How to Make Friends and Influence People According to C. S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis modeled living in community and cultivating true friendship|Post by Aubrynn Whitted
The Inklings (Lewis is second from right)
Source: Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Why is it increasingly harder to make friends, much less cultivate deep friendships? It seems that—even in the age of social media and faster-than-ever communication via smartphones—our society struggles with loneliness. I’ve felt this! I can be so busy in my day-to-day, constantly connecting with others through email, text, and social media, and yet feel disconnected and isolated. Even surface-level face-to-face interactions are more exhausting than life-giving.
Sometimes I think cultivating friendship is hard only in our present day, but then I remember that even C. S. Lewis saw how friendship was devalued and lacking in his generation. He acknowledged that true friendship is rare, and “few value it because few experience it.” He both saw the lack and addressed the problem. As Diana Pavlac Glyer writes, Lewis was “a theologian of friendship.” He claimed that “the Christian is called not to individualism, but to membership.” Community is vital to the Christian life.
In Christian History magazine issue #140, we take a look at the people surrounding Lewis—his friends, family, influences, and those who carried on his legacy. Let’s look now at Lewis—his beliefs about friendship and how he modeled this in his life—to see what he can teach us about cultivating true friendships.
Tips for Cultivating True Friendship According to Lewis
Tip #1: Bond Over Shared Interests
According to Lewis, there are various ways to make friends. The first is by bonding with someone who shares our interests and is like-minded. Lewis’s friendship with Arthur Greeves was born the moment they recognized they both enjoyed Norse mythology. Also, consider how he made friends with James Dundas-Grant while he was sitting at breakfast reading a magazine. A well-known quote from The Four Loves sums up Lewis’s thoughts this way: “Friendship… is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself...’”
Tip #2: Don’t Be Afraid to Disagree
But friendship is not always agreeing with one another. We see this in the Inklings meetings, where Lewis and his friends engaged in heated discussions. Consider Lewis and Tolkien. Lewis was a big proponent of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy; some wonder if Tolkien would have ever finished it without Lewis’s encouragement. Tolkien, however, didn’t like Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia (largely because it was overtly allegorical). Also, Lewis wrote a lot about theology and apologetics, but Tolkien and other friends questioned this choice, believing he wasn’t qualified to write in an area that they saw as outside of his career pursuit and expertise.
Tip #3: Value Different Perspectives
We can also make friends with those who share some fundamental interests, even if we approach them from a different angle. Consider Lewis’s friendship with Owen Barfield. They viewed things differently, and yet they were still able to cultivate a deep, long-lasting friendship based on their shared interests and their ability to value each others’ perspectives. Even if they ended up on different sides of an argument, they listened to each other in the process and respected the end result. As with all the Inklings, though disagreements abounded, they built a foundation of friendship on enjoying and seeing the good in each other’s perspectives.
Some of the Inklings: Owen Barfield, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams
Tip #4: Build on a Strong Foundation
Perhaps the most important friends are those who share beliefs in fundamental truths, even if they don’t see eye-to-eye on other issues. Lewis writes, “What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.” I don’t think he’s talking about those who agree on issues like politics, COVID, racism, and various others which have caused division in the last year and a half. I think he’s talking about those who share the fundamental belief in deeper truths. Lewis and Tolkien disagreed on a lot of things—literature, particular theological/doctrinal issues, and each other’s writings—but they both believed in the “one true myth”: the gospel. That is a strong enough foundation to weather any disagreement.
Tip #5: Slow Down & Be Still
Social media and technology can give the illusion of connection, which may make it all the more confusing that loneliness is so widespread. Lewis writes that perhaps it is because of such busyness that true connections suffer. In The Weight of Glory, he writes that we live “in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” He hadn’t even known the internet! The “always on” nature of modern life means we have even fewer chances to be still and quiet and not busy, which actually hinders our ability to cultivate deep friendships. If we are always on the go, always filling our lives with anything to make us busy—even if we fill it with people and social activities!—we can suffer from lack of opportunity to slow down and dig deep with a friend.
Tip #6: Dig Deep & Narrow
This brings us to the next quality of Lewis’s friendships. It is the depth of friendship that mattered to him, not the breadth. This tendency would explain why, in today’s social media-dominated society, we are even more lonely—we may have hundreds of Facebook friends and Instagram followers, but they only see what we choose to let them see. Do they know us on a deep level? Do they know how we react to stress? Do they know what our pain points are, the areas of our suffering, and the ways in which we struggle with sin?
Lewis writes, “While friendship has been by far the chief source of my happiness, acquaintance or general society has always meant little to me, and I cannot quite understand why a man should wish to know more people than he can make real friends of.” There is no formula—some people thrive on numerous friendships while others prefer just a few. Rather, the emphasis is on the importance of having deeper, real friendships.
The Eagle and Child, the pub in Oxford where the Inklings met
Tip #7: Commit to the Long Haul
Another quality of friendship as seen in Lewis’s life is the importance of patience and longevity. Lewis met with the Inklings for about 20 years! While many people came and went, several were committed and true friends to Lewis until death. Two of Lewis’s closest friends—his brother Warnie and childhood friend Arthur Greeves—were lifelong. That’s not to say we have to make our deepest friendships as children, but that we should be willing to walk with one another through the long haul, keeping in mind the eternity that awaits us as a community of believers and the bride of Christ.
What’s the Point of True Friendship?
Lewis has a lot to teach us about how to be and make friends. It is obvious he had a vibrant community with different types of friendships, which challenged him and affirmed him in different ways.
Perhaps the greatest value of community is its ability to grow us closer to the Lord. The way others relate to us can directly impact our perception of how the Lord relates to us. Lewis saw this value, writing, “Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven… For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.” We may all know the same God and yet have different perceptions of him born of our unique perspectives. What a gift that we get to help each other see more of Jesus!
Aubrynn Whitted is an intern at Christian History Institute doing work in writing, editing, and marketing. She has completed bachelor degrees in professional writing and English literature at Kutztown University.