Being a Brutal Friend

Recently on The Cale Clarke Show, Cale took a look at an article by James Mumford of Comment magazine called “Find Brutal Friends”. The subtitle to the article reads “Is friendship about affirmation and non-judgmentalism or challenge and truth-telling?”

Mumford began by explaining exactly what he means, saying that there are few things as difficult as being a true and honest friend. Oftentimes, it’s much easier to play ignorant and go along with your peers in the name of tolerance and affirmation. But in the end, he says, the only people who will become truly good friends are the people prepared to lose friends.

Modern culture would tell us that a true friend is someone who can help us achieve our goals –goals that we have chosen – and is willing to put aside their own values, principles, and goods in order to support us.

“According to one self-help writer, friends ‘are the ones who know the best ways to convert our weakness into strength so that we can achieve our goals,’” wrote Mumford. “Now this picture of friendship is attractive, compelling, and widespread. It’s also completely flawed.”

Why? Because that type of friendship is predicated on the idea that we as human beings are capable of determining what our own “good” is. It’s derivative of relativism and it’s founded in pride. By this very idea, one friend expects the other to do what the one deems to be true and good and right. If the other disagrees or does not support them, they are a “bad friend” by the culture’s standards.

Mumford also brought up the problem of “defective desires.” For years, Mumford himself was a workaholic. He was obsessed with his job, refusing to take a day off, even Christmas. In hindsight, the dysfunction is obvious to him. He neglected the other responsibilities in his life and this lifestyle was unhealthy for him. But at the time, he thought it was what would be good for him and make him happy.

Too often, our friends fall prey to the same vice. So, as their friend, are we going to affirm their misguided and dysfunctional desires? Or are we going to buck the trend of “tolerance” and tell them the truth? Alcoholism, drug abuse, self-harm, promiscuity, immodesty, and criminal behavior are all the result of apathetic friends willing to go along with what we want at the time. But we know very well that these are not helping us achieve our goals, our purpose, or the good. Rather, they’re symptoms of our own deep-seated issues.

Philosopher Henry Sidgwick suggested that we only help our friends attain what they say they want if we believe that they have sufficiently and accurately envisioned what it will be like when they attain it. Many of the people engaging in reckless and dysfunctional behavior have legitimate visions and life goals but are hamstrung because they haven’t fully committed to what it is that they think they’ll be achieving. Many settle for instant gratification.

However, being a good friend is not about imposing your will or your ideas on another. It is about leading others to the truth through a demonstration of cause and effect and challenging them to become better versions of themselves. People shouldn’t be seeking friends who will only confirm that what they are doing is right and honorable. They should be seeking brutal, honest friends who can question their way of life in order to improve it.

This idea is counter-cultural because “at the heart of liberalism is the fear of coercion”. People don’t want to be told what to do. They want independence in its most literal form. At least they think they do. In many cases, they’re unsure and that’s why they need affirmation from friends, family, society, and the government. And for those who don’t get on board, they’re promptly labeled paternalists, bigots, and tyrants.

Mumford referenced philosopher Mark LeBar who said that happiness isn’t something that happens to us. It’s a choice to live our lives a certain way. If it happened to us, forcing someone to live a certain way might work. But it doesn’t. We can find happiness ourselves, but we can only show others the truth, not impose it.

“For, returning to the theme I opened with—genuine friendship as an inherently risky endeavor — the rejection in question is not your rejection of your friend. It is your friend’s rejection of the good.”

Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at and on the Relevant Radio® app.