A true friend will tell you when a sacred cow is a white elephant

A steadfast friend is one of the best things to have and to strive to be

“A reliable friend is a confessor of your secrets and sorrows, a concelebrant in your every joy.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

“A reliable friend is a confessor of your secrets and sorrows, a concelebrant in your every joy.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Messiahs, deities and founders of religions have all been known to have had friendships that transformed and impacted their lives.

Jesus had John. Buddha had Ananda. The prophet Mohammed had Abu Bakr. There is a precedent here for us mere mortals. You need friends, good and true, to live your life to its fullest. So what makes a faithful friend?

It’s helpful to start with a basic canon – the love of your life isn’t really suited to double job as your best friend. That’s just mushy Hallmark nonsense. You see, when your progeny, the mortgage and fiery debates about whose turn it is to pick up the dog poo are driving you to murderous intent, only real friends can give you absolution and make sure your soul has a life.

Once you have that distinction clearly sorted in your mind, you can explore the definitions of friendship – the requisites are universally recognised. Loyalty, dependability and discretion. Honest and unselfish. Being trustworthy and a good listener. And if you insist on reverting to Hallmark, then a friend is defined as the double chocolate chip in the cookie of life.

Apostle of goodness

In other words, a true friend is an apostle of goodness. But a truly great friend must also be a devilish enabler. They must have the foresight to spot virtue in certain vices – “Go on, be selfish,” they whisper loudly, “It’s actually healthy to prioritise yourself sometimes.”

“Forget sloth,” they say soothingly, “the house will still be standing when you return after a day at the spa.” “Gluttony is good in moderation,” they assure you, as you tuck into dessert plus a cheeseboard. It’s the kind of advice that makes the soul sing aloud – life is absolutely worth living for those moments.

The same friend might reveal brilliant insight on another occasion, rapping you on the knuckles for being too agreeable and accommodating, alert to even the slightest whiff of martyrdom, steering you away with a sharp reminder that, since you’re never going to make sainthood, there is absolutely no virtue in suffering – it is a sinful waste of emotion.

However, it’s possible too that a particularly wise friend, before kicking your derrière, might let you wallow in martyrdom briefly, just very briefly, for the uplifting of the soul that comes from the ensuing smugness is a well-documented phenomenon. Blessed is one with a friend so astute.

A quick-thinking friend will let you, nay will positively encourage you, to tell a few untruths at appropriate times for many a volatile situation has been defused by an alternate fact.

Of course, good friends bring out the very best in you so you might be surprised at your own creativity when it comes to making things up. And years later, the joyful mileage one gets recounting together the genesis of that timely untruth.

A reliable friend is a confessor of your secrets and sorrows, a concelebrant in your every joy. Since a good many vices are just virtues gone wrong, a trusty friend will vigorously counsel against overdoing virtuosity. Thus if humility is your failing, a perceptive friend will urge self-confidence.

Compassion

How many of us have enjoyed kudos and taken a bow at the behest of loud urgings from friends – a regular dose of validation is good for anyone’s soul. Treasure the judicious friend who has the gumption to tell you that your burning passion for something has snuffed out all your compassion.

Listen to a friend who suggests the occasional dropping of your high moral standards gives you the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes. Yes, a true friend will point out that sometimes your sacred cows are really huge white elephants.

Just as much as a steadfast friend is one of the best things to have, it is also one of the best things you can strive to be. It’s really quite easy – it needs no education or university degree, just a modicum of good judgment in order to be non-judgmental.

We are told that saviours and redeemers were helped on their way to greatness by their saintly friends. My irreverent ones helped lead me to worship at the altar of friendship.

Cauvery Madhavan’s third novel, The Tainted, will be published next March

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