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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Friendship 2006


Here is a mid-January resolution, made just far enough into the year to be taken seriously:
Help a close circle of friends to realize their potential, to feel loved and thereby confident that they are able to make a real impact on the world.

To do this requires three steps, I think:

  • contact them regularly
  • listen actively, which means paying attention and asking questions
  • make a real effort to see them in person because that is the only way to give a good hug.

Friendship is one of those life-improving themes—like health and fitness, love and marriage—that rise to the mind's surface regularly, urging us to do better. The reminder can be sparked by events, or the good deeds of others, or unfortunately sometimes by people's bad ones.

Friendship is one of the things that keeps us decent. The world is a better place for that, whether it's the world at large or our own small gardens of people near us.

We're all so busy, so much of the time, with family and work and self-improvement and improving the world and other commitments, that we push aside friendship. We assume it will bubble along quietly in the background.

And that is a mistake, for friends don't just happen. You have to work at making and keeping them. You have to make time for them. Like most things that demand our time, other people's needs rarely rise at moments that are convenient for us.

Two friends wrote wonderful messages, over the holidays, about how they want to focus more in 2006 on strengthening old friendships. One, who has been a steady but often quiet friend for more than 35 years, said quite simply that I am one of her heroes. She did not say why and there has not been a chance to ask. This stopped me in my tracks, and I've alternately been inspired by the thought and awed that I might have had this impact on someone I admire, and shaken by the suspicion that maybe I haven't let her see my down side.

I would like to deserve such praise, and it occurred to me that the first step is to find out more about why she has heroes, and who they are, and in the process to learn more about her thoughts on life today. Heroes of all shapes and sizes are probably not always good listeners. When you get right down to it, I think I would rather be a friend than a hero, but if I can be both, I will.

A second friend, who has been one of my best buddies for even longer, has had to deal with loss and illness and complicated lives in her family in the past year. Right before Christmas a close friend of hers died, leaving a young family and not quite enough money (who ever has enough money to leave to a young family?). Energy went first to those practical aspects of dealing with a death, but a few days after he died she wrote to me that he "was someone who worked hard at maintaining connections with friends and I am determined to follow his example and make this a top priority for my future."

Earlier this week I visited a woman who, as I was stepping out into the wintry night, said she just wanted to share a thought with me, in the name of friendship, and she then proceeded to say something quite unkind. We waved goodbye, with me shocked into saying nothing more. I have not heard from her since.

I spent a day feeling very depressed and tired, another day feeling very angry, followed by an evening ranting and raving to an old friend, far away, who had a desperate work deadline. She listened, asked questions, and helped me push away the waves of cluttered thoughts and self-doubts that come at you when someone has been cruel. She reminded me that true friends are never cruel.

Cruelty, mental and physical, is not a commodity owned just by teenagers fighting to make their place in a group, or by citizens in war-torn areas fighting to have a world they can call their own. Scattered through our lives are, sadly, small acts of cruelty that probably touched someone to the core. Here is a small tale that will have a familiar ring to anyone in a large company: I once worked with a man whose energy went in two directions. Most of it went to impressing the powers that be, and the rest to damaging the reputations of the many people he viewed as being in his way. He succeeded in having a few people fired while several others left in frustration. Dozens more were badly hurt over the years by his rumors and nuances. Now in the position of power he so craved, he has supporters and some fans, and he has a wife, but he has no real friends.

He is, I am certain, a very lonely man. And the woman who was unkind the other evening is, I realized after reflection, also crying out, from loneliness and her own fears. Thanks to a friend who made time to listen, I could finally hear my own sensible, calming voices above these others.

Our friends can help us to find equinimity and to understand what lies behind cruelty.

Waiting to cross the road together, Chicago

As friends, we can help others to face words and acts of unkindness, to understand them, and to gain or regain confidence. They then remember that they are quite special, and not just faces in the crowd.

We quietly spin part of the web of human connectedness that does so much more to make the world a better place than all the grand gestures ever can.

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