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Updated: December 18, 2010 16:07 IST

Hoops of steel

Vijay Nagaswami
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Friends: Making it all worthwhile... Photo: R. Ragu
Friends: Making it all worthwhile... Photo: R. Ragu

Friendships play a crucial role in our lives today. Some sound advice on how to keep them well configured…

William Shakespeare is an annoying man. From the writer's point of view, he has cornered all the good plots and left only the dregs for others. Also, he has cornered all the good lines and, with remarkable foresight and anticipation, his extraordinary soliloquies contain some of the soundest advice on how to conduct human relationships. Take his play, “Hamlet”, for instance. In Act I, Scene III, aside of offering a road map to a young man on the threshold of life, Polonius' advice to his son Laertes packs in considerable wisdom on the subject of friendships. Even though Polonius' judgement and advice through the play was generally way off base, prompting Hamlet to think of him as a ‘ tedious old fool', the old counsellor's words on friendship are, as we will see, spot on. Friends play multiple roles in modern adult life and well configured friendships serve our recreational, emotional as well as companionship needs. But to make them all-weather instead of only fair-weather, we need to invest some time and energy in them, as Polonius obviously realised.

Emotional investment

Perhaps, the most important piece of advice that he gives us is Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar/ The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried/ Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel. Once you have established in your mind the worth of somebody as a friend, you need to make an emotional commitment to them. For, as long as friendship is seen only as an optional add-on to your life, your friendships will always remain acquaintanceships and commonplace (vulgar). But if you ‘grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel', you will invest the emotion of love in your friendships and it is this that will stabilise your friendship even through hard times. And as you invest your emotions in a friend, you start exposing more of yourself (familiar), thereby encouraging your friend to do the same.

Recognising that conflicts are inevitable in friendships, he adds, ....Beware/ Of entrance to a quarrel, but, being in/ Bear 't that th' opposed may beware of thee. When two adult identities attempt to get close to one another, differences of opinions and differing levels of sensitivity are bound to create situations of misunderstanding, hurt and conflict. The only way these can be resolved is by understanding that they are inevitable and need to be dealt with. When we do attempt to resolve these differences, friendships can become deeper. Try and prevent the quarrel to the extent you can, but if it's inevitable, don't pull your punches even if your friend does so. Be able to say whatever it is you feel, for if you don't do this, your side of the story may never be seen or heard. The best resolution of a problem takes place when both have had an opportunity to express what they feel and finally, through a rational process, reach a conclusion on how to move forward.

Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice/ Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment. Although in friendships it is as important to share as it is to listen, many of us have a severe handicap when it comes to listening to what our friends tell us, especially when we receive unsolicited advice. I have found that even if such advice is a bit annoying, taking it on board will help at some time or the other. When your friend tells you something, it could well be worth listening, provided you do so without passing judgement on the adviser.

Traps to avoid

Neither a borrower, nor a lender be/ For loan oft loses both itself and friend/ And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. I have seen innumerable friendships coming under severe strain and even collapsing under the burden of financial transactions gone awry. We all go through financial stresses in the course of our lives and our friends are bound to help us through these just as we would be more than willing to return the favour when it becomes necessary. However, it is our attitude to such financial transactions that will determine their impact on the friendship. If we take these for granted and are lax about repayments and so on, we are putting the friendship under pressure. However, if we remember Polonius' words and treat the transaction seriously, then the loan need lose neither itself, nor friend. As a rule of Polonius' thumb: the fewer the financial transactions, the fewer the frictions in friendships.

And finally, This above all: to thine own self be true/ And it must follow, as the night the day/ Thou canst not then be false to any man. For as long as you are honest to yourself, then it's easy to not be pretentious in your friendships. Then, nobody can misunderstand you or take you for something you are not. Good friends value each other enough to be their respective selves in each others' presence. Aside of making for honest relationships, this attitude ensures stress-free friendships as well. He may have rambled a bit and been a ‘tedious old fool', but old Polonius knew a thing or two about friendships, don't you think?

The writer is the author of The Fifty-50 Marriage: Return to Intimacy and can be contacted at: vijay.nagaswami@gmail.com.

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