By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Friends are very necessary to lead a meaningful and happy life. A person without friends must have a very dreary life. It must be very bleak, even unendurable. We share our deepest thoughts and feelings with friends. A life without friends is truly unthinkable. But friendship depends on mutual understanding and love, and above all, on that which is sometimes derided, but a crucial virtue, that is, loyalty. There is no limit to loyalty; it might be to a country, to some organization, a loved one, or a friend. Loyalty, in fact, is a more enduring virtue than some others. But even amongst different kinds of loyalties, we find that some loyalties are more enduring than others.
Perhaps the most enduring of all loyalties is that of a mother towards her children. Family loyalty is invariably very strong. When a member of a family, perhaps a child or the husband, gets into trouble, the whole family comes together. The husband may have failed the wife in some way, but when he is in trouble, she still stands by him and helps him in his hour of need. Others might say that since he made his own bed, he must lie on it. But she does not need them and never deserts her husband, though he has wounded her feelings deeply.
In the same way, if the child gets into trouble, however grave the misdeed, the parents stick by him. They know and admit that he has behaved badly, but still maintain that they must help the child in distress, since he needs their love and support. That is what is called loyalty, which means never to turn away from the person who is in trouble. A loyal person deserves our admiration and respect. We may think that he should have condemned his friend or relative, who has done something wrong and therefore they should have been left to their fate. But in reality we cannot help admiring him for his steadfast loyalty. A loyal person never betrays his friends or relatives, because he has constancy in his allegiance.
Disloyalty is an ugly thing. Imagine what will be our opinion of a woman, who disparages her husband in front of other people and thereby lowers his image. Whatever may be his faults, she should never humiliate him in front of others. Can we admire a father who snubs his son and wipes away the glow of some youthful achievement, however meagre that might be? Or, what will be our opinion of a father who tells his erring daughter, who has done something disgraceful, never to darken his doorstep again, like some Victorian papa? Is there anything more distasteful than hearing someone running down a friend behind his or her back? The tongue is deadlier than the knife; backbiting is more injurious than stabbing. Human ture is such that we believe anything about another as long as it is the worst. After all, if you are out to beat a dog, you are sure to find a stick. I believe that there is nothing more despicable for a person than carrying some tale of her/his friends to others. It shows that we do not know the meaning and value of friendship, which implies a relationship based on love and trust.
I was saddened to hear the other day an acquaintance running down a lady, whom I believed to be her greatest friend. Some people, I know, keep quiet when they hear someone criticizing a friend. Possibly they do not refute for fear of offending that person. But silence is as bad as evil talk, since silence implicitly indicates agreement with the views expressed. It is really strange that some of us love to hear that some of our friends have got into trouble. It shows—doesn’t it—that we do not know the true meaning of friendship. We surely respect the person, who defends his friends against any unkind gossip or refuse to tell tales about a colleague.
I think that friendship should be based on the solid foundation of love and trust, so that nothing can shake it. Actually it can be tested only if one runs into trouble or is in some terrible time. At such times the hand of friendship should be extended to the unfortute person. A bitterly disillusioned lady told me the other day that she has filly come to know who her friends are. Apparently when she was in a black hole of despair, all the people whom she considered as her friends, left her one by one. They did not even lift their little finger to help her. Only a few people stood by her. Some people whom she thought to be her friends seemed to gloat over her misfortune. It does show that there are many fair-weather friends for whom friendship means absolutely nothing. They are not friends in the true sense of the term.
Actually there are some people who feign friendship with someone for the benefits they may gain from that fake attachment. Once long back I saw some memorable lines framed and hung up on the wall in some relative’s house. They made a profound impression on me and even today I remember them vividly. It went on like this:
“I had my money and my friends,
I lent my money to my friends,
I asked my money from my friends,
I lost my money and my friends.”
