I have recently made some new friends and I have been analyzing the process of that strange thing called “friendship.”
When I was a child, like most people, I had close friends whom I never see anymore. In fact, I have no idea what happened to most of them. Then I had a middle period in my life when I was very lonely and it seemed like I didn’t have any friends, and I couldn’t figure out why.
I think I’ve figured it out.
But instead of my explaining it, perhaps a story will work better: I remember when I was once at an outdoor café with my goddaughter and her mother. My goddaughter has since grown up to become a lovely young lady, but she was a teenager then, and filled with all the angst that stage in life brings.
She left us to go to the ladies room, then returned in a huff. She said, “There was a woman with three kids, including a baby in a carriage, and when I said, ‘excuse me’ in order to get past her to the sink, she didn’t even bother to reply.”
I said to her something along the lines of, “If that woman was in there with a baby carriage and kids, she was so busy she didn’t even SEE you.” I realized that when you’re the age that my goddaughter was then, you’re extremely self conscious and think that everyone is looking at you and judging you. You see the “arrows of life” aiming in only one direction: FROM them, TOWARDS you. I told my goddaughter this and it seemed to help her to view the experience in a new light.
When we grow up, we realize that the “friendship arrow” has TWO ends and points BOTH ways. Sometimes one friend will need help and sometimes the other one will, but unless the load is shared fairly evenly, the friendship will end, because the relationship degenerates into all taking on one side and all giving on the other.
I was at a large dinner party the other night, where I sat down next to one of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever met in my life. Since, like most of us, I’ve met many truly unpleasant people over the years, this is really saying something. Cartoon characters are often depicted as “sneering,” but this man really DID sneer. He also bragged constantly and flaunted his knowledge even though, since I supervise a science news website, I realized that most of the facts he talked about so loudly were outdated. He was actually rather fascinating, once I got past the problem of insulted by him (since I realized he must insult everyone he talks to, I didn’t take it personally, although it WAS a personal insult).
I could see that this man, who is well along in years, has never gotten past the adolescent, one-way arrow stage. Since he was born into a wealthy family and has also attained personal fame, he hasn’t had to mature into the double arrow stage. But what he doesn’t realize is that the Emperor has no clothes: he manipulates his listeners so that our arrows all go one way (towards him), but when this happens, every single person is appalled by what he sees, while he remains totally oblivious to the effect he has on other people.
But I was lucky too because I met someone else: a young woman who has just lost someone very close to her in an accident and is still in mourning for him. I told her to email me and when she did, I was able send along the Green Man information I’ve been given, for the express reason (I believe) of sharing it with the bereaved people I meet.
I know that my own friendship arrows will always aim both ways, not because I’m an especially good person (I’ve done PLENTY of bad things in my life!) but because I’ve somehow received a gift that I know I should pass along. And when I do, I become both a giver and a taker, because you never get so much as you do when you give something first, spontaneously, when you don’t need to.
But you don’t learn that lesson until you grow up.
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