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  • Daniel Vargas

You Expose the Quality of Your Virtue in Friendships

“Happy is the person who can improve others, not only when present, but even when in their thoughts” - Seneca the Younger

To have many friends, or a few friends. Zeno had a handful and still preferred to be alone in his study. Plato and Socrates were very charismatic, had a number of friends and many other acquaintances. Epictetus wrote that we should surround ourselves with those who are likely to improve us. It's all up to us at the end of the day with regards to who we’d like to spend our time with.

This week while reading Plato’s Republic, something really struck a chord with me, which was Socrates stating that we expose our virtue with friendships. Definitely gave me an ah-ha moment because he goes on to say for all the virtue that we live by, that knowledge, wisdom and contagiousness of virtue can truly be divided and spread through friendship.

Let's put this into context of the four virtues:

It takes courage to push for your friends to be better humans. Refusing to help in this manner, like being honest about their wrongdoings or if they are straying away from being a good human is an act against your virtue. True friendship allows for honest communication without judgement or scrutiny.

For wisdom, what good is wisdom if you don’t spread it or act on it? Now it's probably not a bonding moment to open a TedTalk about what you learned, but there is wisdom in your advice when your friends ask. Especially if you have learned and seek for them to question themselves so they can become greater.

Justice; if they are being unfair with you or if you are being unfair with them. It is wise to act justly and be ok with being told when you are not acting in a just manner. Not being truthful with your words is also an act of unjust against yourself!

Finally, moderation, teach your friends to moderate themselves, whether that be in their speech, in their actions, in their feelings, in their lives. The best tactic is to act in a moderate manner, of course. No need to break out into a TedTalk! Question them in their actions of excess. We want our friends to be better; we would want someone to help us be better so why would we keep that opportunity away from our friends?

Remember that the actions are what I’m talking about, not just speaking to them like you would in a seminar. We have to embody our philosophy, not just speak it. Lastly, do not try to seem wise to others, the wisest would think instead that we would still have so much to learn.

Now all of this sounds dandy but I want to point out one last thing. Not all friendships are worth pursuing. Many friendships are toxic in fact, do not sacrifice your virtue to make them happy. In most cases unfortunately, it is best to let them go if you have already tried to help them become better humans. Especially if they are unwilling to remove the things that would make them sick (corrupting their own virtue, not actually ill). You can only do so much before they themselves have to make that choice to be better.

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