Aristotle's treatise on friendship is an interesting case in which a great thinker corrects his "philosophy" thanks to the wealth and beauty of personal experiences. The basic direction of Aristotle's philosophy is clearly intellectual; let us recall that he declares the intellect to be the supreme human faculty; even though he pays some attention to the will, but he leaves little room for the heart, and affective responses. In this he widely differs from Plato who calls love "the greatest of heaven's blessings". (Phaedrus) Can't we infer that Aristotle having tasted the sweetness of a great friendship, and because friendship implies selflessness, realized that there was a serious discrepancy between his philosophy and deep human experiences and tried in some indirect fashion to correct it? He must have realized to a certain extent that his eudemonism was not doing justice to some very crucial facets of human experiences. If happiness is indeed the greatest good, it inevitably means that whatever relates to my personal advantage should be given top priority. He who truly loves knows that it is not the case. Love is sharing: he who refuses to share disqualifies himself as a friend. This is expressed in Spanish proverbs: "esta es tu casa" are the words uttered when a friend pays one a visit. And another, is equally expressive: "El amigo que no presta y el cuchillo que no corta, que se pierdan, poco importa". He who lends lovingly rejoices in doing so conscious that it is a privilege to be given a chance of proving that one truly loves one's friend. That some abuse of other's people kindness is to their own loss. Assuming that they have "made a deal" they are actually depriving themselves of the sweet debt of gratitude. Blessed are the grateful should be added to the list of the beatitudes.
This leads me to a key perfection that characterizes both love and friendship: trust. This word is a gem and sheds light on the deepest human experiences. " I believe" is an act of trust. No human relationship, be it love or friendship, can survive if the "trust" that one had given to another person, is sapped and ultimately destroyed. Great literature give us rich examples of both "treason" and admirable acts of the victory of trust over the "temptation" to mistrust another person.
How could one of the greatest literary genius of all times, Shakespeare, omit to dedicate some of his great tragedies to this crucial question in human relationships. In the narrow frame of this article, I shall only briefly refer to two of his tragedies: Othello and Cymbeline. In both of them, a husband is sorely tried, because he is the victim of vicious intrigues aiming that destroying him by making him doubt of the faithfulness of wife. The better known is Othello which begins by giving us insights into his deep and reciprocated love to Desdemona. But alas, his genuine love for this lovely female creature is not safely doubled by trust: that is to say, for whatever reason, he is accessible to calumnies. It is difficult for us to "forgive" him because the intimations that the vicious Iago brings against her (her pleading for Cassio's forgiveness) and the handkerchief is found in his quarters, taken in and by themselves are not "proofs" of her unfaithfulness. She on her side is naïve: it does not occur to her wildest imagination that her pleading might be interpreted as motivated to her love for Cassio, and that the fact that a shawl is found is, once again in no way a "proof". The faults is to be found in Othello; he is the guilty one because of his lack of trust. How many of us, alas, lose faith in God because of some trial that he sends us. On the supernatural plane, we hear some people say: "How can one believe in the goodness of someone who permits that we have to carry a cross?" Once his trust in her truthfulness and purity is cracked, inevitably one thought will lead to another, until he reaches a stage of rage that leads him to accuse the innocent and lovely Desdemona to be a slut and worse. We know the tragic end.
It is difficult for the reader to "forgive" him. A similar situation arises in Cymbeline: once again the we have a similar scenario; a great love. A tragic situations separates husband and wife, who, heartbroken, promise one another faithfulness unto death. Once again, we have the scenario of a vicious and despicable character aiming that breaking the heart of the husband, by giving him "proofs" of the treason of his wife. But in this case, Iacomo – a match for Iago in viciousness – sets a more refined trap: not only does he manage to steal Imogen's bracelet – a gage of his love for her from which she has solemnly promised never to part, and moreover, having managed to hide in her bedroom, he is given a chance, when she slightly uncovers herself in her sleep, that she has a small mark on her breast. Iacomo's proofs are truly "convincing" : what else is needed to prove that he has slept with her? How many husbands under such circumstances would still refuse to mistrust the faithfulness of their wife? Alas, Posthumus is human and believes that his sweet Imogen has betrayed him. We are relieved that the end does not duplicate the one just alluded to in Othello. But these two tragedies challenge us to try to shed more light on the crucial element of trust in love and in friendship.
If a friend starts doubting a friendship without the slightest proof, but does so on mere appearances that the friend has not even been informed of, this is a sad indication that the doubting friend is sinning against the genius of friendship. In other words, if one suspects a friend, and someone with whom the bonds of friendship has deep roots in the past, who have acted or made decisions that are not understood, surprising or wounding to his friend, the first step that friendship dictates him to give him a face to face explanation: He should be told lovingly: "You have done so and so, you have said so and so, you have failed to do so and so, this has upset me deeply, because it seems to be an offense against the precious gift of our friendship. Do me the favor to explain a conduct which, to me, is incomprehensible, and strikes me as incompatible with our friendship. I give you the credit that there is a misunderstanding, and beg me to enlighten me."
This being done, the friend is given an opportunity of shedding light on a particular decision that he has made, and grant him a chance to prove that neither is this decision an offense against this precious friendship, nor even a reason to doubt it.
Not to give the friend this chance, will, I fear, strike us as a serious offense against friendship: it is shutting a door, without even listening to the plea of the one who is knocking. There are cases in which friends disagree when facing a sensitive and delicate human situation; but we should always keep in mind that in human life is complex. It is conceivable that two very wise spiritual directors give different advice to someone going to them for help and advice. When a pope makes a prudential judgment, history tells us that sometimes it is wise, sometimes it is unfortunate. In such cases the future will enlighten us, but unless we have reasons to believe that this particularly successor of Peter is, alas, someone betraying his mission, we should give him credit that his intentions were well meant even if unfortunate or imprudent.
In his great book on love which my husband considered to be his opus magnum together with Transformation in Christ, one of his most beautiful contributions is to my mind what he calls repeatedly "credit of love", that is a lover or a true friend will give the other credit, even though his acts or decisions clash with our own. Alas, there are cases in human life when one can duplicate the words of the Gospel; "You of little faith".
Aristotle was right; friendship should be included in an ethics, for it implies TRUST, forgiving, repentance, and humility. Friendship is a precious gift that should be kept in a jewelry box.