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Have you ever wondered if you have the right friends? Have you noticed how much impact the relationships you have with your friends have on how you feel and what you do?
Studies and common knowledge agree — our friends shape who we are. You may know the old saying, “you are who you surround yourself with.” Recent research actually emphasizes that for youth, the behaviors of their peer circle are more indicative of their future trajectory than their family wellbeing. All in all, it seems commonly agreed that friendship matters in affecting each of us individually.
The question then becomes — what do you look for when you are looking for people to befriend? How can we ensure that our friendships are healthy and productive?
Some of the creatures of existence can live solitary and alone. A tree, for instance, may live without the assistance and cooperation of other trees. Some animals are isolated and lead a separate existence away from their kind. But this is impossible for man. In his life and being cooperation and association are essential. Through association and meeting we find happiness and development, individual and collective.
While friendships often take energy, and it can feel hard to pick the right friends, this passage suggests friendship is an essential part of the human experience. When navigating which friends we spend the most time with, we have to be selective. We often seek people who are “similar” to us when we are first choosing friends. When we limit ourselves to people who look, think, or talk like we do, it is easy to miss out on rich friendships that can emerge when we open our minds and hearts to diversity. The Baha’i writings tell us:
Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. And in this new and wondrous age, the Holy Writings say that we must be at one with every people; that we must see neither harshness nor injustice, neither malevolence, nor hostility, nor hate, but rather turn our eyes toward the heaven of ancient glory.
They also point to some qualities we should avoid:
These people, however, have turned aside from all this and placed instead their affections upon that which accordeth with their own corrupt inclinations. Thus do they roam in the wilderness of arrogance and pride. I bear witness at this moment that God is wholly quit of them, and likewise are We. We beseech God to suffer Us not to associate with them either in this life or in the life to come.
Another passage speaks to this:
Do not associate with the wicked, because the company of the wicked changeth the light of life into the fire of remorse. If thou asketh for the bounties of the Holy Spirit, associate with the pure ones, because they have quaffed the eternal chalice from the hands of the Cupbearer of eternity.
So, how do we reconcile both suggestions?
To be open to all while being wary of those who might harm our own spiritual well-being? In my own reflections, it requires detaching from some of the familiar shallow features we tend to look for in others simply because of their similarity to our own selves. Instead, we should try to connect with people at a deeper level when we are figuring out who to spend the most time with.
Starting relationships in a way that allows us to see the underlying beliefs and qualities a person has allows us to make more informed decisions when we are navigating friendship. This is not always easy to do. Often, we think to deepen a friendship we have to simply find a way to have “fun” with a person. Our society promotes a fun-centric agenda where we will continue to spend money for the sake of having something “to do” that brings us joy.
Whenever we try to see the deeper essence of a person, we can choose our friends for the divine qualities we see in them. We can find ways for our friendships to be the source for the greater good in our world.