Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Love is Something You Do: a few Lessons on Friendship.

I have an incredible book on my shelf titled The Friendship Factor by Alan Loy McGinnis (actually, its an award-winning, international best-seller).  I've read it now more then once, finding myself drawn back repeatedly to its easy readability, excellent insight it offers, and the personable style with which its written. 

I imagine a lot of people might find themselves scoffing right now thinking, a book on how to make friends??  How silly is that?  I dont need to waste my time reading something like that.  I already have friends.

You might be surprised.  Consider: how many of you find yourself sometimes wishing you were closer with some of the friends you do have?  Or wishing that maybe you had more friends?  Or discovering that maybe a friend of yours isn't who you thought they were (in a not-so-good way) and finding yourself heartbroken and confused?  Or, even wondering what it means to be a good friend?

I found myself thinking about this topic lately because my little sister just recently joined the National Guard and thus, will find herself surrounded with torrents of new people her age.  LOTS of brand new friend-making potential!!!  Similar to entering college, this is an amazing opportunity to make some outstanding and lasting friendships.  I am thrilled for her!

And, like any new situation which introduces us to loads of new and different types of people, many of these people will be wonderful, yet, many of them might seem wonderful at first but might not actually be the best.  Some of them will be people who may be likely to lead her down wrong paths (both in belief and in action).  This is the situation all of us are confronted with, in any new friend-making situation.  And that is, choosing the right people.  But how can we make sure to do that?  Most people seem pretty cool off the bat, so sometimes it can be tough to tell until way down the road, what someones true character is like.

I believe giving adequate thought and careful consideration to the people we chose to surround ourselves with is an incredibly important thing in life.  Quite a lot of us do not pay nearly enough mind and attention to this as we should.  And ultimately, not doing so can lead us down the wrong/dangerous/toxic paths or even impact our overall life happiness in the long-run.  Its of deep importance to surround ourselves with both the right people as well as people whom we like a lot.  But of course, just liking someone a lot does not make them a great person.  That is something you learn over time through observation.

I bet this is going to shock a lot of you (wink wink) but the art of friendship/relationships (how to be good at them, as well as how to choose healthy ones) isn't something we are born knowing.  Its something we all have to learn.  Both through reading, as well as through observing others, and finally through our own trial-and-error within actually navigating real life relationships and friendships first hand.

Some of us spend our entire lives struggling in these areas.  Finding ourselves always befriending the "wrong" people, or feeling as though we are perpetually unlucky in love, or wishing we had "real" friends but never quite feeling as close to them as we might like.  Others may feel they are well equipped in this arena and do not feel a need to work on themselves within this part of their lives (though I hate to break it to you, this is rarely an accurate way of thinking.  People can always find ways to grow and self improve, even if they may be well versed in this area of their lives). 

We can always be a better friend or partner.  And this is one of lifes most worthwhile career paths.  Continually striving to be both a good partner and a good friend to those we care for and love.  Its a lesson of paramount importance.  Its the surest one that, when you master it, will absolutely lead to a life full of satisfaction, personal riches and fulfillment.

I have a number of favorite chapters in this book (The Friendship Factor), which I find to be meaningful and worthwhile (in fact, the entire book is very worthwhile.  I believe everyone should read this book once in their life.  No question, it would lead to improved relationships and an improved sense of self). 

However, here are a few snippets from the book which I find to be particularly meaningful.

1. Learn the gestures of love.  People who are experts at love know that emotions ebb and flow, and they look for gestures of love even when their emotions are on the wane.  Whats more, they are never content with just telling those they love that they care.  They show them.  Mark Twain once said "love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of growths."
A husband takes a long lunch hour and drives 20 minutes home to take his wife to her favorite restaurant.  A man sees a new book in the shop, buys it and mails it to his friends office with a note.  A woman hears a friend say she could eat watercress every day of her life, and she never has her for dinner without having watercress especially for her plate.  Instead of jumping right into watching their favorite TV show once home in the evening, a sibling takes the time to write their brother or sister an email.  These are the gestures that bond people together and prevent fractures when the relationship is under strain.

2. People with deep, lasting friendships may be introverts, extroverts, young, old, dull, intelligent, homely, good looking, but one characteristic they always have in common is their lack of facade.  They have a certain transparency, allowing you to see what is in their hearts.  We all wear masks and facades to a certain degree.  But when we strip ourselves of these masks and allow ourselves to be fully known and then realizing you will still be loved, there is something deeply powerful about this.  We are usually reluctant to show this side of ourselves to others.  In other words, our "shadow side."  But generally, others are able to be more lenient with us then we are with ourselves.
Just as a disclaimer: being "open" does not mean we should be argumentative.  Some who try to be "totally honest" give you their opinion on ANY and EVERY subject you raise.  This is foolhardy.  And secondly, one should not allow their emotional life to be an open book wherever they go.  Psychological nudity isn't a virtue. It may actually signify a lack of control.
But the overriding principle still stands, which is if you want to deepen your friendships, cultivate transparency and openness.  Reveal yourself.

3.  Dare to talk about your affection for others.  We often fear seeming sentimental,or fear rejection, so we hold back on expressions of warmth and thereby, miss out on rich and profound friendships.  We say "thanks" when we mean" god bless you."  We say "so long" when we actually mean "I will miss you a lot."  It would add immeasurably to the amount of love abroad if we would be freer in declaring our affections.

4.  Employ the language of acceptance.  That does not mean that we approve of everything in the other.  Acceptance is entirely different.  Without approving or disapproving, we can show those we love that we accept them simply by listening.  Inviting those be heard without judging or pushing advice on others when not asked.

5.  Be cautious with criticism and feedback.  If you do this often without being asked, divert yourself from it as soon as possible.  When all is said and done, a large part of our success at love will depend on our ability to accept human nature as it is.  The judgmental temperament never generates much affection.  We need to strive for as much understanding of others as we grant ourselves.  Seeing no fault in others that one might not have committed themselves is an important way to view those we love.

6.  Learn to TRULY listen.  Most people listen briefly, then immediately turn the conversation, in some way, back to being about them or connecting to them, or their opinion or their experience.  A truly good listener doesn't do this.  Or at least not very often.  Being an attentive listener is about trying to consider and even feel the other persons experience, emotions and situation.  And allowing them to share that with you to the fullest.  The road to the heart is through the ear.  Good listeners are honored when someone lets their guard down.  Good listeners never break a confidence.  Good listeners listen with their eyes.  Good listeners dispense advice sparingly.

7.  The best relationships have all weathered misunderstandings and trying times.  Some people assume that when their friend is angry with them, the friendship is over.  No necessarily so.  In fact, one of the secrets of good communication and relationships is the ability to accept such storms.  If you realize that every long-term relationship will have some difficult times and even some anger within it, you will be much better equipped to deal with it.  In order to repair your relationship when it is going through challenge, here are some suggestions:

-Locate the Trouble Spot
-Apologize When You Are Wrong (take responsibility)
-Check to See if Your Own Neuroses Are Spoiling the Friendship (an important one, another taking responsibility point)
-Check to see if you Employ Old Methods of Relating to One Another that No Longer Work.


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