The third letter is about friendship. Here Seneca advises us to tread carefully and make important distinctions: We cannot decouple friendship from trust: if we don’t trust another person, we cannot say that he is a friend. So, first, get to know the person enough to be able to make a judgment about his character. If we arrive at a positive conclusion, we can think of him as a friend. Once this is done, trust becomes implicit, and should never be revoked:
“When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment. … Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself.” (III.2)
The next section of the letter resumes things off and contains some great metaphors. Like this:
“It is equally faulty to trust everyone and to trust no one. Yet the former fault is, I should say, the more ingenuous, the latter more safe.” (III.4)
Seneca claims that it is a more innocent mistake to trust everyone. He believes that neither extreme should be embraced, and that one should choose a path somewhere in between, not trusting everyone, but not doubting all. The essay ends with the stoic advice “follow nature”, i.e., to apply reason to human problems:
“Discuss the problem with Nature; she will tell you that she has created both day and night.” (III.5)
- Choose your friends carefully, and then commit entirely.
- A friend whom you do not trust completely will become someone untrustworthy. Someone already untrustworthy should not be called a friend.
- Be careful not to trust everyone, and not to trust no one. It is important to find a balance.
1. You have sent a letter to me through the hand of a “friend” of yours, as you call him. And in your very next sentence you warn me not to discuss with him all the matters that concern you, saying that even you yourself are not accustomed to do this; in other words, you have in the same letter affirmed and denied that he is your friend.
2. Now if you used this word of ours in the popular sense, and called him “friend” in the same way in which we speak of all candidates for election as “honourable gentlemen,” and as we greet all men whom we meet casually, if their names slip us for the moment, with the salutation “my dear sir,” — so be it. But if you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means. Indeed, I would have you discuss everything with a friend; but first of all discuss the man himself. When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment. Those persons indeed put last first and confound their duties, who, violating the rules of Theophrastus, judge a man after they have made him their friend, instead of making him their friend after they have judged him. Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself.
3. As to yourself, although you should live in such a way that you trust your own self with nothing which you could not entrust even to your enemy, yet, since certain matters occur which convention keeps secret, you should share with a friend at least all your worries and reflections. Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal. Some, for example, fearing to be deceived, have taught men to deceive; by their suspicions they have given their friend the right to do wrong. Why need I keep back any words in the presence of my friend? Why should I not regard myself as alone when in his company?
4. There is a class of men who communicate, to anyone whom they meet, matters which should be revealed to friends alone, and unload upon the chance listener whatever irks them. Others, again, fear to confide in their closest intimates; and if it were possible, they would not trust even themselves, burying their secrets deep in their hearts. But we should do neither. It is equally faulty to trust everyone and to trust no one. Yet the former fault is, I should say, the more ingenuous, the latter the more safe.
5. In like manner you should rebuke these two kinds of men, — both those who always lack repose, and those who are always in repose. For love of bustle is not industry, — it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind. And true repose does not consist in condemning all motion as merely vexation; that kind of repose is slackness and inertia.
6. Therefore, you should note the following saying, taken from my reading in Pomponius: “Some men shrink into dark corners, to such a degree that they see darkly by day.” No, men should combine these tendencies, and he who reposes should act and he who acts should take repose. Discuss the problem with Nature; she will tell you that she has created both day and night.