Maggie: Is there anything wrong with wanting my friends to like me for who I am?
John: H’m… It is easy to say that people should like us for who we are, and we see this sentiment being expressed on social media with more and more frequency. But your question is actually quite complicated and cannot be answered by simple platitudes. So let’s unpack it a bit and see what we uncover.
There are two different parts to a friendship: an active part and a passive part. Let’s discuss the passive part first and then compare that to the active part.
1. The Passive Part of Friendship.
In the passive part of friendship, we receive love from our friends. These friends—called complete friends**—love us with all our good and bad characteristics, our virtues and vices. Being loved by our friends is a wonderful thing and should be highly valued by us.
There is nothing wrong with wanting our friends to love us as we are, with all our virtues and vices. And, in fact, we should be able to rely upon them doing so. That is why they are true friends. But we should also be aware of the following:
a. Being Loved v. Being Flattered. Being loved is a form of flattery. It makes us feel valued, which is a good thing in and of itself.
But some people desire flattery more than they want true friendship. Think about the person with five-hundred friends on Facebook, who constantly posts pictures of herself in an attempt to accumulate as many likes as possible. In this example, she is not seeking true friendship and the love that comes with it; rather, she is seeking the self-validation that comes from flattery. She simply wants her view of herself to be confirmed by the touch of the “like” button.
Don’t misinterpret what I am saying. There is nothing inherently wrong with posting pictures or other items on social media. Social media can be an excellent way to keep in touch with friends and family who are not physically present in our lives. But we should use social media to maintain friendships, and not to be flattered.
b. Self-Knowledge. Self-knowledge only comes from interacting with friends. It begins with critical self-reflection: asking questions about ourselves, gaining insights into ourselves, and making judgments about ourselves. But it also requires our friends’ assistance, to help us explore areas to which we are blind (called scotomas) or about which we are uncomfortable speaking.
There is nothing wrong with wanting our friends to like us as we are, as long as we both have a true understanding of our good and bad points, and as long as we are working to improve our vices. But we shouldn’t want our friends to simply flatter us or unquestionably endorse our vices.
c. Complete Friends Help Us Improve. Although our true friends like us for who we are, they also help us become better people. They help us ask questions about ourselves, gain insights into ourselves, and make judgements about ourselves. Accepting their assistance to help us change is a part of accepting their love.
2. The Active Part of Friendship.
The passive part of friendship is the easier part, because it involves receiving benefits from our friends. This is why many people prefer it.
The active part is more difficult, because it involves taking steps to love and care about our friends. It is also the more important part. When we actively love our friends we benefit them in many ways: we provide for their physical needs by giving to them in their times of need; we assist them with their moral development by helping them come to know themselves; we provide for their psychological needs by listening to them and being empathetic; and, we provide them with joy and pleasure by recreating with them.
But there is another benefit to actively loving our friends: when we do so we also benefit ourselves. Loving our friends gives expression to our virtues, which helps us grow and develop as moral individuals.
In other words, when we receive love from our friends we are benefitted, which is a good thing. But, when we actively love our friends, all of us benefit, which is a better thing.
**Recall our February 26, 2017 discussion of the three different types of friendship.