The poignt significance of the inscription deeply affected my mind. That is what friendship means for some people. From these lines it seems obvious that some people pretend to be friends to get money from somebody. But they do not intend to give back the money. When they are asked to return the borrowed money, they leave that person, who trusted them enough to give his money to them. They are fair-weather friends, and they should not be trusted at all. Hence the wise say “Never be a lender or a borrower”. It may destroy good relationship. It is very necessary to choose friends wisely. Actually a good friend goes to any length to help a person, not only from the material point of view, but spiritually as well. It is very satisfying for a person to know that he has a very good friend to whom he can turn in any eventuality. It is very important to realize that “a friend in need is a friend in deed”.
Fair-weather friends are not really friends and they should be avoided at all cost. Actually they do more harm than good to a person. They befriend a person to draw some benefit or to harm him in some way. There are many instances of a good young person to be led astray by his/her friends. Actually there are some people who like to bring others to their evil ways. It is usually the mental characteristic of a person to have company in pursuing his evil deeds. I remember an incident which happened some years back. A friend told me bitterly that her son, who was so obedient and cheerful, had been led astray by another boy, who was supposed to be his friend. Her son always did very well in his examitions, but suddenly his performance and behaviour changed. He came out with very poor marks in his examition and the polite boy changed into a rude and reckless person. The metamorphosis was unbelievable. According to the mother the terrible change in the boy was due to some neighbour’s son, who was apparently evil personified. I do not know if her allegations were true or not. As far as my knowledge goes, every parent considers his/her child to be perfect. For me a steady and determined individual can never be swayed from the right path by anybody. But at the same time it is also true that youths are at a vulnerable age and it is possible for some mischievous person under the garb of a friend to misguide somebody. It is very important for the parents to instil some concept of value in the minds of their children. At any rate they should be trained to be aware of evil-minded persons, who call themselves friends.
Of course they should be allowed to make friends with all sorts of young people, but they should be trained to separate the good from the bad company. They would learn through their mistakes. After all, parents cannot give them guidance for ever. They should be allowed some amount of independence, so that they can make the right decisions when they grow up. Such persons usually do not make mistakes, and they may be able to distinguish the fake from the genuine. They must realize that “all that glitters is not gold”.
Loyalty begins at home, but it can extend to other persons, organizations, community and country as well. There are certain people who try to find faults within the organizations they work; they are quick to ridicule their seniors. Perhaps the reason is that they have a kind of inferiority complex and know their limitations, and so they might get some perverse pleasure mocking those who know better than them. By deriding the boss the subordite officers might feel that they are asserting their individuality. But these are disloyal activities. It is not only the subordites, but other people also derive some abnormal pleasure but denigrating somebody who is better than them in every respect. I think it happens due to jealousy, which is an ignoble feeling.
It is of course not to suppose that we should turn a blind eye to anything that is wrong, or make endless excuses for other peoples’ opinion or never find faults with those whom we love. Of course we will find fault if there is one and turally we should try to correct it, if possible. Much depends on the person whom we are trying to correct. There are some very good people who cannot take criticism in the right spirit. But it is a wrong notion. Criticism is of two types: Constructive and Destructive. Constructive criticism is very helpful and the person at whom the criticism is levelled may derive great benefit from a friend’s helpful suggestion. But very few people take kindly to criticism. As Somerset Maugham remarked in his “Of Human Bondage”, ‘People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise”.
I think we should listen to a constructive critic and we should be grateful for his helpful comments. That is what a true friend is for. A true friend never leaves his friend in the lurch when he badly wants his help. A loyal friend goes to any extreme to help his friend in distress. He may try to correct the faults in his friend, but will never desert him for all his folly. The same goes for the family as well. We might find some faults in some member of the family, but when someone is in trouble we should stick together. I suppose most of us can recollect that fable about the father, who called together his young Sons before they went out to the world. The father had some sticks with him. He gave each of them a single twig, and asked them to break it. Each boy broke the twig easily. Then the father asked the boys to bind the twigs together in a bundle and to try to break that. Needless to say, they could not mage it.
The story is meant to teach us that without loyalty we are like the single twig, which can be easily broken: but bound together with the loving thread of loyalty we are unbreakable. So whether in friendship or in family it is loyalty that counts.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)