Posted by: CJ | April 25, 2010

The Good Friend

For the past day or two I’ve been idly musing about an aspect of friendship I’m really bad at: watching out for a friend’s interests, especially when (for whatever reason) the friend isn’t doing it. I’m bad both doing that and appreciating it when it’s done for me.

Like most aspects of a friendship, how this works depends a lot on the specific friendship. Part of it is the setting, what mood/space they’re in, etc.. But, still, it seems like if someone is a good friend I should be able to trust them to tell me if I’m doing something foolish. Or if I’m not noticing or taking seriously something that I need to notice or take seriously. Or anything where I’m doing something that could hurt myself and I’m not aware of that. And that I should be willing to tell my friend if I think they’re making a decision without understanding the full consequences.

But…

Some people naturally take such advice from their friends easily and give it without becoming invested. I’m not one of them. If I’m even the least bit self-conscious or worried about something and I hear anything less than unequivocal approval, it takes some concentrated effort to hear what the other person is saying and respond appropriately. If I can’t muster that effort, I get some combination of very frustrated, self-conscious, scared, and/or start beating myself up over my perception of incompetence. Which doesn’t help anything, and usually makes friends much more reluctant to interfere with me making bad decisions.*

On the flip side, if I start giving advice/criticism, unsolicited or not, I easily get too involved in it. I start to think I understand the problem better than my friend does, believing they’re foolish for approaching in whatever way they’re choosing to. And I’ll get drawn into a problem that really isn’t mine to begin with.

But I recognize that danger. My general solution is to just never give advice about someone else’s problems. Sure, I’ll listen to them. I may ask why they don’t do potential solution X, Y, or Z? I may even tell them they’re not a bad person.** But I avoid directly telling someone “what you’re doing is stupid and it makes me feel dirty”, even if that’s what they desperately need.

To sum up, I’m obsessing over the rights and responsibilities of a Good Friend. I think a Good Friend has a responsibility to say when you’re not watching out for your own interests. But a Good Friend shouldn’t overstep their boundaries and start interfering in your life. The Good Friend also has a right to not be given crap for giving good, if unsolicited, advice. I don’t think I’m good at the responsibility part or the right part, and this bothers me. I would like to become better.

——–

*In fairness, sometimes that’s the right thing to do. Sometimes I just need to do something stupid to get an idea of why it’s stupid and what the consequences are. Me being me, I’m particularly untalented at doing something “because it’s for the best” if I don’t understand why that’s so. But it’d be nice if I had people to watch my back if I could understand why something’s a bad idea, but am just being obtuse.

**I only do that under duress, since few people in a bad mood want to here me tell the truth as I see it. If I did that, I’d probably say, “I think well over half of everyone is a bad person because they’re not Abbie Hoffman and Mother Theresa’s love child. But I suspect you’re at least in the top half of people, all things considered. I would need more data and better equipment to narrow it down further, though.”

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