How to Be a Friend Part 1
Previously I wrote about friendship, what I feel the word “friend” should really mean, and how quality friendships are really essential to having a full and meaningful Life.
Friends add aspects, perspectives, and support at all stages of our Lives that we would never enjoy if we lived in a world of our own. That’s well and good.
But, we’ve heard that friendships come and go. So once you have one, how do you keep it?
Friends, as described in my previous article, are like a rare one-in-a-thousand gem. Because of this, you absolutely must cherish the few true friends who enter your Life. If you want to keep friendship, you have to give it too. A friendship is like any relationship, requiring care and nurturing to grow stronger and sturdier.
Here are 15 ideas how.
Greg’s Thoughts On Being a True Friend
1. Don’t be Selfish – It’s NOT All About YOU
Some people think in terms of what they can get from a friendship, not what they can give and contribute.
Don’t be one of them. Part of the joys of friendship is adding to each other’s’ Lives. The joy I have in being there at the right time, saying just the right thing, doing exactly what my friend needs, is reward enough.
Don’t be a leech. Some people are naturally giving and will keep giving. Others give up to a point and then realize they’ve been taken advantage of. Be in the habit of asking yourself: “What could I do for a friend today to add some joy or laughter to their Life, or lighten a load?”
Selfishness doesn’t just mean taking and taking. It can manifest in other ways too.
For example: I was once a gossip point due to a rather embarrassing mannerism of mine. I found out a friend had been keeping mum it because she was afraid telling me would offend me and she would lose the friendship. Well, not knowing prevented me making some quick changes that could have spared me further embarrassment. I dropped that friendship.
Another example: I’ve frequently seen ‘friends’ refuse to help or outrightly sabotage a budding romance a friend was cultivating, simply because they were worried it would cause them to lose that friend. Utterly selfish. If you do drift apart from your friend because he has a new girlfriend, be happy for him that he may have found the love of his Life, and even help him!
2. Be Available
The simplest requirement is also sometimes the hardest.
Have you noticed how when you’re moving house, your ‘friends’ suddenly become unavailable? They may have an unexpected trip to Malaysia, an inexplicable attack of gout, or a sudden case of the runs.
Friendship isn’t always about sharing just good and fun times. It means also sharing when things are tough, and a friend needs help with something that isn’t always pleasant. If it were, everyone would be doing it, even strangers.
3. Listen… Even If In Silence
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.” – Henri Nouwen
At times, friends just need someone to listen. Don’t be too quick to offer solutions and expect them to be embraced. Sometimes, people just need a sounding board, or a sympathetic ear (and yes it holds for both Martians and Venusians!) Be patient, even if your friend is perserverating on the same point again and again. It just means it’s still worrying or bugging them.
Sometimes, you don’t even have to talk. Sometimes, maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe a friend is down, and the situation is so unique or so sensitive that you have absolutely nothing to say that would be helpful. Just be there… in silence.
4. Do Something Special
If you do just the first three I think it’s already a good foundation for treating your friends right. Sometimes though, it’s nice to go the extra mile and perhaps surprise them – pleasantly of course.
It doesn’t have to be anything major. It could be changing your agreed on restaurant to some place new and more interesting. It could be showing up at the finish line of your friend’s first 10k race. It could be as simple as remembering their birthday!
Sometimes it can be a bit more. One of my best friends back in Australia was going through a really rough time and I couldn’t be there for him. I recorded a very long motivational message on cassette tape and mailed it over. He tells me he still has it… years later.
As a caveat: it goes without saying that you should put a limit on what you do and make sure it is appropriate. For example, you obviously would not send a bunch of red roses to a female friend who isn’t a romantic interest, and from whom you do not want to romantic interest. And guys, if you do do this when you already have a girlfriend, you’ve moved from the realm of inappropriateness to the dangerous, life-threatening zone of stupidity.
Which relates to Point 5.
5. Don’t Cross Boundaries
Friends are good to have. And as long as you wish to enjoy the benefits of friendship, you need to respect boundaries.
Quite commonly, when opposite genders are involved, one person may develop a romantic attraction for the other. My view is, if the other person has shown ZERO signs of interest in a romantic development, do not push it. Be content with what you have, and continue to be the best friend you can to add to that person’s Life. That way you keep the friendship. But if you try for more when there are no signs of possibility, you put a strain on that friendship, cause discomfort and constraint on behavior, and may actually lose that friendship altogether. That’s selfish.
Another example: money. Money is a really sensitive topic. Have the maturity to be fiscally responsible for your own self. Spend within your means, save and invest for more if you want to spend more. But do not take advantage and start to borrow or ask for money from a friend who is rich or better off. That really puts a complication to the relationship that may not end up well.
6. Be strong enough to say NO.
You know that on airplanes they tell you that if the oxygen masks drop, put your own mask first before you try to help others, including children?
Sometimes, you may be the one in bad straits, and are in a position where you simply do not have the reserves for more than simple survival. If a friend should need your help then, you have to allocate resources to make sure you are able to keep yourself functioning first. Be honest with your friend about what you can or cannot do. Otherwise you run the risk of burning out and the other people who rely on you will suffer.
Sometimes, you have to say “No”.
Sometimes, it’s a case where a ‘friend’ is repeatedly taking advantage, milking you constantly or being inconsiderate of your time. You have to be firm and say no to introduce a check to the situation. Otherwise, it starts to put a toll on you and other areas of your Life starting to suffer.
Then again, you probably should reconsider whether you want to keep that ‘friendship’ at all.
7. Be Honest
As a friend, you offer support and encouragement, motivation and commiseration. Being sensitive comes with that territory. Often, people will err on the side of telling friends what they want to hear, and sometimes that coincides with what they need to hear.
Unfortunately, at times what they need to hear isn’t necessarily what they want to hear. And when that happens you must make a decision. Should you
a) Tell the truth which will ultimately benefit your friend, but risk alienating that friend (maybe temporarily, maybe forever), or
b) Hide the truth and maintaining your friendship (knowing that doing so could possibly do him more harm than good in the long run)
This is indeed a dilemma, but my choice has always been to heed rule number 1: Don’t be selfish. In my opinion, friendship must dare to risk this, and put aside fear of personal loss. Otherwise you’re thinking from what you would lose rather than what your friend would gain.
For instance, telling your friend she has bad breath may offend her, but if heeded, also dramatically improve her social life, especially if you know she’s hoping to find a romantic partner. Not telling her – surely the easy path many other people in her life had chosen – helps you keep your friend, but leaves her in the dark as to why so many guys she likes show no interest and even at times, revulsion.
It goes without saying that you should be sensitive about how you say things. There are ways to saying things with compassion, as opposed to “Your breath stinks.”
That wraps up the first part of being a friend. These first seven tips should get you thinking at least, and I don’t think anyone who tries to do the majority of these things would be far off from being a friend who would contribute to the lives of others.
Let me end with a couple of quotes on friendship here:
“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” – Aristotle
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” – Oprah Winfrey
See you for Part 2!