How to Be a Friend Part 2
In part 1, we stated the importance of true friendship, and looked at 7 ways to keep a friend if you are lucky enough to find one.
In Part 2, we look at another 8 to bring it up to a nice 15.
8. Don’t Judge
“Judge not, that ye not be judged.” – Matthew 7:1
There are many pithy quotations from the Bible and this is certainly a relevant one.
Yes, there was probably an initial screening period before you accepted someone as a friend. After all, it’s nice to know that your potential new friend isn’t a convicted axe murderer or whose only form of delight is watching the death scenes in the Saw series.
But once you’ve ‘cleared’ your original comfort hurdles and accepted someone as a friend, and bonds develop over time, you may discover some new thing that doesn’t agree with you 100%. It might be an attitude, a value, or even an outlook towards certain things dear to you.
It might be sex, euthanasia, religion or the existence of aliens. In any case, weigh any disturbing elements against the backdrop of what that friend has been to you. DON’T make the mistake of judging and criticizing. It might very well be that you decide that difference is a fatal flaw and that you just cannot accept it. In that case, you might leave the friendship, but still DO NOT condemn. Who are you to take the superior position of judging someone else?
You also have to accepting that people CHANGE. People make choices for many reasons, some you can’t even begin to understand. Don’t drop them automatically just because they didn’t make the same choices you would but consider why they made those choices.
Remember, this is your friend here, not your life partner or spouse. While you may have expectations with the latter as you will hopefully be spending most of your Lives together, you should be able to live with a few more differences when it comes to your friend.
I’ll close this section with another fitting reminder from the Good Book.
“Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” – John 8:7
This leads to…
9. Forgive. Don’t Expect Someone to be Perfect. You’re Not.
Friends sometimes unexpectedly do something that upsets us. Maybe it was an insensitive remark, or one selfish action. Sometimes this act is real, but other times it could simply be a perception. It astounds me how quickly some people are to drop friends out of anger, tantrum or spite, without thinking about what it says about them.
“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Unless your friend has done something truly despicable or unspeakable, or if this was part of a series of repeating actions, have more patience. Weigh the infraction carefully and ask whether there were mitigating circumstances for why your friend acted the way they did.
For example, maybe a friend did not defend you during a board room meeting. You might be quick to jump on this inaction, but first consider the reasons for it, and understand why he may have been in a difficult position to do this. Once, I was surprised that a friend didn’t help me in an argument, but upon asking him about it, he was able to show me it was I who was in the wrong, and how the least damage he could have done me was to keep quiet during the exchange.
Don’t forget, you’re not perfect too. Be prepared to be weighed and found wanting with the same scales you weigh others.
10. Stay In Touch
I’ve often heard people say, they are afraid that significant others or very close friends will change and drift apart, becoming different people. This is especially true with spouses who fear they’ll wake up one day and find they’ve married a stranger.
I feel one way to avoid this happening is simply to stay in touch. By stay in touch, I don’t just mean in a hi-bye superficial way. I also don’t mean some exchanges over Whatsapp every few days. I mean both sides making some effort, maybe even meeting up every 1-3 months to keep each other up to date.
I think it is by making an effort to share thoughts, feelings, values and changing goals that we are somehow a part of that changing process, rather than one day realizing things have changed so much that you no longer know the other person. In my experience, it is very hard to two people to become surprise strangers if they shared values and directions unless they lose touch for a long time.
11. Maintain Communication
These days, e-mail, SMS, and even the convenience and zero cost of Whatsapp make it easy to keep in touch without time or effort. And it’s a good thing. I mean, how difficult it is to write a message, every few days, just to ask some question or send a quick statement to show that they are in your thoughts and that you care about the friendship?
Sometimes I don’t even check my mail for days. Why? Because I know what I’ll find there: bills, bills and more bills. It used to be that you’d open your mailbox looking forward to letters and postcards. Now it’s all done electronically.
That’s why a simple handwritten note is so effective because it shows you’ve taken the time to do something special – write. I’ll try to send handwritten notes and letters from time to time to let my friends – especially those I haven’t contacted for months – know that they are special, and worth the time it took. Frankly, it’s tougher on them reading my handwriting than it is for me to write that short note in the first place!
13. Communicate Face-to-Face
The convenience of electronic media notwithstanding, I think it’s still important to meet face to face. There is something about SMS and whatsapp that relegates someone to being a message to reply to rather than a live human being at times. Face-to-face meeting returns that human element to the exchange. There are subtle nuances you could never pick up over the air, but are instantly recognizable with one look at your friend’s face.
