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WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT
chapter 4
Friends
 

At each stage in your life, you will have opportunities to make and enjoy new friendships. Next to family, nothing is of greater value in one’s life than your genuine friends.
Here are recommendations regarding friendships:
  • Do not place too much weight on first impressions. Resist stereotyping and applying preconceptions to the people you first meet. Give individuals an opportunity to demonstrate their true colors and character.
  • Be receptive and curious about meeting new people, even in the strangest of places. Do not be shy. You never know when someone you meet casually may end up becoming a good friend or valuable contact.
  • Remember that others will judge you by the company you keep. So, avoid rushing into friendships until you get to know people better. This includes at work.
  • Resist overanalyzing your friendships. No one is perfect. Everyone makes some mistakes. It is silly to hold grudges. If something is bothering you about a friend, try to talk it out with that person sooner rather than later.
  • When a friend tells you something in confidence, do not betray that confidence. True friends have to be able to trust one another.
  • Do not gossip about your friends to anyone else. If someone gossips to you, they will likely also gossip about you to someone else.
  • Avoid making a promise to a friend that you will be unable to keep. As Robert Service wrote in The Cremation of Sam McGee, “A promise made is a debt unpaid.”
Genuine friends find a way to tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear. On the other hand, be extremely tactful and diplomatic in answering any questions from a friend that start with: “I want you to be perfectly honest with me.” Sometimes, it is better to tell a “white lie”, especially when someone asks you about his or her appearance.
Lasting Friendships
To enjoy lasting friendships, keep these points in mind:
  • Whenever you are asked to give advice on “affairs of the heart”, it is usually best to be ambiguous in giving any direct answers. Regardless of what advice you give in this respect, it almost always will be ignored and often will come back to haunt you. For example, “What do you really think about my boyfriend (or girlfriend)?” or “Do you think I should marry Frank (or Joan)?” is always a loaded question. The best answer to such questions is, “I don’t know him (or her) anywhere well enough to be able to say whether he (or she) is right for you.” And that’s usually the truth.
  • Exercise extreme caution in deciding to tell a friend that his or her partner or spouse is having an affair. Only do so when you have firsthand knowledge of such a fact. In many cases, it is often better to let your friend find out about the infidelity on his or her own. Frequently, your friend will resent you for forcing him or her to confront this devastating information, preferring not to know.
  • Never make a play for a friend’s mate. Not only will you lose your friend, you will likely make an enemy for life.
  • The proverb, “Neither a lender nor a borrower be,” usually applies to most friendships. Either way, you run the risk of diminishing your friendship. If a friend is in financial hardship and you want to help, give some money outright or make a loan with no expectations or stipulations that it ever be repaid.
  • Be there for your friends when they are experiencing problems and want to talk them over with you. Do not wait for your friends to have to call you when they need help. On the other hand, avoid becoming friends with individuals who primarily want to use you as a constant garbage can for all their personal troubles and woes.
  • If you feel compelled to offer a constructive criticism to a friend, only do so in private and in a good-humored manner. Resist making sarcastic, negative comments to a friend or, for that matter, to anyone else.
  • Whenever good friends lose a family member or partner through death, take some time to handwrite a thoughtful letter of condolence to let them know you are thinking about their loss. It does not have to be a long letter to demonstrate you care.
You have to be prepared to invest some time and energy in maintaining close friendships, especially when friends live elsewhere from you. Make an effort to keep in touch with your friends. When you hear that friends are experiencing any type of distress, call to let them know you are thinking about them. Do not take your friends for granted. It is also never too late to get back in touch with old friends.
The more friends you have from a wide range of diverse backgrounds and cultures, the richer your life will be. Friends are not only there to provide mutual support and fun, they should also ideally broaden both your horizons and your awareness about the world around you.
Refraining from telling a friend what you really think about his or her offending behavior is not a good practice, especially if the behavior is either self-destructive or involves repeatedly doing or saying something that upsets you. Often, it is far better to confront such a friend in a constructive manner early on as opposed to letting the issue fester and become much worse than it needs to be. Under some circumstances, it pays to be brutally honest with a friend, particularly when you trust each other.
From time to time, you may encounter a situation where it is best to end a friendship for a number of reasons. Sometimes, you will have a friend whose constant negativity drags you down incessantly. Rather than have a destructive emotional blow-up, often the easiest way to end the relationship is by not initiating any further contact and by keeping any conversations diplomatically brief when this person contacts you. In most cases, your objective should be to ease out of the friendship but still remain on friendly terms.
A last note of caution — you never really know the true moral character of someone until that person’s back is against the wall in tough times. Before you rush to judge any friend in that situation, put yourself in his or her shoes. Be a genuine friend in all types of weather. When people get into trouble, that is when they find out who their real friends are.
Many friendships are based on sharing a common interest that draws people together — a sport, hobby, some element of culture or the arts. In my case, I have a large number of friends resulting from my passion for reading and collecting mystery fiction. These include authors, book dealers and fellow collectors.
When I read a book that impresses me by a new author, I often call the author on the phone or send a letter or e-mail, saying how much I enjoyed the book and asking about the author’s next book to be published. If I cannot find the author’s contact information on the Internet or through a telephone listing, I send a letter c/o the author’s publisher. It is a simple gesture to start a friendship but as a result I now have many author friends in England, Australia, South Africa, the U.S. and Canada.
 

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