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How to Recognize a Friend: A Deep Gaze into the Face of Friendship

Posted on January 1, 2021 at 4:37 am.  Written by Editorial Team

How to Recognize a Friend: A Deep Gaze into the Face of Friendship | Friend Lamps

January 01, 2021 13 min read

Friendship, the only truly unsinkable ship in the world! 2020 is nearly gone and we await the embrace of 2021 with all the eagerness and enthusiasm of meeting a best friend after a long period of separation. But do we actually know who our friends are? Nope, not the hundreds of "Friends" that Facebook says you have. I mean real friends. The kind you can pour your heart out to without fear of recrimination or destructive criticism; the kind you can lean on when things aren't going your way; the kind you want to talk to even when you have nothing to say. Most of us think we know who our friends are, and we may be right some of the time. The problem is, too many people take on the guise of a friend but, underneath, they're still wolves waiting for the right opportunity to take away something precious from you. Either that or they're just whiling away their time in your company and you think that makes them a friend. So, how can we identify or recognize a friend? Is there a set of guidelines to measure someone against? Thankfully, there is. And it's not a random or theoretical set of criteria a person must meet in order to be labeled 'a friend.' It has been defined over several millennia of true friendships across civilizations throughout human history. It has been defined not just by human friendships but also iconic acts of friendship by animals through time. Man's best friend, and all that. And it has seen myriad forms of unlikely - and, at times, unsavory - partnerships throughout our past. Sometimes evil, and sometimes just bizarre. Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring. Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. Milo the Dog and Bonedigger the Lion. Err...Umm...yeah. As you can see, friendships come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes four legs apiece! In this article, we'll attempt to distill the common elements that brought these and other friend-couples together.

How to Recognize a Real Friend - A True Friend

There are some common threads that run through all friendships. Variations about, naturally, but these are the general characteristics of someone you would typically call 'a friend.'
  • Keeping it real

Friends will always keep it real, even if it hurts. This is different from being honest in order to deliberately harm someone, so watch out for that distinction. Sometimes, a so-called friend will be honest with you to gain your favor but has an ulterior motive. In this context, you can consider someone to be a friend or to be acting in a friendly manner if they always tell you the truth, even if it hurts them or ends up pushing you away from them. That's one of the most important aspects of friendship, and one you can accurately use to gauge a person's intentions. Again, beware of those bearing false gifts. Sometimes, people tell you the truth because they have something to gain from it - either by getting you to turn on someone else or just to hurt you and bring you pain. That's no friend, although they might resemble one.
  • Forgiveness

They say that a friend will forgive you for anything. While that's undoubtedly true, it's not always an instantaneous and knee-jerk reaction. A friend will always forgive in the long run, but not always at once. There will most certainly be a moment of thought before they forgive you. That moment might last exactly that long - a moment - or it might last for years in some cases. It depends on the transgression itself, as well as your intentions behind it. And there's a reason it takes time: it's because they are not just contemplating what you did or said, but evaluating things in the context of the friendship you share. You may not be aware of it, but they're actually trying to figure out whether they still want to be your friend. If they ultimately forgive you, they do. What you need to be wary of is a "friend" that's always ready with a generous helping of forgiveness but harbors resentment for years to come. That's not a real friendship. A real friend might not forgive you right away, but that only shows that they value their relationship with you and are trying to work out if they want to keep it intact, and how to do it without compromising their own values.
  • Our motivators, a.k.a. engines for personal growth

They say that true motivation can only come from within. I only half-agree. I believe that motivation is merely the effect of internal or external stimulation. When it comes externally, it can most certainly - and usually does - come from a friend. Of course, there are also other positive as well as negative stimuli that can spur us into action, but a friend is a person who consistently provides that stimulus in a positive way. What makes this type of motivation different is that they're not just the stimulus. They are also ready to provide the fuel for us to change, in the form of encouragement and even sacrifice. If someone says to you, "Hey buddy, you need to lose some weight this year. Let's get up at 6 am and go running every day before you get to work," you know you've found a friend. That's encouragement and sacrifice, and that should act as a powerful motivating factor for you. I urge you to value that kind of friendship like nothing else because they're willing to put their effort into your goals.
  • Our defenders

When we're not there to defend ourselves from slanderous talks, our friends step in for us instead of going with the flow or keeping silent. They will fight for our honor even if we're unaware of it, and they won't brag about it later. They are simply fulfilling the obligations of friendship. And they'll do it even when you're there to defend yourself. How many times have you heard your best friend tell your accuser, "No, she's not like that at all. I know her" even when you're standing right there? They'll also give you a quick glance of assurance that they have your back and they'll take care of the 'situation.'
  • Our promoters

