The traits you see as minor ‘flaws’ in your friends WILL get worse over time, not better. Life taught me this in the harshest of ways. We often hear ‘they’ll grow out of it’ or ‘they’ll get better’. We seem to forget that with all things in life, there are painful means to an end, especially when it comes to growth. How often have we dismissed inappropriate behaviour from others, as ‘that’s just how they are?’ When was the last time YOU confronted the friend who gets handsy with girls when drunk? Or have you told yourself ‘it’s only when they’re drunk that they’re like that.’ When was the last time YOU told a friend who ALWAYS lost their temper over petty things that this trait is destructive? Or did you just dismiss it as ‘competitive hunger’?
‘I’m here for a good time not a long time’
Good times should be the least of our priorities. Now don’t misinterpret what I’m about to say. Good times are essential for any friendship. What I’m suggesting is that happy memories shouldn’t be the sponge of the cake that is friendship, but rather the icing. Our joyful moments will be increased not diminished when we view our friendships in their entirety, good and bad. Our friends should pour into our growth, well being, ideas, dreams, careers, ambitions, lives so much so that the good times seem like extra bonuses. But this is a two-way street. How many of your friends right now can testify to the investment you have made into their life outside of ‘the good times?’
Our world today has equipped us more than ever with the tools to isolate ourselves from those who disagree with us. And it has given us more ‘safe spaces’ than ever that affirm us even when we are wrong. When a former VP at Facebook says “social media is destroying society with ‘dopamine-driven feedback loops” we have to take note and listen up. Is our reaction to criticism healthy or unhealthy? When it comes to friendship; criticism is often seen as a curse rather than a blessing. Many divorces start and end with criticism. As do many friendships. We can all name one friendship in secondary school that broke down over a disagreement. If we fail to see our friends as permanent, we subconsciously see their flaws as future problems that we won’t have to deal with. But the truth is someone else will. And maybe in ways that no one could foresee.
After hearing that a former friend had sexually assaulted someone, I felt a guilt that I had never felt before. The signs had been there for all to see for a long time, but it seems I never cared enough about them and their future to confront their behaviour. I had to share the blame. Rocking the boat of any friendship leaves you viable to personal attack at the deepest level. At one stage their behaviour could have been described as harmless, but now it wasn’t. Knowing my inaction led to someone being affected opened my eyes to how important it is to speak when you see something wrong, especially in those who count you as friends. None of us are perfect. But there are a means to an end especially when it comes to growth, and confrontation is always the first step.
Confronting with love
Friendship is easy when we see it as ‘someone else’s’ job to tell our friends they’re wrong. It’s too easy to minimise your part in a situation when your thoughts begin with ‘It’s not my place.’ But therein lies the question ‘why isn’t it your place?’ If your critique is accurate, loving, and from a good place what reason do you have not to say anything? If the answer is ‘you don’t want to upset them’ then maybe the real issue is you don’t care about their long-term well-being as much as you should. The truth is many of us don’t have friends who care enough to confront us because we aren’t ‘that friend’ to anyone. The truth is in friendship too many our outward focused rather than inward focused. Maybe they in YOUR time of need will overlook the toxic traits that you have, and allow you to go down a destructive path. Good friendships are symbiotic and we can’t expect to be corrected by our friends if we can’t correct them. So after giving this ‘criticise thing’ a go over the past year and a half, here are a few things I learnt and I would love to share. As C.S Lewis said friendship is the least essential of all human relationships. However, it is the one relationship in life that allows us to enjoy life to its fullest. Without it operating as it should we quickly feel empty and without joy.
- It’s not supposed to be easy
Learning that my adverseness to criticise my friends wasn’t a bad sign, but a good sign helped me a lot. I didn’t want to hurt my friends. I didn’t want to make them feel bad about something that may be an inerrant trait and a long-term struggle. I didn’t want to cause tension between us. I still don’t. But the question is now I care more about their long-term gain than their short-term comfort. The easy route in positions of conflict is rarely the best route. “Iron sharpens Iron” is a commonly used phrase, but that only comes through friction and a wearing down of bluntness.
- Love enough to say
As a general rule, your actions define you are a person more than your intentions. We may say we love our friends but if this doesn’t lead to action then maybe we don’t love them as much as we claim to. Love encompasses pain and conflict. Without it is a false love. Ralph Waldo once said “Better to be a nettle in your friend’s side than his echo”
- Be transparent yourself
When Jesus said, “take the log out of your own eye, and THEN you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This isn’t a call for passiveness. Rather it is a call for humility before others in light and remembrance of your own perpetual failings in one area of your life or another. Expose yourself as a broken person. Expose yourself as a sinner. Expose yourself as a ‘failure.’ Show your friend that you’re in this together. Be the friend you want your friends to be to you. Has a parent or an older mentor ever shared their former struggles with you before? Remember the hope you felt when you might have felt hopeless at the time? Offer your friend the opportunity to feel the same. Transparency WILL involve a high level of pain on your part but it’s a sacrifice you must take if you care.
- Speak your friend’s language
Acknowledge that not everyone absorbs information and criticism the same as you. The most effective method of getting through may not be the easiest method but try your best to speak your friend’s language. Some people only respond to direct words. Others are more sensitive to softer words. Play the game by the rules. Do what’s best for your friend not what’s most comfortable for you. It’s not good enough to heap criticism on another human being, and feel devoid of any responsibility for their reaction, because you didn’t care enough to accommodate for their personality no more so a friend.
- Acknowledge criticism only goes as far as someone’s self-awareness
As almost a counterbalance to point 4 it is important to acknowledge the old adage you can lead a “horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Some of your friends won’t react well to criticism. And that’s okay. If they are a true friend, and you’ve acknowledged the above, your love will be reflected more than any level of criticism.
This comes as advice to all who are believers. Pray pray and then pray some more. The heart belongs to God and only he can truly be the one to change anyone’s heart (2 Tim 2:25). Though this point comes last it really should be 1st. And 2nd. And… you get the point. Praying for your friends will show you in private how much you truly cherish them and expose any preconceived level of affinity believe you have for them. Like action, you can only love your friends as much as you pray for them.