What is the importance of equality to friendship?

By Andrew Trueman

When I first thought about this question, it didn’t seem particularly obvious that equality and friendship were related at all, never mind important to each other. It was only on thinking a bit deeper that I really understood what the question meant and why, in fact, equality is pretty important to friendship. Let me explain why.

First of all, I think it is far too easy to see equality as just a huge goal for society. While this is true – or at least it should be true – we must also think about what equality means for us in our day to day lives. It’s all very well saying we agree with equality in principle if we then don’t really do anything to prove it. Does this mean we should all get out the banners and placards and march on Downing Street every day? Maybe, but not everyone can do that all of the time.

Thinking about what we can personally do about inequality reminds me of the old saying, ‘charity starts at home’. Though it’s old, I still think it has some relevance today. We can’t always change society or change laws and reduce inequality in that way overnight. What we can do is realise that we can be great examples of what equality means in practice.

So what has friendship got to do with it?

True friendship is a brilliant example of a perfectly equal relationship. Think about it. A true friendship does not put one person above another, it doesn’t have a leader and a follower, there’s no hint at all of one person being better or worse than the other. It’s perfectly equal.

It’s actually a pretty different kind of relationship to most others. Parents love their children and children love their parents, but it’s not an equal relationship. Teachers like their students and students will like their teachers (some of the time!) but it’s not an equal relationship. This isn’t to say that they are bad relationships, of course they aren’t, but they are one sided relationships that are never entirely equal.

So, a good friendship is an equal friendship, where no one gets more out of the relationship than any other person. Of course, friendships can be formed unequally – people may befriend others to gain something from them. They may be using them for their time or their money or some form of pleasure. Are they real friendships? I don’t think so.

So by forming great friendships and maintaining them, we can show others what the results of equality are. Not many people would argue that friendship doesn’t bring benefits for all involved. Friendships promote happiness and wellbeing. They put a stop to prejudice and discrimination. They create support networks and communities and form part of the fabric of an equal society.

Perhaps by realising this, we can help others to see more clearly the benefits of an equal society. A society that doesn’t say that one group of people is any better or worse than a different group of people, where nobody is alienated or discriminated against and where everyone can be supported and cared for fairly. It sounds quite similar to a great friendship to me.

The views expressed above are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Equality Trust.

Andrew’s biography:

‘I’m 21 years old and currently in my third year at The University of Sheffield, studying Medicine. I come from a relatively deprived area (Hartlepool) and know that I am really fortunate to have got where I am today, which I suppose is why inequality matters to me. I also see the effects that inequalities can have directly on people’s health when I’m seeing patients on a daily basis.’