From time immemorial friends were vital to human survival. However, in this new millennium the importance of friendship and perceptions about what it takes to be a friend has moved into a state of decline. When our country was new, friendship was essential to life and protection. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "The only way to have a friend is to be one." However, two hundred years later it appears that emphasis on friendship has waned.

Many people have no understanding of what constitutes a friend. Advancing communication technology and social media tools are beginning to change our perceptions of friendship. Many people become collectors of names, often tagged as “ friends” on social networking sites and other electronic communities. Ironically, we share detailed insight into our lives, our fears, our aspirations, and visions with total strangers. These days, we seem to place more importance on popularity and achievement, especially as competition for jobs and positions intensifies. Building friendship has been replaced with building connections.
Today, if we have one person in our life that we can call friend we can consider ourselves lucky.

Humans intrinsically want and need friends, but most of us either have no knowledge of how to be a friend or the ability to recognize what constitutes a true friend. So, here are five questions to ask yourself to help identify not only how you might be a better friend, but what essentials one should look for in a friend:

1. Do you genuinely like the person and does the person truly like you? Friendship requires mutual admiration and a sincere enjoyment of being together.
2. Do you share common values and interests? In other words are you like-minded? Friendships require a common set of values, or an interest that is shared.
3. Is your friendship based on trust and mutual respect? You must consider yourselves as equals in this regard, for without these two important ingredients, no real friendship can develop.
4. Is your friend truthful? A true friend is someone whom you can count on to tell you the truth—even if it hurts.
5. Would you be willing to make a sacrifice in some way if your friend needed it and vice versa?

If you can answer affirmatively to each of the above questions, you are well on your way to a rewarding and fulfilling friendship. If not, you now know areas that may need to be re-visited or strengthened in your relationship.

References and additional readings:
Klehn, Tracy (2007). Growing Friendships: Connecting More Deeply With Friends. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
Horchow, Roger & Horchow, Sally (2005). "The Art of Friendship: 70 Simple Rules for Making Meaningful Connections". NY: Quirk Packaging, St. Martin's Press.
Dobransky, Paul and Stamford, L.A. (2008). "The Power of Female Friendship: How Your Circle of Friends Shapes Your Life" NY: Penguin Group.

Author's Bio: 

Bette Lawrence-Water, M.S., CPC, is a Certified professional coach and community health advocate with more than 25 years experience in helping people and organizations reach optimum performance levels. She is recognized as an educator, leader, public speaker, and master collaborator. She embraces the philosophy that "To lead is to serve." and facilitates dynamic workshops on personal and organizational improvement, leadership development, volunteer recruitment and retention.