[The Buddha responded:] “Here, monk, a wise person of great wisdom does not intend for his own affliction, or for the affliction of others, or for the affliction of both. Rather, when he plans, he plans for his own welfare, the welfare of others, the welfare of both, and the welfare of the whole world. It is in this way that one is a wise person of great wisdom.” – from AN 4:186, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
There are a number of similar suttas in the Pali canon in which the Buddha points out that some people consider only their own welfare, some consider only the welfare of others, some don’t think of the welfare of either themselves or others, and some think of the welfare of both themselves and others.
This categorization broadens our consideration from friendships between two people to how we relate, not just to an individual friend, but to all those we come into contact with. If we consider the welfare of ourselves and others, then our attitude towards other beings isn’t divided into us and them, but takes in the question of whether an action is good for everyone affected. If not, we can try to figure out how things might be arranged so that everyone benefits. We can try to cleave to this principle of setting our intentions so that no one (including ourselves) is harmed and that, as much as possible, everyone’s situation is improved. Once the intention is set, then every new set of circumstances presents us with a fresh opportunity to hone our wisdom.
It’s true that these decisions are not always clear-cut. Sometimes we find out later that our good intentions didn’t bring about the desired results, or we discover that someone we didn’t know might be affected by our action felt hurt. Often we think there’s no time to consider all the consequences, that action must be taken now.
One way we can mature on the path is to incorporate a moment of reflection before we take action or speak to others. In that momentary pause, we can ask ourselves whether we are acting from kindness or compassion, and also whether anyone might be harmed. Even if there is no discernible answer, no way to know, it’s worth asking ourselves the question. It’s a training in attitude, which will make us wiser, more compassionate human beings.