I read an article recently that has really made me think: Are you a crappy friend too? It has encouraged me to observe my behavior in social settings and personal relationships. Friendship is important to me, as it is for many people. I spend a great deal of time thinking about, praying for, and planning for time with my friends. I truly care about them deeply. However, I don’t know that I show it as well as I’d like. I don’t know that I have the grace that so many friends and mentors in my life seem to possess and reveal so effortlessly.
Recently, as I’ve noticed my friendships are not where I want them to be, I’ve started to pay attention to how much I say to others, how much I listen, how I feel when I am with the other person, and how that makes me behave. It’s been quite astonishing, actually. I’d like to share my findings with you:
1. I talk too much when I’m uncomfortable. This fact is not astonishing. It just is. If I’m uncomfortable with someone (new friendship, conversation is not jiving, something awkward between us), I start talking, even if it causes me to make a fool of myself. I need to observe my social anxiety rather than react to it.
2. I don’t listen nearly long enough to others. I hear them. I take in what they say and truly care about what they are saying and the story they are telling. However, I find that I’m spending time thinking about how to react to what they are saying (what to say that is the perfect response), and I quite likely make them feel like their feelings are not important to me. The article points to why this is true for so many of us, and that is the astonishing part for me. I talk when I just need to listen because I have a desire to connect and be valued and heard. I’ve just been going about it in ways that are not productive. Yup. Bad friend.
3. Just as I was in junior high school, I’m still hung up on the desire to be liked by everyone. There it is. I admit it. I want everyone – yes, everyone – to like me and respect me. It’s stupid. I know that is impossible, but hey, the first step is admitting it, right?
4. What this all points to is that now, at the age of 40, I’m still not quite comfortable in my own skin. I feel loved, happy with my life, and safe. Why on earth am I still struggling with this and seeking outside approval? I have no idea if I’m alone in this, but there it is. Again, first step, right?
So, my sons, here is what I hope for you as you read this in 2030, but not-so-secretly, I’m writing this advice to myself, too:
1. Listen to people. Ask them questions and then truly listen to them without thinking about what to say to help, encourage, or even connect. Your listening is the connection.
2. Be happy with a few close friends. Know that you cannot be everyone’s best friend. No one can do that. As Aristotle said, “A friend to all is a friend to none.”
3. Stop expecting to be liked by everyone. You will only lose with this one. The loved ones in your life will stay and you will attract the right people for you into your life. Know that.
4. Try your hardest to see the best in everyone. Although everyone cannot be your best friend, the people you meet can be moved by how you see them. Focus on helping others around you feel what we all want to feel – liked, respected, valued, and important. I imagine the results will be significant.
I’m going to take my own advice. I pray that it will enhance my relationships and that I begin to find the best in myself as well. Also, my sons, I pray that as you read this in 2030, you see the best in you the way that I do.