14. Don’t Break Your Promises
If you’ve promised a friend a meet up, a movie, a phone conversation, or that you’ll help him set up a cabinet, make that a priority. That means it’s not something that you’re doing only if nothing better comes up.
How many times have you had that experience where you expected 10 friends to show up to help you move furniture, and only 3 showed up? Then you found out the rest had overslept or completely forgotten. Or perhaps, a friend cancelled a coffee you’ve agreed to three weeks in advance, and then you found out she was out on a date with some guy?
It’s hurtful enough when a promise is broken. Make it a point to keep your promises, and if you are unable to fulfill it let your friend know in advance with a very full explanation.
15. Don’t Dump/ Abandon Your Friends for a New Girlfriend/ Boyfriend
Have you ever had a friend abandon or sideline you as soon as he found someone to date? Maybe he was so desperate for a relationship and threw everything into it. Maybe the new girlfriend simply didn’t like you and forced him to cut you off. Whatever the reason, how did that make you feel?
If you can answer that question, you know why you shouldn’t do the same.
Besides being extremely ungrateful to friends who may have stood by you for years, it says something about you: that friends are placeholders in your social Life and can just be put aside until needed. It may also say that you are so insecure in your relationship that you feel compelled to abandon everything else in order to please your new romantic interest.
Look, it’s a given that when you’re starting a relationship you have to put in a little bit more, so there’s less to spread around. However you surely do not date seven days a week. If you want to still have friends after your relationship is solid, you’d better put in some time and effort to keeping your friendships. Even a quick phone call should suffice to keep in touch and let them know you’re currently working on a relationship but you’re there for them if they need you.
Otherwise by the time you decide it’s time to hook up with the boys for that World Cup Final (and your girlfriend hates sports) don’t be complaining when there ain’t no boys no more. You don’t deserve them.
There is also a very good reason to maintain your friendships during this period. Friends keep you real. Often people get so enraptured by a new relationship they start to forget things that are important to them, such as values or goals. In addition, over the years, you’ve probably chatted, debated, and commiserated with friends who know what you’re really looking for deep down, and will be able to recognize when you are compromising too much.
Know what would be great? If old friends who were there for you during your best and worst relationships, recognize that your current one is congruent with what they know about your needs and what you can offer your partner. And it takes really SOLID friends to risk your friendship and warn you if you’re so love struck you can’t recognize trouble.
I’m not saying don’t have a brain of your own. After all, it’s completely possible that your friends and your new partner won’t get along, but are still good people in their own right. But it would be fantastic if they did.
So my message here is extra strong when it comes to treating your friendships: GROW A SPINE.
Now, for the flip side: Be understanding and realize that when someone is entering into a new relationship, he will need to focus on building the initial foundations. Don’t expect him to be able to come for all the soccer games, beer night out, and so on. Don’t make demands on him that you know will stretch his limits or say or do things that put him on the spot. Sure, it might amuse his girlfriend that he can belch God Save the Queen… three months after she knows what a great guy he is. That time isn’t now. And don’t make stupid remarks about how great his ex was. Make clear that if he needs you you’re there, then give him the freedom and space to build that relationship.
Ultimately remember: it’s great when you or a friend has found someone who could be that special person in Life. Shouldn’t this joy be shared with friends? I know that my close friends would be happy for me, and they also know that I won’t just dump them because I’ve got someone. And when I’m ready and have built that foundation, I’m not going to forget that my relationships with them are important too.
To Summarize It All: ADD, don’t SUBTRACT from Your Friends’ Lives. Think GIVE, not TAKE.
Make adding to your friend’s Life a goal.
Check constantly: Do I believe that my friend’s Life is better for my being in it?
I believe that we attract the people into our Lives by who we are, how we think and what we do. Adopting beliefs about friendship, acting with sincerity and thinking in terms of giving, rather than taking, is one way to attract similarly principled people in your Life. And who knows, some of them might even end up your friends. But always remember that friendship is a gift, not a quid pro quo.
“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Once you have it, you have to treasure it. And these same principles will help you do it. People come and go in your Life. You cannot expect everyone to live in your Life forever, because some are just guests. But if you treat people right, then even if a friend is but a temporary guest, you would have added something positive to their lives while enjoying their being in yours too. And your Life will be Fuller for it.
“Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.” – Socrates
To finish off, here’s a speech from the winner of the 2012 World Championship of Public Speaking. Jock Elliott says it so well.