The 7 Principles of Strong Friendships

Have you ever seen the movie, Rudy? It's the true story of a young man who has one all-time dream — to play football for Notre Dame. He has dreamed of it since he was a little kid. When Rudy is a young adult, he is working in a steel mill with his best friend, Pete. They've been best friends since childhood. In one scene, it's Rudy's birthday, and Pete gives him a Notre Dame lettermen's jacket.

"This is fantastic," says Rudy, "Pete, where did you find this?"

"I was in Gary and I saw it in this surplus store," says Pete, "and I said, 'That's gotta be yours!'"

Rudy is obviously affected by having a tangible representation of his dream. "This is unbelievable." He puts the jacket on. "Pete, I don't know how I'm ever going to thank you…How's it look?"

Pete looks him in the eye and says with full conviction, "You were born to wear that jacket."

Rudy had always wanted to play for Notre Dame, but he wasn't big and he wasn't fast. He didn't have much athletic ability. He also had dyslexia (which he didn't know yet), so his grades weren't good, and his family didn't have the money to send him to college. So to all outward appearances, he didn't have a chance of ever even attending Notre Dame, much less playing on their football team.

Rudy looks at his jacket. Then he looks at Pete and says, "You're the only one who ever took me serious, Pete."

It is a moving scene and an excellent demonstration of a strong bond between friends.

When you take away everything insignificant, the bond of deep friendship between two people is really what makes life truly meaningful. When people think their life is over, almost everyone has the same thought. It's not about money or problems or who is right and who is wrong; it's not about politics or philosophy. All is stripped away except the single most important value, the one that made this trip worth the trouble.

Viktor Frankl wrote about his experience one morning as he marched through the snow, starving, severely abused, not knowing if or when he would ever see a normal life, and then he thought of his wife. He didn't even know if she was alive. He saw her in his mind's eye. He saw her smile at him and he was transfixed. He wrote:

"For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire…I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved."

I've read many accounts of people in extreme life-or-death circumstances, and always, when a person thinks it's all over, the one thought they have in their mind is of the person they are closest to, whether it is their spouse or child or parent or best friend. The closest bonds we have are the highest value we attain.

And you can create these close bonds. And I mean create. You can take steps that allow it to develop, or you can do things that impede its development.

You can't create the bond of strong friendship with just anyone. Some people are irrevocably incompatible. But you can make a mere friendship deepen into a profound bond, and you can do it with the following principles:

1. Work together for a purpose. A truly meaningful bond will emanate out of a strong purpose. The two of you will share a purpose, or one of you will have a purpose the other supports and believes in. Strong friendship goes beyond casual friends, and purpose is the central reason it does.

2. Believe in your friend. When Stephen King was a laundry worker with a dream to be a writer, he wrote several novels that were all rejected by publishers and agents. All that work for nothing! He didn't even get personal rejections. He got form letters. It was pretty disheartening.

As he started to work on his fourth novel, demoralization set in. He'd been spending every spare cent sending manuscripts to agents and publishers. There were bills to pay and all this writing was obviously getting him nowhere. He was spending his nights and weekends typing and typing and typing, and for what?

So one night he threw away the manuscript he was working on. But his wife was a true comrade. She believed in him so the next day she pulled the manuscript from the trash and said, "You shouldn't be quitting. Not when you're so close."

He went back to punching out fifteen hundred words a day. Without much feeling of hope, he sent off the manuscript when he finished, and this time, he struck gold. The manuscript was Carrie. It sold five million copies and was made into a hit movie.

Believe in your friend.

3. Be loyal. The act of loyalty intensifies the bond. Be clear what I'm saying here. I'm not saying that when you have a very close bond, you will feel more loyal, although you very well might. I'm saying the act of loyalty itself makes you closer.

When I first began dating Klassy, who is now my wife, a member of my family shunned her. I remained on friendly terms with that family member, which was a demonstration of disloyalty I will never repeat. It was wrong. If you are true to someone, be true. Defend them in their absence. Stand by them in times of trouble. Speak well of them behind their back. Act in their best interests when nobody is looking or if everybody is looking. This is loyalty, and it is a choice, an act of will, and that's what makes it valuable.

4. Fulfill trust. You have the option to commit your time or your resources or your effort. You can decide to commit or not. And when you commit yourself, you then have another option: whether or not to honor that commitment. A truly meaningful bond can develop when you consistently choose to commit yourself and when you consistently choose to fulfill your friend's trust in moments of temptation. You will become a better person for the discipline to do it, and your bond will grow stronger. Trust is powerful, but it can easily be destroyed. Protect that trust with all your might.

5. Speak the truth. In the introduction to Russell Gough's Character Is Destiny, he writes, "For Aristotle, the truest friendship is far more than mere companionship, mutual hobbies, and a common network of acquaintances. Friends in the highest sense of the term are those who make a conscientious effort to take ethics and personal character seriously and inspire each other to be better — in thought, in action, in life."

Obviously, your friend cannot know you if you haven't been honest. An important part of the satisfying closeness you feel is your feeling that you are known, and if you're hiding something, you know you aren't completely known by your friend, and that will prevent you from feeling close.

6. Happily make sacrifices for your comrade. Before Earnest Shackleton made his legendary British expedition on the Endurance, he tried and failed to be the first to reach the South Pole. On that earlier trek, one of his crew was Frank Wild, who became Shackleton's indispensable second-in-command on the Endurance.

On this earlier journey, the four-man crew made it to within two hundred miles of the Pole, but had to turn back. As it was, they barely made it back alive. The trip back was horrendous. They were pushed almost beyond human limits. At one point, Frank Wild was suffering from dysentery and their food supplies were dangerously low. Wild wrote this in his journal:

"Shackleton privately forced upon me his own breakfast biscuit, and would have given me another tonight had I allowed him. I do not suppose that anyone else in the world can thoroughly realize how much generosity and sympathy was shown by this: I do, and by God I shall never forget it. Thousands of pounds would not have bought that one biscuit."

One of the most significant acts of friendship is sacrifice — willing sacrifice, the kind where you happily give up something. Oddly enough, this act gives a sense of meaning to life that nothing else does.

7. The fewer you have, the more powerful the bond. To really develop an extraordinary uniting force with someone, you will spend lots of time with the person. For you to get to know each other, you cannot simply fax your resume. It takes time. And if you are simultaneously trying to nurture four other friendships, you cannot bond as deeply with them. There isn't enough time in the day.

Friendship is different from acquaintanceship. It goes further than merely entertaining each other. Friendship is manifested in action, not just in talk. It is teaming up with someone, not just hanging out with them. It takes time, and the more comrades you have, the less depth you will have with any one of them.

A recent study at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research demonstrates this principle. They found that women with a smaller number of friends were more content with their lives than those with a larger group of friends. Of course. The more friends you have, the more superficial those friendships are by necessity. It's a limitation of time.

If you would like a more profound bond, concentrate on a very few or just one, and forge it into something powerful.

THESE ARE THE SEVEN principles of strong friendships. If you have a true friend, you really have something. It will give your life a profound strength and love and meaningfulness and contentment that you just can't get from any other source.

To create a powerful bond with someone:
1. Work together for a purpose.
2. Believe in your friend.
3. Be loyal.
4. Fulfill their trust.
5. Speak the truth.
6. Happily make sacrifices for your friend.
7. Cultivate very few friends, or only one.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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