So what makes a friend a friend?

Posted by on Feb 4, 2014 in Perspectives, Reviews | 3 Comments
So what makes a friend a friend?


This has been on my mind a lot lately.   All of a sudden, people from both my distant and not so distant past are popping up.  There is a re-connection somehow.   Do you need to see a friend regularly to call them a friend?   A visit to the Rupertinium Gallery bang right in the middle of old 14th Century Salzburg might hold part of the answer.  Last Friday I popped in there with a ‘friend’ to check out the current exhibition.    It’s titled ‘Through thick and thin’ – true friends accept us and love us just as we are.

If its purpose is to stimulate our thinking and have meaningful conversations with others about exactly ‘what is a friend’ then the exhibition surely does that.  We all have notions of what a ‘best friend’ might be – someone who is there for you through thick and thin and you can count on no matter what.  However, I can see that friendship and therefore what could also be classified as ‘being a friend’ goes much beyond that.

fingerfriends2_edited-1Reunions of school friends, work colleagues and the like let you reconnect with people you share a history or an experience with.  Somehow we have touched each others’ lives in a way that makes us want to keep that connection alive.  Whilst we may not see each other for a long period of time – I know that for me – I’d still be there if any of my old friends needed my help and would be happy to do that as best I can.  Ponder the words of one of my favourite 1970’s songs ‘You’ve Got a Friend‘ sung here by James Taylor.

That made me wonder about friends and connections on facebook or linkedin too.  As  my connections are all people who have crossed my life path and contributed in one way or another to who I am today – I consider them all friends.

That then begs the question – might we extend our concept of friendship even further than that?  In Scotland, we often address others with the word ‘pal’.  It is not uncommon to address a total stranger with the phrase ‘How’s it going pal?’   It is a way to open up to a stranger and connect with them.   Is a ‘pal’ and ‘friend’ the same thing?

On my recent trip to India – our driver enthusiastically told us about the 1,000 people who attended his wedding.  Basically his whole village and extended family.  For him – these people are all his friends and therefore natural to invite to share in the joy of his special day.  Just as he would in there’s.

New Year celebrations around the world often include Scotland’s Robert Burns song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ …. ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind’ invites us to reflect on longstanding friendship – people in our hearts and not in our presence right now.  With both friends and strangers we gladly offer …..  ‘there’s a hand my trusty friend – And give thee a hand o’ thine’  extending kindness to those sharing the moment.

As I travelled around the world – I have met many total strangers who greeted me with kindness, consideration and unexpected hospitality.  For sure I would call them ‘friends’ too.

true friends can tell each other anything

true friends can tell each other anything

Maybe there are degrees of friendship.  A continuum with our closest friends at one end and ultimately all people at the other.  Dancing along this continuum, friendship might be considered an art where we shift and weave our understanding of the notions of what a friend is and what it means to be one.

What does it mean for you?  And like the exhibition in Salzburg – how would you discuss it with children or young people in a way to open their minds to the infinite possibilities friends and friendship can bring to the world?  A great theme for a picture.

About the Author

shirley in studioShirley Smith is the artist behind

Creating paintings that inspire happy thoughts








  1. Eleanor
    February 4, 2014

    I enjoyed your blog Shirley and interestingly enough I was talking to someone only this morning about friends. I told him that in the 70s I used to work in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Thanks to Facebook I have found friends from that era and we have been chatting away like there was no 30 year plus gap and even met one of them in Glasgow last year. If it wasn’t for Facebook I doubt I would ever have found them.

    We are also a good example of meeting again through Linkedin – I think it was. What would we do without the internet to keep communication alive. I always loved to receive a handwritten letter. When was the last time any of us ever received one? Maybe a wee note at Christmas, birthday or the death of a loved one.

    We are living in a society where there’s no such thing as goodbye unless that’s a choice we wish to make.

    Mobile phones are constantly beeping texts, calls etc but when was the last time your landline actually rang? Very rarely these days.

    Take care and am sure we’ll be in touch real soon.

    • Shirley Smith
      February 4, 2014

      Thank you so much Eleanor for leaving a comment. You are so right that social media has made possible reconnecting and keeping in touch with friends old and new that much easier – especially with people in other countries or different time zones. 99% of the time when people pop up or get in touch with social media I instantly have some kind of happy memory about them. Food for the soul!

  2. Shirley Smith
    February 5, 2014

    Isn’t that strange Margaret …. you are spot on – you were in my thoughts …. et voila …. thoughts are very powerful things – much more than most realise. When you think on friends – do you have inspiring & happy thoughts and somehow feel uplifted? The sun is shining on the snow here today – perfect light for painting so I am off upstairs now to the studio space. Oh the joy!

    Thank you for sharing the blog – being new to blogging – it matters a great deal to me that you feel inspired to connect with your old friends after reading this blog. We never really know what effect we
    have on others – do we? – if we think positive thoughts maybe the effect is also positive – who knows?


Leave a Reply