Back in July, we commented on a National Catholic Register article that featured the friendship of Fathers Bill Watson and Robert Spitzer.

In our post we described how their relationship exemplified C.S. Lewis’ second type of love in his book, The Four Loves. Aristotle also wrote extensively on friendship, most notably in chapter VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics, in which he categorized friendship into three main types:

  1. Friendships of Utility
  2. Friendships of Pleasure
  3. Friendships of Virtue or Goodness

You can probably predict that Aristotle saw the greatest value in the friendship of virtue, but that doesn’t mean the other two are inherently wrong, shallow, or evil. You can be thankful for all of the friendships in your life, regardless of which category they fall under. Each type of friendship, if understood properly and lived accordingly, can be good and worth thanking God for, especially during the upcoming holiday season. Let’s take a closer look at each of the three. We’ll start with pleasure.

Pleasure

This type of friendship is relatively easy to foster since it lacks a certain depth. It’s fun to have a group of 10 or 20 friends over for a superbowl party but attempting to have a deep and meaningful conversation during the game would be ill advised. Still, friendships of pleasure provide a much-needed breather from the oftentimes stressful responsibilities of life, and they allow you to connect with neighbors or community members for a light-hearted time of eating, dancing, or team-cheering. We are social beings by nature with emotional needs that must be addressed if we are to thrive (and not just survive).

Utility

As part of a team, company, or project, utility friendships are essential. Friendships of utility help you look beyond yourself and rely on others, especially when you recognize that a shared goal may suffer without mutual cooperation. The time spent fostering or maintaining these relationships is not deceitful, because you are not “using” these people solely for your own objectives. You are coming together as social beings, knowing that both of you will benefit from this type of friendship.

For example, people working in an office environment may hold regular meetings to develop strategy, compare data, and learn new skills. These interactions bolster communication and foster a spirit of camaraderie, service, and interdependence. They challenge individual team members to grow, change, and relate to people with different ideas and worldviews.

Virtue

A virtuous friendship is the close relationship usually between two individuals (such as a husband and wife or two life-long friends) which knows a depth that the other types of friendships do not. The two parties are interested in bettering themselves and each other as human beings. It’s having the closeness to be able to call someone out who is about to make a morally wrong decision, or the willingness to accept another’s advice if they were to tell you the same. You challenge each other to excellence on every plane: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual. These friendships are hard to come by, which is part of what makes them worth their weight in gold, and definitely part of why you should be thankful if you are blessed enough to have one in your life.

A Thanksgiving Reflection on the Three Types of Friendship

As Thanksgiving approaches take some time over the next week to reflect on your friendships, and then:

Give thanks for your friendships of pleasure for their ability to refresh and rejuvenate your spirit.

Give thanks for your friendships of utility because of the opportunities that they provide to think and act in accord with something bigger than yourself.

Be most thankful for your friendships of virtue. These are the friendships that you will carry into eternity.

This Thanksgiving, be grateful for the gift of friendship.

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