Having watched The Jungle Book (again) this week, I now have an ear worm buzzing around in my brain.  With the strains of That’s what friends are for on internal auto-repeat, it’s not very surprising that I’ve been thinking about friendship – what it means, how we define it, how we live it.

So what ARE friends for?

I did a whole research project on this topic about a decade ago. It was (rather boldly, I now realise) titled Towards an understanding of the role of friendship in contemporary Western society. In about 20,000 words I examined comparative notions of friendship, from Aristotle forward. What I found, in essence, was that friends are broadly seen as being bound together by a combination of altruism, kindness and high levels of trust and support. After speaking to various people on the topic over the last couple of days, I would add that these relationships are based on trust, honesty, reciprocity and mutual understanding – usually between equals. Indeed, many people consider friendship to be the most meaningful of relationships.

Broadly speaking, it seems to me that choice, equality and mutual trust appear to have remained the foundation stones that encapsulate our notions of friendship as a whole. However, ideals such as these need to factor in the rapidly changing nature of our public and private interactions – and the constraints that these impose on us. Clinging to them if they don’t is, quite simply, setting ourselves and our relationships up for failure.

Friendship is complex and many-faceted. It doesn’t operate in isolation and there isn’t a set of formal rules that can outline how individual interactions can or should evolve, who one can be friends with or why.  This is simply because having such rules would limit the nature of what is an essentially fluid relationship. Perhaps the most, and the least, that can be said is that friendship is. It is part of our greater and ever changing social milieu, it is a source of support and comfort to individuals, and it is the one area where people feel that they should be able to be comfortable and relax with their peers.

These are relationships that clearly continue to be seen as providing levels of interaction not available from or in any other kind of relationship. A true friend is still seen as a treasure – something both to aspire to be and to have. With this in mind, perhaps it’s worth considering the words that Buzzie, Flaps, Ziggy and Dizzy (the vultures) sing to Mowgli and to come to our own understanding of what we think friends are for.

That’s What Friends are for.
From “The Jungle Book” Composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.

We’re your friends…
We’re your friends…
We’re your friends to the bitter end

When you’re alone…Who comes around
To pluck you up… When you are down
And when you’re outside, looking in… Who’s there to open the door?
That’s what friends are for!

Who’s always eager to extend… A friendly claw?
That’s what friends are for!

And when you’re lost in dire need… Who’s at your side at lightning speed?
We’re friends with every creature… Comin’ down the pike
In fact, we’ve never met an animal.. We didn’t like, didn’t like
That’s what friends are for!

So you can see… We’re friends in need
And friends in need…Are friends indeed
We’ll keep you safe… In the jungle for ever more
That’s what friends are for!

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