Friends are not just our defenders. They are also the ones to push us into the spotlight when they think we deserve it. And they don't do it to look good in front of you. They do it because they genuinely want you to shine. Mind you, though, a true friend will only do this if YOU have something to gain from it. On the other hand, there's flattery. "Friends who flatter" because it costs them nothing and gets them something (usually from you) are no friends at all. Beware of these false friends who only do it from an opportunistic point of view. It's nice when someone says good things about us, but is there a hidden agenda? A true friend is always in our corner, fighting for us even when life hands us a knockout punch and we're not sure we'll ever be able to get up again. The kindest and most valuable thing a friend can do is to promote us to us when we're at our lowest point. While they can certainly help motivate us through their encouragement, this is when they become our lifeline as we flounder or wallow in self-pity. It is then that they become more than mere motivators. They recharge our near-dead batteries and ready us for the fight ahead.
  • Respect and sensitivity

Do you know why some couples stay friends throughout their married lives? In one word: respect. They respect each other as individuals and they never take each other for granted, as many couples are wont to do. And this can only come from a place of self-respect and valuing their own individuality. That's where it starts. A good friend, therefore, is potentially someone with a lot of self-respect. It is the only way you can show genuine respect to another person. All other forms of respect are merely societal obligations from the hierarchies we've internalized - respect for elders, respect for superiors, respect for our peers, and, to a great degree, even respect for women. True respect can only come from within. If you respect yourself, you'll afford that same courtesy to others in your circle of influence. Moreover, respect is always a two-way street - when it's genuine. In other words, true respect begets true respect.The question is, are you respectful of those you consider to be your friends? If not, can you change by making that a resolution for 2021?

Learn about Friendship Lamps and how they can help you stay connected with your closest friends, no matter where in the world they may be!


  • Judgment and... stuff

They say that friends are supposed to be non-judgmental. I completely disagree because we understand it in the wrong context. Friends are supposed to be the litmus tests of your character. By definition, therefore, they should judge you by your actions and words. But it doesn't end there. Non-judgmental in this context means accepting you as you are. On the contrary, friends should most definitely be judgmental when it comes to steering you straight. If a friend helps you commit a crime, is that a real friend? I would hope not. A friend would do everything in her power to prevent that from happening. She should be the first one to call you out for a transgression. If she turns you in or "rats" on you, she's a friend. A friend is not the person willing to hide your misdeeds and keep going like nothing happened. That's not an easy concept to understand or digest because we've all been tuned to think a friend won't snitch on us and will remain loyal to us no matter what. The truth is, it's the job of a friend to make sure that the "no matter what" doesn't involve hurting ourselves or someone else. The other side of that coin is this: if your intentions are true, a real friend will do whatever it takes to make it happen - even if it ends up hurting them! At the risk of being controversial, let me give you an example. I'll ask you this: Did Judas act as a friend or an enemy to Jesus? Most people vilify him as "an antichrist of the worst kind," and that has been the belief of hundreds of millions of people for two millennia. But, consider this: According to the lost Gospel of Judas, which was found, restored, authenticated, translated, and finally unveiled at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 6, 2006, Judas is believed to have acted at Jesus' behest when betraying him (emphasis mine):
It goes on to describe Judas as Jesus' closest friend, someone who understands Christ's true message and is singled out for special status among Jesus' disciples. In the key passage Jesus tells Judas, "'you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.'" Kasser, the translation-project leader, offers an interpretation: "Jesus says it is necessary for someone to free him finally from his human body, and he prefers that this liberation be done by a friend rather than by an enemy. "So he asks Judas, who is his friend, to sell him out, to betray him. It's treason to the general public, but between Jesus and Judas it's not treachery." The newfound account challenges one of the most firmly rooted beliefs in Christian tradition.
Imagine that! Something so misunderstood for so many centuries! Judas was asked to do an impossible task by Jesus, and the only reason he did it was that he valued Jesus' friendship and held it above all else. He did not question Jesus' intentions because he knew they were pure and for a good reason, even if Judas himself couldn't understand it at the time; rather, he took it upon himself to bear the hatred of millions to follow, for so long, all because he resisted passing judgment on his closest - and possibly only - friend, in whom he believed. Whether or not we believe in the Gospel of Judas and its authenticity is immaterial; what it signifies is unassailable - that a friend will not question or judge you when they know that your intentions are true.
  • Joy and sadness

Another very important aspect of friendship is a person's willingness to share in our joy as well as our sorrow. In other words, will they stay by your side through thick and thin? In sickness and in health? For richer or poorer? Do those words sound like marriage vows? Well, they most certainly are because marriage is simply a way of saying that you promise to be friends for life. BFFs in the real - and legally binding - sense. Why should it be any different between friends? The real test of friendship, though, is when you're going through bad times. That's when your "fairweather friends" will melt away into the dimming light. The only ones left will be those that will hold your hand and not let go until you see the light again. I'll admit it's not easy being that kind of friend, which is why real friendships are few and far between. Of the hundreds of Facebook friends most of us boast, only one, two, or three can be counted on. The question is, do you know who they are? They might be family members, acquaintances you've lost touch with, or even former adversaries. Anyone with more than one or two people who fall into this category should consider themselves extremely lucky. Friendships like this only come along a handful of times in our lives, and if we don't do everything in our power to hold on to them for dear life, we're doing ourselves - and them - a disservice. On the positive side of things, friends not only share in our joy but help enhance it in numerous ways. They help us see the brighter side of things; they are a joy to be around because they emanate positivity; they bring out the best in us at all times; they are always eager to see us, even if we just saw them this morning! In other words, friends make us happy, keep us happy, and want us to be happy.

