It’s official: Neighbours will return to our television screens next year after Fremantle, the Australian production company responsible for the long-running show, struck a deal with Amazon.
Now as much as I am proud of Australian film productions, and can muster enthusiasm for the amazing Amazon (despite some of their dubious work practices) I am not awestruck by the news!
So you may ask – why then am I sharing this momentous news with you? Well simply because I love the lyrics and am enamoured with the idea of good neighbours and especially good friends.
One iteration of the lyrics:
Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours
With a little understanding, you can find the perfect blend
Neighbours, should be there for one another
That’s when good neighbours become good friends..
Even though the lyrics are sentimentalised, they do convey an important element of life: our need for friendship and relationship. They touch on an essential truth of friendship which was articulated by Aristotle in his famous treatise called Nicomachean Ethics.
Friends help each other in the pursuit of virtue and, says Aristotle, guard each other’s virtue and integrity more carefully than they would each other’s property. They have true concord, because they “wish for what is just and advantageous, and seek it in common.”
In other words friends believe in one another and have shared values. This allows then to achieve a level of harmony and fundamental goodness that is well worth striving for. Aristotle identifies three levels of friendship with this being the highest one. The first two forms of friendship are based on either utility or pleasure: friends find each other pleasant, or useful, or both, and their goodwill stems from that. These kind of friendships are not necessarily enduring and even though important for everyday living they don’t express the real treasure and essence of kinship.
Friendship has always been a key and fundamental principle of Judaism. The sages saw in Abraham a man who embodied the best attributes of being a good friend. They saw it in his kindness, they saw it in the relationships he created , they saw it in his charisma and ability to draw people near to him. And they saw it in his amazing capacity to be called a friend of God.
When the storied Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai asked his disciples what the quintessence of a good life was (Avot 2:13), they each gave an outstanding answer: good friend, good neighbour, good vision, good eye, good heart . He favoured the answer of Rabbi Elazar who said a good heart, but he could have equally chosen the answer of Rabbi Joshua for the same reason. He preferred a good heart because he said it included all of the other attributes. A good friend is also surely one who has a positive attitude, a sense of vision (good eye), is capable of being a good neighbour and possesses a loving heart.
Companionship and connectedness are what characterise friendship. Maimonides who was a great admirer of Aristotle also speaks of three levels of friendship – a friendship based on utilitarian or practical sharing, one based on sharing the highs and lows of life and the third and highest level, the partnership based on a dream or the striving for a higher value. He calls this a Chaver leDeah. It’s been said that true friends not only accept you for who you are but also help you become who you should be.
You don’t need many friends, you don’t need to be a Facebook champion with hundreds of thousands of friends, you do need just one singular soul that you can trust and rely on. If you’re lucky enough you find them in a marriage partner or in that one special person. They help you, said the thinker Emerson, find the simplicity and wholeness that one discovers when one chemical atom meets another.
It’s one of life’s great challenges – to find a good friend but also to be a good friend.