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C.S. Lewis on ‘The Dangers of Friendship’

One of the things that’s so valuable about C.S. Lewis is his knack for warning us against spiritual dangers that we’re apt not to notice. Case in point: Last night, while leafing through a book of his quotes, I came across some from The Four Loves under the provocative title “The Dangers of Friendship.”

Friendship, Lewis wrote, “is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What? You too? I thought that no one but myself. …’ ” Trouble is, a common taste or viewpoint doesn’t have to be a good one: “We all know the perilous charm of shared hatred or grievance.” And even if that grievance has a legitimate foundation, it can easily take on an unhealthy quality.

He goes on:

Every real friendship is a sort of seccession, even a rebellion. It may be a rebellion of serious thinkers against clap-trap or of faddists against accepted good sense; of real artists against popular ugliness or of charlatans against civilized taste; of good men against the badness of society or of bad men against its goodness. … Friendship (as the ancients saw) can be a school of virtue; but also (as they did not see) a school of vice. …

The danger is that this partial indifference or deafness to outside opinion, justified and necessary though it is, may lead to a wholesale indifference or deafness…. Like an aristocracy, it can create around it a vacuum across which no voice will carry.

As usual, I recognize what he’s talking about because I’ve caught myself doing it. I’ve been blessed with several close friendships, and I know how easy it is get angry on behalf of a friend who’s been treated badly, all the more when I have been too. To some extent, we need to vent those feelings, and that can take a while. But we have to watch out that we don’t let them take over and create a cycle of frustration and resentment.

My healthiest friendships are the ones where we’re both aware of that risk. We support each other but also try to help each other see things clearly. We respect each other enough to want the other to do that for us. As much as we have in common, we know that a pair of totally like-minded people — forever saying “you’re so right, you’re so right” — aren’t truly helping each other.

Have you had any friendships where, in an effort to help each other, you’ve fed unhealthy attitudes in each other? What have you done/are you doing/should you do to keep things in balance?

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About the Author

Matt Kaufman

Matt Kaufman has been a columnist for Boundless since the site’s founding in 1998, and did a stint as editor in 2002-2003. He’s also a former staffer and current contributing editor for Focus on the Family Citizen magazine. Matt is a freelance writer/editor who spent some years in Colorado, but gave up the mountains for the cornfields: He now lives in his hometown of Urbana, home of the University of Illinois. His house is a five minute drive from the one where he grew up, and he enjoys daily walks around the park where he used to play baseball.

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