A Man's Head, Van Dyck

“For a friend, if he is sympathetic, is a consolation both by his countenance and his words, as he knows our feelings and what grieves and comforts us.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics IX

The ‘if’ clause is important. Not all the people we call friends are really sympathetic.

What grieves me and what comforts me are evident to me. These things are not evident to others. Only those who make an effort, will really see what grieves and comforts us. When a friend actually does, this is a great gift. In times of sorrow especially, so much is in his face, even without his saying anything. Like a healing salve, a friend is truly present through that face: whether in cherished memory, or in the flesh.

But then come the words; perhaps a few, perhaps a number, but always well-measured, springing from the root of compassion–a suffering-with-me. A friend knows what to say, as a way to buoy and be with me.

And to think that I can do this for others, in turn. May I live in such a way that my own countenance and words can be a consolation to those I hold dear.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his main moral treatise.

Image: Anthony van Dyck

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