Last night I discussed the question, “What is a friend?” with a group of eight people with whom I have been meeting regularly. The tone is very much like my old group of Channing Club friends but more like that group was back in the 1960s. That is, this group is a little more formalized and goal directed and more like an official college discussion seminar, except that all but one of the people were age fifty and older. This particular discussion was spectacular and we all knew it. We covered the broad subject in considerable depth and many of its nuances. There were some personal stories to illustrate various subtleties. There were several of us who were or had been college-level teachers. The conversation was not so idealistic and projective as a younger group might have had because of our age. We all had considerable real-world experience and were willing to share it with each other. There is no way I can recreate the depth and flow of the conversation and I can remember only a few specifics.
A friend is someone with whom you have a special bond and it is that bond which defines the difference between a friend and someone with whom you have a business relationship. With a marketplace relationship you are expected to be honest, but with a friend you have a relationship which is better described with the word integrity. Honesty implies that you will obey the laws and generally accepted rules of behavior expected in an economic transaction. Integrity is a little different and it implies that you will do the right thing, relative to the other person, because it is the right thing to do regardless of the economics or the subtle details of legality. Friends are more like family, but the relationship is based on personal understanding and affection rather than genetic responsibilities. Friends have some common interest and they usually have a similar set of age- and social status-based experiences and common history of activities performed together. There are other types of friends where they may be very different on most usual binding interests, but in that case there is probably a single very special thing which both have a deep interest in.