Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Friendship. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

Adidas are running an advertising campaign featuring pictures of prominent Rugby players. Covered head to toe in ink, they hurled themselves at a canvas to produce an ink-spattered portrait. The pictures represent the power that is launched against an opponent in these top class international encounters. “We named the campaign Respect”, said the marketing director, “because its theme is ‘the more you respect them, the harder you hit them”.

Respect is an essential component in friendship and it’s good if it is also part of our family relationships. Similarly, the willingness to speak the truth to each other is a sign of intimacy and trust between those who care for each other. Yet sometimes we hold back from being really honest. This may be appropriate but it can also be because we fear the effect on our relationship, because we don’t want to hurt or because the reaction might be anger.

St Paul wrote about the need to “speak the truth in love”. Sometimes to do so is to offer praise and encouragement. Sometimes it will mean challenging or uncomfortable words. If we really respect those we are fond of, and the timing is right, “hitting them hard” could be a very loving thing to do.

Muschi, a cat, and Maeuschen, an Asiatic black bear, are reunited at last. A friendship that formed three years ago when Muschi crept into Maeuschen’s enclosure at Berlin Zoo was disrupted when Maeuschen had to be temporarily relocated to a cage while her living space was enlarged. Muschi, missing their shared meals of raw meat, dead mice, fruit and bread and their sunbathing, searched out her friend and sat meowing outside the cage until now, finally, the keepers have relented and they are together again. “Unlikely though it seems,” said a zoo spokesperson, “they are very fond of each other and it was lovely to see them cuddle when they were put together again.”

Human beings too often develop unlikely friendships. Many warm relationships are based on common interests or complementary personalities but others are more puzzling. The outside observer finds it difficult to identify what two people see in each other. It may be partially physical attraction or similar experiences earlier in life but ultimately it remains a mystery.

As we meet with our friends, perhaps over this weekend, let’s celebrate the delights of friendship and particularly of those where even we as participants can’t rationally explain the attraction.

1963To Jacqueline Kennedy, the heated discussion about how and why her husband was assassinated must have seemed irrelevant. He was dead. “If only I had a minute to say goodbye,” she told a Catholic priest whom Robert Kennedy had asked to offer support to the grieving widow.

Now this and other reactions of Mrs Kennedy are to be published in a book by a journalist who was given access by the priest to his diary of their conversations. Highly personal thoughts are divulged such as whether she would join her husband if she were to commit suicide or whether God would keep them apart .

Many people talk frankly and revealingly to those close to them, particularly in times of stress or grief. They assume that what they say in those moments of frankness will be kept private and confidential. Let’s today be grateful for times when we have been able to unburden ourselves to another, in complete trust that what we say will be kept private; and accept with joy and with full responsibility the privelege of listening to the troubled thoughts of our friends and confidants.

The process of giving someone the sack is no fun, not for either party. A newspaper article about this told of one person who was “spoken to” by her boss in such a roundabout way that she came out of the room thinking she’d been given a rise. In another example, a panel of bosses seemed to have decided to explain everything before issuing the coup de grace. They took turns to speak. As sentence followed sentence, like incompetent executioners, they hacked away until the poor employee literally ran out of the building.

It is frequently more caring to come straight out with it than to beat about the bush. This is true in personal relationships as well as in work situations. Where what we say could cause embarrassment, disappointment, a feeling of being rejected, or anger, we can choose our words so carefully in an attempt to soften the blow that we make the situation worse.

Sometimes it’s not appropriate to be too direct. But today we could watch for occasions when clarity and straightforwardness are best. What we need to say can still be said lovingly and plain speaking could avoid a lot of confusion and unnecessary pain.