Ladders are great to use as an illustration and explanation of different kinds of friendship. Before we get into this illustration, a brief explanation of the difference between a friend and an acquaintance may be helpful.
Acquaintance vs. Friend
Although there are different opinions on the difference between these two terms, most people agree that the depth of the conversations is a determining factor in this difference. When you put this term in the context of the basic three kind of friendships that Aristotle came up with, an acquaintance is someone who has talked to you in a larger context on a superficial level with no exchange of personal interests or personal values in common.
Aristotle’s Three Kinds of Friendship
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. He said there were three types of friendship:
- Self-Interested Friendship- This kind of friendship is a friendship where one or both parties have something(s) to gain. It is a friendship of convenience and/or exchange.
- Pleasure-Based Friendship- This kind of friendship is where one or both parties receive some gratification from the friendship. These kind of friends can energize us, give us a sense of kinship, share similar values, etc. They can help you have a good time, feel affirmed, but may not help you grow.
- Loyal Friends or Friends for a Lifetime- These are friends who know you well and admire virtue in you. These type of friendships aspire another to reach their “ideal goodness.” These friendships are Aristotle’s ideal and last for a lifetime.
The “Ladder of Friendship”
As I looked at Aristotle’s breakdown of the different kinds of friends, I noticed a pattern. With each kind of friendship, you seemed to “go up a level” in value and contribution. I also realized it was up to each individual in the friendship to decide what level of friend they would chose to be and and what level they were capable of being. I pictured in my mind two separate ladders with about three rungs each set up next to each other. The lowest rung would be a self-interested friend and the highest would be a loyal friend seeking goodness.
Conclusions from the Ladder of Friendship
- The state of the friendship could have 6 outcomes. Since 3×2=6, there are six possible outcomes depending on where each person is on their own friendship ladder.
- The larger the gap between the rungs, the more “one-sided” the friendship will be. We have all known individuals who are consumers of the energy and time of others because they look for and use other altruistic people to get their needs and wants met.
- The larger the gap between the rungs, the easier it is for someone on either ladder to lose their balance. We all need to balance our own needs and responsibilities with helping those around us. Whether it’s taking too much responsibility for others or not not being responsible for ourselves or both, our lives can become “off kilter.”
- The larger the gap between the rungs, the more effort each individual needs to make to close the gap. It’s not impossible to adjust our positions, it just takes some soul work and time to climb the ladder of friendship.
- The person on the higher rung doesn’t need to look down except to help the person on lower rung to step up. We all know that conceit can ruin a good friendship and that pride comes before a fall. We have also probably had the experience of looking down from where we came from and the fear that can come from climbing any higher vs. looking above us at where we need to go next.
- It’s much easier to step up one rung at a time. We can fall down if we skip a rung and waste time and energy trying to do too much at once.
- Let’s not assume everyone can climb up to the next rung. Some people may have legitimate mental and/or emotional challenges. This could come from things like developmental disabilities, brain injuries, chemical imbalances in the brain that can ultimately affect behavior and what they can do and not do as a friend.
- We need to keep our balance in order to help someone else to the next rung. When we lose our balance, we could get pulled down with the other person.
There are three basic kinds of friends or friendships: “utility friends,” pleasure friends, and goodness friends. If you imagine each level of friendship as falling on rungs of a ladder and each person having their own friendship ladder, you can draw a number of conclusions from this illustration.
So what kind of friend are you and what kinds of friends do you have in your life now? How can you go up the ladder of friendship and can you bring others up the ladder of friendship as well while keeping your own life in balance? What part of ladders as an illustration and explanation of different kinds of friendship struck you as the most valuable insight and how come?
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