Learn about Friendship Lamps and how they can help you stay connected with your closest friends, no matter where in the world they may be!


  • Trust

Trust takes many forms. For instance, the ability to keep a secret is one kind of trust. Another is the ability to rely on their word - if they say they'll do something, they will. A third type is based on their willingness to be honest with you no matter the consequences. When combined, trust is a powerful bond that brings people closer together as little else can. This is the trust between true friends, and it's not easy to come by because trust is something you build from scratch. Think of it as an investment. The more you put into it, the stronger the foundation on which trust can grow. The trust you get back will be exponentially disproportionate to the amount you put in, which makes it relatively easy to build. That's the good part. The bad part is that trust, once broken, is almost impossible to repair. It takes years to rebuild, and it's never the same again. To build trust, you need to make small but frequent deposits. It's hard to build trust in a short amount of time. That doesn't mean it's impossible; it just means it's rare for that to happen. Trust is usually built fast in a crisis situation, where trusting someone could be the difference between life and death. Like a tourist trusting a mountain guide during an avalanche. The trust here needs to come fast because an element of immediacy is added into the mix. In general, however, trust is built over a much longer period, patiently, one brick at a time. This is how trust is built between friends. The little deposits you make are you keeping your word, you being on time, you being reliable, dependable, and all that. Then, when you need it the most, you can make a withdrawal. Most of us are aware that trust is also essential to the normal functioning of society and civilization itself. But that's actually faith rather than trust. There's a subtle difference between the two, though, in that faith is based on what others believe to be true and you accepting that fact. For instance, if you get on a flight from Point A to Point B, faith tells you that you're going to reach your destination safely. That's because you have faith in the airline system - that the aircraft is in good working order, that qualified technicians have worked on it, that the pilot is licensed by a recognized authority, and so on. But that faith is easily broken when any of those assumptions are brought into question. Imagine learning - at 30,000 feet up - that this is the pilot's first solo flight and his co-pilot is a chimpanzee. Can you see your faith plummeting to the earth as you fervently pray that you, yourself, won't? On the other hand, trust comes from concrete experience. It's about having relied on someone before and them having come through. And that's what the trust element in a friendship is - the absolute knowledge that you can depend on them no matter what.

So, Who Are Your Friends - and Are YOU a True Friend?

Now that you know the topography of friendship, can you reassess your circle of influence and make a list of those who you know will qualify on all these fronts? For that matter, will YOU qualify as a true friend to anyone you know? Here's a little exercise for you...
  • Open a spreadsheet program like Excel or Numbers
  • Type "Name" in Cell A1
  • Below that, in Column A, type in the names of everyone you consider to be your friend - one per row, starting with Row 2
  • Add your name to the final row
  • Starting with the next column on the first row (Cell B1), add a header for each of the qualities discussed here - Keeping it real, Forgiveness, Motivator, Defender, Promoter, Respect and Sensitivity, Judgment, Joy and Sadness, and Trust
  • You should now have a column of names and nine additional columns next to it
  • Now, on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), rate each person on each of these attributes - be brutally honest - and enter a score in the corresponding cell
  • Do this for yourself as well, as you think a friend might perceive you
  • Total the scores in each column of Row 2 and divide by 9 to get an average (The formula should go in Cell K2 as "=sum(B2:J2)/9" without the quotes) and copy Cell K2 and paste it into all the cells below it, right down to the one against your name
  • These now represent the "Friend Score" for each person, including yourself
So, who scored the highest on your Friend Score Chart? That person will ideally be your best friend. Was the highest score shared by more than one person? You're very lucky. Remember, unless you were absolutely honest when scoring each person against all 9 qualities, you won't get the results you seek. It has to be unbiased. If you've successfully done that, you will not only know who your friends are but, more importantly, you'll know where you need to improve as a friend to them. The Friend Score helps you identify the strong and weak points of your closest relationships, giving you the opportunity to strengthen what's required. It also gives you a tremendous amount of insight into people you might have thought were your friends but ended up scoring very poorly on the Friend Score Chart; conversely, you may be shocked to find that someone you didn't pay too much attention was a true friend all along. Building a friendship takes years, so save your Friend Score Chart and update the numbers as you see each of these friendships evolving over time. I highly recommend that you do this exercise sincerely and put in the effort required to fortify your friendship circle. This is one of the most valuable treasures you will ever accrue in this life and it will live on long after you're gone.

Learn about Friendship Lamps and how they can help you stay connected with your closest friends, no matter where in the world they may be!