035 - On Like Minds - Moral Letters for Modern Times
I am a constant cheerleader for you to be devoted to your studies, and you see me on the sidelines always urging you on. I want to see you win your self-possession, because I will be the winner as a result. This is because a friend is not always your friend, while a true friend will be true to you. “But,” you ask, “aren’t you speaking in riddles?” What most people seek out for friends, Deuteros, are those who make them feel good. When such companions hold up a mirror to you, it shows no flaws, only virtues.
If in your self-reflection you see only perfection, you are not prompted to move or improve. Bad habits are left in place, and flaws are politely ignored like a fart in a crowded elevator. Let others stink in silence if this is what their friendship brings you.
Now a true friend will not flinch from the whip hand or shy away from dirty work. They do not avert their gaze from ugly truths. Having looked upon a flaw, they take the further step of exposing it to your view. A friend who risks your ire by looking you straight in the eye is a treasure beyond price! They make themselves uncomfortable so that you may have a compass to correct your direction. The coward looks on and says all is good; it is the hero who says your ship is veering off course. Watch carefully your instinct to reward the first one and punish the second.
I want you to be a true friend so I get the benefit of all the lessons I have lavished upon you. Though you owe a debt to no one but yourself, for my tuition is given freely, still do I wish to be the beneficiary of your progress. How will you know if you are making progress? Here are some signs: if you can more easily recognize the difference between needs and wants; if you can feel your desire for wants diminish daily; if you spend more time being thankful for what you have than in distress about what you do not have; if you do not look externally for your satisfaction but find and nurture its source within.
When your mind is well-ordered, and we are of like minds, our efforts do not cease but rather turn to more profitable pursuits. The learner is like a drowning swimmer, whose head only breaks the surface when pulled up by the teacher. You gasp great lungfuls of air but are soon submerged again without the helping hand. But when you have learned to keep your head above water, both you and the teacher can safely swim to shore under your own power.