One of Life’s Great Treasures: Friendship

When I am asked why the Center for Executive Leadership works predominantly with men, I explain quite simply,

“Because women are much healthier than men. They are more transparent than men, and they have deeper friendships. They are not afraid to share their struggles with one another.”

Men are a different animal.

Joe Ehrmann says the true mark of a man is found in the quality of his relationships – the capacity one has to love and be loved. When we look over your lives at the end, the only thing that is really going to matter is the quality of the relationships that we have had.

There are so many important relationships in life. We could talk about marriage or our relationships with our children, but here are a couple of observations about friendships with other men. I believe this is such an important issue because friendships and quality relationships among men are so hard to come by, yet friendship can bring something into our lives that marriage and family cannot.

Ehrmann laments the fact that men are always comparing and competing, wondering how they measure up to other men. It leaves them with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Coach Ehrmann mentions a study that he read which reveals a sad fact: most men over the age of thirty-five have no authentic friends – someone close to them with whom they can be vulnerable and share their innermost thoughts and feelings.

Armond Nicholi, Jr., in his book, The Question of God, tells about C. S. Lewis’ view of friendship. Lewis, for years an atheist, had a very pessimistic view of life and had no friends. As a Christian, his view of life and relationships was transformed. As Nicholi put it, nothing brought Lewis more enjoyment than sitting around a fire with a group of close friends engaged in good discussion or talking long walks through the English countryside.

“My happiest hours,” Lewis wrote, “are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs – or else sitting up ‘til the small hours in someone’s college rooms, talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics…There’s no sound I like better than …laughter.”

In another letter to his good friend, Greeves, Lewis writes, “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, ‘sacrifice almost everything you have to live where you can be near your friends.’ Lewis changed from a wary introvert with very close relationships to a personable extrovert with scores of close friends and colleagues. George Sayer, a biographer who knew Lewis for some thirty years, and Owen Barfield, a close friend for over forty years, described Lewis after his conversion, “He was unusually cheerful, and took an almost boyish delight” in life. [They] describe him as “great fun, an extremely witty and amusing companion . . . considerate . . . more concerned with the welfare of his friends than with himself.”

I think Lewis recognized that without great friendships, life is virtually bankrupt. Furthermore, it strikes me that really good friendships have to be deliberately pursued and forged over time. The building of a good friendship requires effort. And when we are willing to come out of hiding, be vulnerable, and be willing to share our secrets with a close friend or two, these friendships deepen. It seems that the power to honor the truth and speak the truth openly are at the heart of a healthy, authentic man.

Article originally published on Richard E Simmons 3 June 3 2105.


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