5 Signs of a Real Friend

Do you know which of your "friends" would stick by you, even when the rest of the world won’t?
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It was early morning in the mountains and I drove through air that would have felt like frozen sandpaper to anyone with bare skin. I was on the road to Paprsek to do some cross-country skiing. I met its slippery hairpin with my usual level of caution and respect but then suddenly came across someone who hadn’t. A car lay wrecked in the ditch there. Steam was still rising from the burst radiator so I’d not long missed the smash. A man sat on the roadside next to it, not visibly injured but shaking with shock or cold, or more likely both.

Vehicles were passing him and slowing down here and there. From time to time a window wound down, not to ask the man if he needed help, but to take pictures on mobile cameras, presumably to share online. The sudden inrush of cold air steamed a few lenses and spoiled their shots, which seemed quite just.

I gave him hot coffee from my flask and he accepted the offer of my company until the Police and towing service arrived. He smiled and waved at the curious passers-by, and, perhaps trying to make a point, pulled out his own mobile and snapped them back. He then sent accident pictures to Instagram and Facebook.

In 40 minutes, his contributions got 150 likes from “friends”. Nobody called him and asked if he was ok or needed help though.

What is going on with people when their first thought on seeing a tragedy on a social network is whether or not to click their approval? Does a sad emoji now make you a friend? Does a “like” make you a friend? Why are there so many virtual friends?  Where are all the real friends?

“How many real friends do you have?” the man said, obviously on the same train of thought. “How do you know if they’re really your friends?” he added before I could give him an answer.

A brush with death makes philosophers of all of us and he seemed to be pondering what was important. We sat in my car and although the heat was on he still shivered from time to time. Little quakes shook his body as his head tried to grapple with the conflicts that such situations always conjure. A potentially life-threatening experience opens the adrenaline floodgates and the indifference of passing strangers taking pictures like they’re at a human zoo opens others, making for quite a troubled mix.

His questions set me thinking. How can you tell if a so-called friend is just an acquaintance or someone who’s much more like family? Which ones would stop to help you and which ones would pass on by?

I thought it over and came up with 5 ways that help me to recognise a true Friend.

1: Friends make time for each other.

In any given day, most of us have roughly the same amount of time. All of us devote our time to what we have to do first, and what we like to do later. How much of our free time we spend on others seems like a fair measure of their importance to us.

As I’ve written in the my book 250 Laws of Love time is the basis of friendship. If we do not devote enough of it to the people we think of as friends and we are permanently “too busy” or “too tired” to see them then we can’t really claim to be offering true friendship to them, and we also can’t expect it in return. Friendship only becomes real over time. It’s right to say that we ‘spend’ time with people because it really is an investment in others, and it’s one that pays us back.

2: A friend believes in me.

Belief in someone is important. It’s up there with loyalty and trust. To believe in another person is the first great gift of friendship. We appreciate a good friend believing in us because there are times when we don’t have the strength to believe in ourselves.

Belief inspires hope. Hope is supposedly an ordinary commodity but it’s sometimes in short supply, so to receive it as a gift at a time of need is a welcome miracle. A real friend gives us self-belief through their belief in us. Just reminding us of our own value is a great gift.

3: A friend is there for me.

When we look back at our life, we find that those who helped us most were not the ones who gave us the most advice or the best solutions but those who were simply there with us, sharing the sadness or joy. They only needed to give us 3 things:

THEIR EAR. To find someone who listens patiently and without judgement is rare, and it’s a precious thing when it’s offered. Some people seem to listen and nod along but their eyes are glazed and they only really see your words as an interruption to what they want to say next. A friend gives you room to speak, watches, listens and hears you.

THEIR SHOULDER. Sometimes, when you can’t hold your head high there is just no better place to rest it than on the broad shoulder of a friend.

THE HEART. A friend who offers a big heart is wonderful, especially when yours is too hurt to help you.

Friends don’t solve our problems for us, they just lift us enough to solve them for ourselves. Solving our own problems makes us happier because it teaches us that we do have some control in our lives, and with control comes the feeling of safety.

Helping ourselves gives us pride and a degree of self-respect. This is a guiding principle of the Improovio. I would like people to start being proud of themselves and become aware of the fact that they are able to cope with everything, that they are their own biggest support. I would like the day to come when no one needs Improovio. I always want to help others, but I also always want them to be strong enough not to need me. I am always glad when someone tells me that they feel strong enough to manage alone.

4: A friend is always honest with me.

When I talk about friends’ honesty, it does not mean that I think they should blurt out everything that’s on their mind at any given moment. I just mean they should not be afraid to “tell it like it is” when it matters.

We can rely on people who are honest with us. This bond of trust is one of the most important that people share.

A real friend won’t sugar coat everything with so-called white lies. Being told what we need to hear might hurt, but when it’s out it’s out.

Lies don’t help. Liars create imaginary realities that cannot coexist peacefully with the real world. Real friends who care about us won’t lie to us through some misguided desire to protect us from something. The truth is not always beautiful just as beauty is not always truthful, but, when we learn to accept the truth, deal with it and understand the lessons given by it, we will understand that it’s best to welcome it.

5: A friend lets me be myself.

A friend is a person who is comfortable with the best and worst of us.

We can’t lose face in front of a friend because when we’re angry and in the grip of current emotions they do not take the anger personally. They know that our bad day is just our bad day. A friend acts like a lightning rod and knows how to ground the storm.

A friend knows that what people say or do is sometimes just a reflection of their internal world and that negative behaviour often springs from inner suffering. Negative acts are often the result of negative thoughts and negative thoughts result from negative feelings. Sometimes these things have to come out and it’s a cleansing act that a friend has the strength and the will to absorb.

As I bid farewell to the man whose car was now little more than a large paperweight on the back of a recovery truck I waved my phone at him. “You know, this is just a tool. It can be used and misused. Your real friends will use it wisely and you’ll know who they are.”

As I left for Paprsek, I saw a final passer-by wanting to photograph him but he smiled and spread his arms wide at the crisp, blue sky, showing it off to them as a better subject than him. Many look for what’s important but sometimes seeing what matters takes a little guidance.

© Petr Casanova