Precious Metals

Make new friends,
But keep the old,
One is silver,
And the other’s gold.

When analyzing this poem – which few do, so my audience is quite limited – one might conclude that the moral of the verse to continue meeting new people but that your longtime friends will always be more valuable. It seems logical to conclude that new friends are silver and old friends are gold, but I beg to differ. The poem never indicates which is which, only that one is silver and the other is gold. It leaves it up to us to decide which precious metal is associated with each type of friend. Thus, I will argue the opposite: new friends are gold and old friends are silver. This may contradict age-old mantras, superstitions and party invite lists, but I feel that a case should be made.

Both friendships are important; each have their own benefits. Old friends provide a sense of support and understanding that can only be achieved by age. We develop strong bonds that help us endure through hardship and pain and that we can rely on to get us through the more mundane tasks in life. But new friends force us out of our comfort zones and draw us away from our traditions, allowing us to see things in a different light. Engaging and interacting with “new” people shakes us from our stagnant lives. Not that old friends keep us from doing these things, but we often get so comfortable with our current relationships – far too content with the routine interactions, the ease of conversation associated with aged companionship, the reliability of always being understood – that we miss out on a whole new world of experiences.

Some people are turned off by the idea of new friendships, assuming that you must abandon or give up your securely established relationships in order to pursue some novel companion who is not guaranteed to come through. Worst of all, they could reject you. You could put an extensive amount of effort into a new friendship and it could in fact lead nowhere, leaving you empty-handed, as if that relationship was owed you.

I think that the main fear is that you might lose your old friendships in the process of pursuing new ones. But that is where the song qualifies itself: it says “but keep the old,” reminding us that old friendships are a necessity that you shouldn’t just toss away because you found new people to entertain you. Old friendships keep us rooted while new friendships help us grow. Without the old you could not have the new. It is important that while exploring the possibility of new friendships that you continue to nurture your existing ones.

Ultimately, friendship is an art of balance and adaptability. You must learn to embrace the novelty and growth that comes with new friends and to appreciate the sturdiness and dependability of your old ones.

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