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Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Friend... Indeed.

I believe everyone was placed on earth to contribute to the well being of others. Most definitely, close friends and family stand out to us as sweet wells of kindness and contribution; however, all of the other contacts we make in this brief journey add to the buoyancy of upholding our mutual spirits with simple acts of humanity. Too often, we overlook the importance of people who bestow the word, the gesture, or the regard we so desire. And, just as often, we fail to initiate such genial contact ourselves.

People do not have to be comrades or even recognized acquaintances to give approval to the life of others. Strangers we meet often represent unopened valuable gifts until we venture to open their contents and examine their treasures through mutual acceptance. American entertainer and folk philosopher Will Rogers once said, " A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet." Although trust is actually one of the first things that a baby learns, practicing the reliance can set the stage for a lifetime of security or a lack of self-confidence and willing attachment.

We live in an increasingly xenophobic society. With fears of abduction, distrust of mutual commitments, threats of selfish criminal intentions, and a general lack of confidence in people's caring and moral behavior, overly distrustful people often develop a habit of analyzing every action or sentence of a stranger for signs of trickery. This habit leads to paranoia or, at the very least, to stubborn alienation. Guarded comments in conversation seem to be the norm.

Some let fear of rejection stop them from becoming confident, and because they can't reveal their true selves, they assume that others are hiding their real selves as well. Many people actually believe someone's initial politeness and initiated talk are not signs of sincerity or friendship, but ploys used for masking bad intentions. Thus, sadly, these people justify friendly behavior as a firm reason for distrust.

Most of us have moved or changed jobs or schools during out lives and tested the waters of befriending complete strangers. In doing so, we were forced to find value in making new friends. How soon we discovered the value of these new acquaintances. To live a stagnant life in which fear of contact becomes the norm serves to stunt one's personal growth, a process of advancement that must continue throughout life.

The people we know as casual friends are commonly considered "lukewarm" contacts. Our relationships with these individuals, although cordial, is somewhat tentative. The phrase "on tenterhooks" fits the description of this relationship. At one time, wet woolen cloth was stretched on wooden frames known as tenters with hooks on the perimeter (selvage) to insure the cloth would retain its shape and size as it dried. The term later became synonymous with a state of uneasiness or anxiety, stretched like the cloth on a tenter. When we feel too stretched by these friends, we resist the taut nature of our relationships. In fact, the fabrics of our friendships often tear, never to be mended.

The most difficult task facing casual friends is to value the perceived goodness of allies while forgiving their inevitable human faults. Forgiveness is seldom easy, especially when a very trusted friend deals hurt for no apparent reason. As we excuse their insensitive actions, we feel as if we are giving them something they don't deserve. But, in reality, overlooking their miscues is more about setting ourselves free from bondage and putting the ball back in our friend's "own court" than we admit. Anger and resentment accomplish nothing.

True, if acquaintances are going to exist only as our toxic friends --  users, betrayers, control freaks -- we must soon understand their true intentions and break bonds. Yet, how many of us let our own egos and self-interests destroy any attempts for reconciliation? Does the friend even know the deep hurt we feel? Does the friend expect that "sweeping the dirt under the rug" will decrease suffering and suffice for apology? Could it be that both we and our friends share some mutual blame for the disagreement?

Grooming congenial manners, maintaining all levels of friendships, and being receptive to seeking good in everyone is a tall order for anyone. Breaking personable responsibilities into manageable bits may help accomplish these tasks. Acknowledging a "thank you," returning a genuine smile, making friendly inquiry, placing a hand on a shoulder, and making sincere eye contact require little energy and afford minimum risk, but the positive results may change attitudes and even lives.

Some Simple Suggestions For Building Friendships

1. Return honesty for honesty to foster mutual respect.
2. Never confuse sincere apology for weakness.
3. Show appreciation of and initiation of friendly gestures.
4. Don't expect your best friends to be faultless or conform to your standards.
5. Avoid cynical attitudes that would eventually belittle you.
6. Look for a spark of goodness in people you tend to prejudge.
7. Reach out more often than you draw back.
8. Expect no return on investments of friendship.

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