How character friends can help you grow in virtue
And now, onto something new.
As you put your habituation plan into practice, this week you will add another dynamic of character education, which is the cultivation of an intentional character friendship.
This section will help you understand what a character friendship is, how it is an important element in the practice of developing virtue in your character and you and your character friend will do in this intensive practice phase.
Let’s start with a great quote about friendship:
‘Friendship is a virtue, or involves virtue. Friendship is one of the most indispensable requirements of life… For no one would choose to live without friends but in possession of everything else that is good. Friends are of help to the young by protecting them from mistakes; to the elderly by looking after them and making up for their failing powers of action; to those in the prime of life, to help them in doing good things‘ [A].
Notice the last sentence: friendship is a help in doing good things. Clearly, friendships are valuable in themselves and we love our friends for their own sake, but there is also an instrumental value in friendship. The can be ‘a help…’ And that is what we will explore here.
It again was Aristotle who distinguished three types of friendships: utility friendships, pleasure friendships and virtue friendships. All are good, and all are helpful. But of the three, virtue friendship is the highest, because it serves the highest end in helping us do good things and become the kind of virtuous person we are meant to be. These are what we are calling ‘character friendships’.
David and Jonathan are a great example of this kind of friendship in the Bible, as their souls were bound together by the virtues of courage, faith and zeal for the cause of the Lord.
So what exactly is this kind of friendship?
Character friendship is a friendship between humans that is based on the reciprocal love of each other’s character and is expressed in the service of mutual character development.
So a character critical friend loves the virtue of diligence in my character, and wishes to serve and reinforce that aspect of my character so that I may be a better person. She is not trying to change me because my character is bothering her. She wants to see more of the virtue of diligence in my life for my sake, to see me flourish as a human being.
So a character friend is someone who wishes your good for your own sake. This is different from friendships that are based mostly on mutual usefulness, such as those that you might have with a colleague at work. It is also different from friendships that are mostly based on the pleasure of being together, such as those that you might have with teammates in a sport. There is nothing wrong with these other kind of friendship, but in character friendship you are looking for is someone who really cares about you becoming a better person [KK].
This leads to two cautions.
How then can you expect to grow in your character through intentionally cultivating a critical friendship?
Here are three things that can happen as you intentionally develop character friendships [KK]:
This may seem a lot, and we need to be cautious to overstate the power of character friendship in character formation. In the coming weeks you will be led to discover to what measure it can be true in your own experience.
This intensive practice plan envisions four meetings over 15 weeks with your character friend. Precise guidelines will be given in the coming weeks, but generally you will:
In the next section you will be led to identify a character friend and reach out to intentionally contract these activities over the coming weeks.