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Lessons in Friendship

Over the years I have had the privilege of having some great friends, people who have invested into me, encouraged me, and helped me along the ups and downs of life. Many of my closest friends - my family, have modeled a type of friendship that has had a lasting impression on me. I've tried my best to model the following type of friendship over the years, and like most lessons in life, have learned more from my failure than my success. Here are some things I think will help us all excel in the friendship department.

1. Take an interest in the interests of your friends. 

I can honestly say that I have come to love so many different things in life simply by determining to be interested in the things my friends love. I think sometimes we define friendship as simply a relationship between two like minded people. Certainly it is nice to share interests with people that you care about, but a relationship will be deeply cultivated when you take an interest in what your friend loves. Lets face it, no two people are exactly the same. Obviously people have likes and dislikes, and I am not saying you have to love everything your friend loves - but when you value your friend enough to value his/her passions in life, it conveys a high level of respect you have for him/her. You'll actually find yourself enjoying something that you may have previously felt indifferent too, because it will be connected to someone that you care about. The world is a pretty big place, and what better way to discover new things than through your friends.

2. Mind your manners.

I am not talking British aristocratic dinner party manners, but the basic common courtesy that I think many in our society have lost. In fact, basic common decency is seemingly so rare, that if someone uses it, a viral video usually follows. Manners can be strangely vacant from friendships - as if the people we care about the most are less deserving of the courtesy we may show a complete stranger. Returning a phone call (I'm terrible at this sometimes), returning a favour, offering a ride, calling if your running late, or running late in general (please don't ask my friends about this) are some of the ways in which you can show someone they are important to you. Obviously friendships are all very different, but if you have a friend who considers your behaviour rude, you're in for some conflict.

3. Watch who you talk about.

This ties into #1 and #2. Have you ever met someone for the first time who unleashes an hour tirade of everything pertaining to themself, and never once asks anything about you? One sure way to fail in a friendship is to constantly talk about yourself and never ask about the other person. Obviously different people have different relationships - some people are perfectly content to let others talk about themselves, but I think as a general rule, it's never wise to monopolize conversation. Listening is perhaps that most foundational virtue in life, and yet the most challenging. Many people consider themselves great listeners, and are usually very busy telling everyone about how great of a listener they are to notice they aren't a great listener. Let speech be a means to build up another person, and not a means to build oneself up. Proverbs 27:2 says: "Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth." I know when I am yacking about myself, it is usually because I am feeling pretty insecure, and in an age of social media, where "friends" are bombarded with self-promotion, and perfectly juxtaposed happiness via choreographed photographs, it's easy to pretend and alleviate the internal anxiety. In the end, friendships have to be about the "other", or they aren't really friendships, they are pitfalls which end in pride, jealousy, manipulation, and a whole lot of hurt. I know after some conversations I've realized that my friend has spent most of the time asking about me when I've failed to return the favour. It's important to make sure we are trying our best to encourage and build one another up.

4. Show grace.

When I look back at some of the friendships that I no longer have, I realize that my personal judgmental attitude was most likely the reason for the end of the friendship. I've let philosophical/religious/ethical differences get in the way of something far more important, people. As a Christian, it's easy for me to forget that most of the law of Christ is about loving other people. Dialogue is far more important than debate. Grace is far more valuable than judgement. My friends don't need to know my opinions (99.99% of my friends can probably write a 10000 word essay on the philosophical opinions of Matthew Burkholder, ranging from my views on aliens and robots to my historical Marxist past) they need to know that I care. I love discussing a wide variety of issues and topics with a wide variety of people, but it should always been a effort in mutual understanding and respect. Friendship should be about letting others fail, lettering others make mistakes, letting others work things out, because last time I checked, I fail, make mistakes, and am working things out all the time.


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