, and support us through this process.

We can’t overestimate how important good friends are to our growth in life.

As a matter of fact, one of the first things written in the Bible in relation humanity is, “it is not good for man to be alone.” We cannot achieve our potential, nor live a life of fulfillment, without great, inspiring friends around us.

Therefore, if we choose to be surrounded by friends who are not positive, or who speak ill, then it’s going to be almost impossible not to fall into that type of behavior.

We have to appreciate the amount of influence our friends and the environment we create for ourselves truly has on our lives. Once we know and understand how important it is, we have to assess our friendships. Everything else is secondary to the question, “Does he or she help me to become a better person—does he or she push me and help me grow?”

“It is our first responsibility to help our friend become a better person and friend.”

Once we make that assessment, then the answer is pretty simple. If we have a friend that makes us feel worthless, hurts us, or doesn’t enable us to grow and actually makes us feel bad, then clearly that’s a friendship and environment we don’t want to subject ourselves to. We have the responsibility to diminish that friendship. Not only isn’t it serving its purpose, it can have a detrimental effect on us.

Now, this does not mean it is OK to cut people out of our lives. In fact, the first thing we want to do when we notice a relationship isn’t helping—or is hurting—is to see what we can do to help them in their process. Maybe if we speak to them clearly and forcefully they will change. It is our first responsibility to help our friend become a better person and friend. But, assuming we have done everything we can and the friendship is still no longer serving its purpose, yes, it is our responsibility to diminish that bond.

Please note my choice of words: Diminish, not cut. My father taught me that if someone has been our friend, they are our friend forever. It doesn’t mean spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with them if it makes us feel bad. But it does mean that whenever there is an opportunity to help, we must. If they were once our friend, then they are our friend forever in that regard. Just because we make a decision that this is someone we shouldn’t be spending a lot of time with, it doesn’t mean we must completely tighten the heartstrings.

Assess your friendships. If they are supporting you in your growth and change, then cherish them. If they diminish you, then you diminish them. But, once again, a friend is always a friend. Though they may no longer be a constant presence in your life nevertheless if there is an opportunity to help you should, always be open, for true friendship never ends.

Michael Berg is a Kabbalah scholar and author. He is co-Director of The Kabbalah Centre. You can follow Michael on Twitter. His latest book is What God Meant.

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