You'd think that choosing friends for their excellence would be easy. But for most people, choosing friends because of their admirable qualities isn't that simple.
Sarah, a teen friend of mine, put it this way: "I don't just go out and decide ‘that person is going to be my friend because she is excellent at something.' It doesn't happen that way. There are many things involved. Even if a person is really good at something I like, it won't necessarily mean I want to be a friend. One thing, for example, that I can't stand is arrogance. Sometimes people good at something are arrogant. I won't be their friend."
Sarah is really good at a lot of things and makes an excellent friend. But choosing friends for their excellence is often an unconscious mixture of decisions about interests, likes and dislikes, and character.
Jeff, another friend of mine, put it a little differently. This tall, athletic 18-year-old, who is currently attending community college, and I met two years ago while climbing the South Sister, a snowcapped 10,000-foot-plus peak in Oregon's Cascades. Even though we started out together, I ended up staying back at the 7,500-foot level to take care of a teen who had injured her foot. Jeff was really cool about the problem. He offered to drive the 300 miles back to the mountain a couple of weeks later just so we could climb it together—and we had just met. He was a great friend made on the spot!
On a recent wake-boarding trip with Jeff, I asked him how he chooses his friends.
"I'm very active and like to do a lot of stuff," said Jeff. "So if they don't like my kind of lifestyle, they don't hang on. If they don't keep up, they just drop away." Jeff added that it wasn't only his active lifestyle that had to match up for a friendship to develop. "Values are also a big part of my friendships. If their values don't match, they don't become my friends."
Reflecting on what he had just said, Jeff explained, "I guess I am pretty much a leader in my friendships. I usually influence my friends more than they influence me."
Five elements of excellence
Sarah and Jeff illustrated some of the typical challenges involved in making friends. Now what about making friendships that will inspire us to excellence? If you want to make some of these kinds of friendships, here are five key elements to consider.
Goals. Our goals should guide what we do. Goals light a pathway to success and each of us ought to have many goals. They may be to excel at sports or music or to experience high adventure, like climbing mountains. We should aim to do our best in school and be excellent employees. Young people must decide on a career path where they can earn a good living and strive to excel in their educations or apprenticeships. Another important goal is to be a great and loyal friend to others.
Being goal-oriented will set us up for important relationship opportunities. While pursuing our goals, we often meet many who have the same or similar goals. To some extent, our goals actually select some friends for us. Since goal-oriented and goal-driven people must be self-disciplined to succeed, we can be influenced positively along these lines.
Goal-oriented people can inspire us to succeed and reinforce our high goals. They may even help us set our goals higher. These are people whose horizons are always expanding. When you are with them, your goals can expand as well. People who are not guided and motivated by excellent goals often drift into negative territory. It's called a bad lifestyle.
Lifestyle. Each of us has developed a style of living. An excellent lifestyle enables achieving excellent goals. How we apply ourselves to our tasks assigned by teachers, parents, coaches and employers is part of our lifestyle. How we use our spare time is a lifestyle issue and a key friendship issue.
Some people spend most of their spare time eating gallons of ice cream or bags of chips in front of the TV. Others become self-absorbed, reading pulp fiction at every spare moment. These people are contrasted by those who play on softball teams, go to the gym, read challenging books and engage in stimulating conversations. Another contrast is evident when people talk on the phone: Does he or she talk on the phone to encourage his or her friends or to gossip about them and trash them? All these are elements of lifestyle.
We are highly influenced by the lifestyles of our friends, because the closer we get to a friend and the more time we invest in this person's life, the more similar we become. Psychologists call this sharing in super close friendships "convergence." It means that our feelings and preferences become similar to our friend's. Because of convergence, it is important to develop friendships that will help you develop excellence, discipline and self-control. As excellence in lifestyle enables you to achieve your goals, your lifestyle choices will also be determined by your values.
Values. Values are the things we think are good and the things we think are bad. Values determine what we want to think and do. This is why if our friends have excellent values and high standards of conduct, we will be safe and inspired to think and act accordingly. Our excellent values should set the standard of conduct for our friends as well.
Personality. Many young people say that the key element for becoming excellent friends is the compatibility of their personalities. Daphne, just graduated from high school, says that she often chooses her friends for their personalities. "My friends have similar personalities. We especially have the same interests and values. If we are not compatible personalities, we would be in conflict. Who needs a friend who will just hassle you?"
By personality, these teens generally mean how their friends act toward them. Are they true friends in whom you can confide, who will treat you as an equal with courtesy, caring and respect? There are truly excellent personalities who make great friends yet may not excel in sports, extreme experiences climbing mountains, snowboarding or getting a 4.0. But they can really care about you.
Attitude. Ultimately, all great friendships are based on attitudes that reinforce and build up each friend. They make each person stronger.
The best description of the attitude of excellence in a true friend is found in the Bible. It is the description of real love. It is was written by the apostle Paul who had made thousands of friends all over the Roman Empire as he told people how God wanted to be their Friend through Jesus Christ.
Here is the greatest attitude we could ever have—one that we can give as well as receive in a friendship based on the ultimate excellence that comes from real caring.
"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
If we choose our friends for these reasons, we can develop friendships that will never fail. Making these kinds of friendships is challenging, but the reward is sweet. Choosing excellence in our friendships can provide a lifetime of great relationships.
In the bigger picture, God wants us to have friendships beyond this lifetime. In this perspective, we seek to be excellent friends for eternity. Excellence is the way of true and lasting friendship. But it's our choice. Let's choose excellent friends forever. YU