In the past, I have often looked for friends that reflected me. Sometimes this was unconscious and sometimes conscious. However, I now find that some of my most precious friends are people that are not like me. What makes them precious is the safety I feel in our difference. Our differences do not threaten me. In these particular relationships, I find that our differences are actually growing edges.
I have friends of all races, genders and cultures. Diversity is never an issue. However, one friend sticks out – I am different from him in that he loves his tattoos, while I will probably never have one. His arms and legs are all tatted up. He loves sports. I hate all forms of sports. But when he calls me to tell me he has a problem, he takes off the veil. And so do I. He is vulnerable and honest. There are many values that we do not share but the core values we share are honesty, openness and care, and these values sustain our relationship. The other value that infuses our relationship is that we care about some significant social justice issues around mass incarceration, black lives matter and empowering poor people.
Here are my top three values in friendships.
Honesty is something that I have begun to actively seek in my relationships. If you are honest with me, I know where I stand. I feel safe. I once heard of a man who said that he visited nude beaches. When I was younger, I would have run away as fast as I could! Now, I smile and think, “Very nice! He is telling you who he is!” Now that does not mean that I trot off with him, but I love such honesty. Please, be honest. Let people know who you are so that they know whom they are dealing with. Be honest with who you are when you first get to know people. Show them your true colors. Don’t wait. Let the folks you are getting to know, know the real you: Not a facade! Fakeness never did anything but deliver disappointment. Don’t be fake.
Openness means not being locked into one particular way of being. If we often go to lunch together and we always have to go to where you have to eat because you do not eat this or do not eat that, not because of allergies but because you are inflexible, that friendship is not going to flourish. Be open to other people and their experiences. Go to that Turkish restaurant down the street that you have been curious about. Just ask the waitress, “It is my first time here, what should I order?” Enjoy the cultures of others and get curious about differences. Ask gentle yet caring questions. They will open new worlds to you. You do not know everything yet. And, it is not only about you!!!
Yet, I want you to stand for something! You must have values that are worthwhile. Your life is so much more than you, your job, your assets, how you look or your social location. That is all ego-based living. Who is the real you and what do you stand for? If your facebook timeline is filled with your selfies only (and you are not recovering from some debilitating disease) then I probably will not feel that I have a lot in common with you. If you are only about lining your pocket and you really don’t care about the rest of humanity, then we cannot be close intimate friends.
Here is how you cultivate and nurture your friendships:
- Enjoy learning new things with others and remember there is not only one way of being. Enjoy the discovery process.
- Care gives friendships longevity. Learn the art of caring. It is a genuine art form.
- Ask lots of questions. Don’t just give answers. One of the most powerful questions I love to ask when someone is in crisis is, “How best may I serve you now?” You see, it is about them and not how I can feel better about their situation. Sometimes, we want to fix things or be the solution to a person’s problem and inadvertently put the focus on us, rather than them. Another good question is, “What do you need?” So often, we just do not know what to do to help another person in crisis, yet we want to help. Show care by asking questions.
- Do not wait until there is a crisis to show care. Show that you care for your friend and for what he or she cares about. Ask about their pets, children, and family members.
- Show reciprocity. Do not be that friend that the other person is always the one to call you, send notes, send birthday and Christmas cards, and you do not do likewise. Match the exchange of friendship between both of you.
I have learned about friendships the hard way. I used to like “nice” people. In fact, I remember when I was much younger; my brother asked me what I thought about someone I met. I said, “I like her. She is nice.” He said, “What does ‘nice’ mean? That term is highly overrated.” It took probably another 25 years or so for me to understand what he meant. My sister recently described someone and mentioned the person’s “character” and I thought, “How often do I evaluate the character of another person?” These are important virtues to embrace. Sometimes “nice” is a cover up for stuff that is rather ugly. Do not get seduced by “nice.” Be seduced by great character and be of great character yourself and enjoy the blossoming friendships.
How do you evaluate your friendships? What are your values going into such friendships?