George Washington’s Inspiring Definition of Friendship

Our first president understood that a true bond is cultivated and nurtured over time.

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Posted in , Feb 15, 2019

George Washington on friendship

As we celebrate President’s Day and remember our great leaders, I’m thinking about George Washington’s beautiful definition of friendship. He said, “True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity, before it is entitled to the appellation.”

We’re all friends here, so I can confess I had to look up the word “appellation,” which simply means a name. So our first president speaks from across the centuries to say, a real friend is someone who has accompanied you through challenging times and remains steadfast in your life. When you have a relationship with someone like that, you get the pleasure and privilege of calling them “friend.”

In Washington’s time, adversities could include things like wars, deep political divisions and diseases. The “shocks of adversity” of our time might not be so different, and also might include job loss, marriage struggles or the stress of caregiving. 

Friendships themselves also face challenges, from misunderstandings over the intended tone of a text message, to disappointment in the way a friend responds to something you’re going through. Sometimes, a friendship is tested by something as simple as distance or the difficulty of getting in the same room at the same time.

Which is why Washington’s image of “a plant of slow growth” is so inspiring. Anyone who tends plants knows that sometimes a leaf or branch withers, gets bruised or dies. To grow and thrive, plants need to be fed but also pruned. Sometimes they need to be relocated so they get more light—or a break from the strong sunshine. 

True friendship is no different. A lasting friendship empowers us to return to each other after a dormant season, be patient with the aspects of life that are beyond anyone’s control and have confidence in the face of stormy weather, knowing that the roots that ground us in each other’s lives are strong, deep and alive. 

How do you define true friendship?

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