Today’s lesson is one I find challenging; it’s not so much living up to it that’s the problem, but the fact that so few people I meet seem to agree. For me, it’s a no brainer; I’m continually puzzled by the behavior of others because they don’t live up to this, however.
Friendship is as much a responsibility as it is a benefit
To be friends with someone, you have to be there for them emotionally and, if possible, in other ways as well (financially, physically, et cetera). It can be a lot of work! But in the end, the rewards are worth it — or they’re not and you drop the person as a friend. I’ve created a number of sub-rules that I feel are derived from this:
- Always have their back
If your friend is in the wrong, and they’re in the middle of a fight with someone who isn’t your friend, you don’t take the other person’s side. It’s not appropriate to “gang up on” a friend; instead, talk to them about it in private later. If there’s a heated emotional conflict going on, the last thing they’d want is to feel like even their friends have turned on them.
- Don’t ever make them feel bad for needing help
There isn’t always something you can do to help a friend, but they need to feel comfortable at least asking for assistance.
- Don’t make them feel bad for things they can’t control
The flipside to the above rule; if you go to someone for help and they honestly can’t help you, it’s not right to guilt-trip them or try to dump extra burdens on them that you know they can’t handle.
- Pay attention
One of the most often touted benefits of friendship is that your best friends “know you better than you know yourself”. The only way that can happen is if you take the effort to really get to know your friends, to understand when they’re acting abnormally.
- Make time for them
It can be hard to find time to just be with your friends and have fun, but it’s crucial to maintaining a relationship with anyone.
- Be honest with them (at least when it’s important)
Some things we don’t really want an honest opinion on — in that case, flatter away. But when something’s actually important, your friends should be able to turn to you and know that when you say everything’s alright, it actually is. If you lie and give the most positive answer every time, that undermines your credibility.
- Stand up for them
It should be unacceptable for someone to bully, pick on, or insult your friends. The world is a cruel place, and you can’t always stop someone, but nothing feels better than someone standing up for you when someone else is being unfair.
- Their needs are more important than your wants
If I want a new car stereo, but my friend is eating ramen once a day because he’s literally down to his last $10, my stereo can wait. I’d rather my friends be healthy and secure than I buy myself luxury goods. And I’m going to think badly of the friend who flaunts his new stereo while I’m supporting a mutual friend through a rough time. However, do note the phrasing; my friend’s desire for a stereo is not more important than my desire for a TV, nor is it more important than my need to pay rent. Sometimes I’m struggling to make ends meet myself, in which case it’s perfectly justified not being able to spare the money to help a friend.
- Don’t sweat small stuff.
If my friend owes me, say, the price of a movie ticket, I’m likely to just forget about the debt after a few days rather than calling him on it. In the end, things tend to even out; even if he never pays me back, how can you quantify the value of seeing the movie with him rather than alone? The good times together outweigh minor monetary details. And tracking favors is even more of a headache than small sums.
Sometimes it doesn’t even out; if someone is taking and taking and you rarely get even enjoyment out of spending time with them, you might want to reconsider being friends. They ought to be doing the same sort of things back to you.
I focused this list on my own behavior towards my friends rather than their behavior towards me for a reason. I can’t control what other people do to me or for me. All I can directly control is how I behave towards them. If I am a good friend to those around me, I can only trust that they’ll behave similarly in return. This likely stems from my belief in the Rule of Three, which is to say, what type of energy you put into the world tends to come back to you.
One important caveat, which I’ve already touched on above but which cannot be emphasized enough: There are horrible, horrible people in this world. Some people take all they can get from their so-called friends yet never give anything in return; some people are so negative that it’s all you can do to keep up with their constant demands. These people are not good friends, and you should probably take a good hard look at why they’re in your life. Abusive relationships are also completely exempt from this; you shouldn’t feel guilted into doing the above because you feel it’s an obligation you owe people in return for the privilege of having them in your life. These things should naturally stem from your desire to give back to people who give you joy and happiness.