Friendship is Selfish

by | Apr 3, 2001

Cicero wrote that, “There is nothing more fatal to friendship than the greed of gain.” Although a popular sentiment, it’s a deeply mistaken one. Think about the friends you have. Try to make yourself aware of what you enjoy about those friends — that is, how they make your life better than it would otherwise […]

Cicero wrote that, “There is nothing more fatal to friendship than the greed of gain.” Although a popular sentiment, it’s a deeply mistaken one.

Think about the friends you have. Try to make yourself aware of what you enjoy about those friends — that is, how they make your life better than it would otherwise be without them. You’ll probably come up with something like this: “Jack makes me laugh; I love his sense of humor.” Or: “Sue is really dedicated to her work, and well organized. I really admire that. It inspires me to do the same.” Or: “Bill was really there for me when my mother died. I really like how supportive he can be.”

You get the idea? You like or love your friends because you get something out of them. And there’s no sin in this fact! The notion of “getting something out” of friends has been given a bad name, for two reasons. One reason is that the phrase is commonly associated with material gain, as in business, rather than psychological gain.

It is true, of course, that the gain you obtain from a friendship is not the same as the gain you obtain from, say, getting a paycheck at your job; or selling your stock for a million dollars. If you engaged in the pretense that you enjoyed a “friend” for his personal qualities, when in fact you want to know him only for contacts or for money, then you would be guilty of a fraud. But it’s fraud and pretense which are wrong; not getting something out of a relationship which is wrong.

The other reason people don’t like to associate friendship with self-interest is the widely held, though false, belief that self-interest is inherently wrong. Yet it isn’t. The burden of proof should be on people who claim that self-interest is inherently wrong to prove their point; yet nobody can. It’s something which is just assumed. It’s taken as a self-evident truth, like “the sky is blue.” Yet, unlike “the sky is blue” (for which there is overwhelming evidence), there is no evidence at all to support the notion that gaining something from a friendship is wrong. As I just illustrated, it’s a premise which is completely at odds with simple observation of everyday life.

Try to imagine being friends with someone whom you don’t like: someone who is humorless; someone who is lazy and inefficient, and a liar; someone who shrugs and walks away when you mention your mother just passed away. Should we tolerate such qualities in others in the name of selflessness? If you answered “yes,” most would be ready to put you into a mental hospital for insanity; or, at a minimum, refer you to a psychotherapist for “self-esteem issues.” Yet, in the abstract, many of us persist in claiming (along with Cicero) that “greed” and gain are completely at odds with friendship. In truth, we all gain from friendship. If we didn’t, there would be no point in having friends in the first place.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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