Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Golden Rules of Friendship

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” I have encountered people who were discouragement because they didn’t have friends. They felt sorry for themselves because they were not sought out by others and were afraid of taking the initiative due to fear of rejection. Others have an opposite approach. From the moment they introduce themselves they overwhelm you with personal information in hopes that they will mask their insecurity and quickly bond a relationship in a “super-glue” fashion.

The basic truth of any relationship is that if you want friends you have to be a friend first. Jesus taught a more encompassing principle in the Sermon on the Mount where He said, “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them (Matt 7:12).” Benjamin Franklin called it the “Golden Rule,” I call it “Golden rules of friendship.”

Dale Carnegie in his classic 1936 work, How to Win Friends and Influence People wrote, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” In this famous book Mr. Carnegie lists six rules for establishing friendships and to help people get to know you. These are golden rules of friendship.

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people
  2. Smile
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to him/her the sweetest sound in any language
  4. Be a good listener
  5. Talk in terms of the person’s interest
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely

Several years ago I received a Christmas letter from Dr. Vernon Grounds, President Emeritus of Denver Seminary. In it he stated, “I find that as I grow older, the circle of my meaningful acquaintances keeps expanding until it is impossible to maintain the closeness mutually desired. So, one of our problems is to prevent the erosion of friendship. That problem seems to be universal. I once heard a missionary quote the comment of an African tribesman to his friend, ‘The grass is growing tall on the path between our huts.’

It has been said that we make many acquaintances each year but that true friendship is a precious gift which we can only share deeply and intimately with a handful of people. Proverbs is emphatic that a few close friends are better than a host of acquaintances. “A man of many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (18:24)

Unlike Dr. Grounds, the problem for most of us is not that we have too many friends, but rather how can we be a friend and maintain those close friendships. In other words, how can we keep the grass from growing too tall on the path between our huts?

Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote, “All men have their frailties, and whoever looks for a friend without imperfection will never find what he seeks.” All of us have a variety of expectations for friendship. Expectations are a way of life. Establishing a lasting friendship necessitates that we take a close look at our biggest frailty – unrealistic expectations of perfection. Sometimes those unrealistic expectations can be a real stumbling block to establishing or forming friendships. People can be quite fickle with their friends. These relationships are often marked by a lack of steadfastness, consistency, stability and personal care.

Establishing a friendship is an important process that cannot withstand a lot of inconsistency and change. There is no room for such a “one-way” process when we begin establishing relationships. If we seek to begin a friendship without giving ourselves to it, if we are “all take and no give” and we only want a relationship for how it will make us feel or look, then we will end up with nothing but loneliness and literally “inherit the wind.”

Nobody wants just “fair weather friends.” The author of the book of Proverbs warns about “friends who come around when we’ve got money, power or status.” (Proverbs 19:4,6,7). What we do need instead, are “foul weather friends” who love us regardless of circumstances and seek to cultivate mutual acceptance and respect. Here are some practical suggestions to help maintain such a lasting relationship.

  1. Think in your heart, “I accept you as you are”
  2. Listen attentively and with interest to what your friend is saying
  3. Express approval and give compliments when they are due
  4. Be sensitive to your friend’s needs and where you can help
  5. Include your friend in some of your activities
  6. Invest yourself through expressing your own feelings
  7. Allow your friend to give to you and do things for you
  8. Accept your friend as he/she is without trying to change or reform them

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “God evidently does not intend us all to be rich, or powerful, or great, but he does intend us all to be friends.” The wisdom literature of Scripture is filled with admonitions on friendship. Proverbs 17:17 states, “A friend loves at all times.” Proverbs 18:24 says, “But there’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” In Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

Being a friend means that you commit yourself to a growing, two-way relationship because, as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, “Two are better than one.” It is through transparent, honest, open, trusting, and vulnerable relationships that we grow and experience the wisdom of Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” A true friend is always glad to see you, but has no immediate plans for your future! This is a golden rule of friendship.

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