Care enough to have an opinion


Is it a sign of true friendship to ignore a friend’s flaws? Not necessarily. If someone is your friend (and, therefore, important to you), doesn’t it make sense to try and stop her from making a mistake? You can’t control her or do her thinking for her, but you can certainly care enough to comment. If she won’t listen, or feels there’s nothing she can do about it, at least you commented. You did what you could for your friend.

A visitor to one of the discussion forums on my website writes, ‘It’s not appropriate to comment on a friend’s flaws if they didn’t ask for your opinion. If a friend has asked for your opinion, and this friend is beneficial to your happiness, then it makes sense to give it to him. You take this action for your own happiness and pleasure. It may result in a secondary benefit to your friend, but it’s not your reason for taking this action.’

This is an interesting point. You tell your friend what you really think—for your own sake, as well as his. In fact, you do it primarily for yourself. Does that make you ‘selfish?’ Of course not. The issue here is integrity—a real, authentic relationship with your friend. You might owe it to him, but you definitely owe it to yourself. The great philosopher Aristotle put it brilliantly when he said that a friend is an extension of yourself. Friends gain from each other, essentially by being who they are. And it implies that a part of friendship is telling a friend when you believe he or she is going off course. By doing so, you are, in a perfectly selfish yet legitimate sense, saying, ‘I don’t want to lose who you are.’

A lot of people don’t know how to communicate, especially when it comes to criticism. I get critical comments all the time about my column, my books and my other writings. The comments that include hostility or name-calling don’t get a second look from me. But the thoughtful ones always grab my attention because I know they may possibly correct my errors, or give me better insight as to how people make the mistakes they do. I gain a better understanding about people and reality—and, at the same time, get ideas for future books, articles and columns.

The same applies to personal relationships. If I won’t listen to what a stranger says to me in hostility, you can be sure that your friend, spouse or other loved one isn’t going to listen to you unless you speak with sensitivity, honesty and clarity. Remember, you’re doing this more for yourself than for the other person. Your sensitivity, honesty and clarity helps you get what you want: To be heard.

Some people are hypersensitive, meaning that they can’t tolerate criticism. In these cases, my advice is to simply not give it to them. But if (when) they encounter problems and complain to you, just be truthful. ‘Can I be honest with you?’ or, ‘Can I make a suggestion?’ is a good way to start. If you don’t say anything, then you’re enabling their hypersensitive behavior by conveying that you’re willing to pretend that this bad thing happening to them is either an accident or the fault of others. It has nothing to do with any flaws they may have, or errors they made. What kind of make-believe friendship is that?

Being authentic means caring enough to have an opinion, and delivering that opinion with sincerity and integrity. The greatest compliment someone can pay to you is to render a thoughtful, well-delivered assessment of some situation he sees you possibly handling wrong. You don’t have to agree. Your friend may, in fact, be mistaken or not be seeing the whole picture. But if he took the time to put that kind of thought into your life, then surely it counts for something.

At the core of this is your own mind and character. The notion that you should see no flaws in your friends suggests that you should ignore reality; that you should pretend, not only to your friend, but to yourself as well. This makes no sense. The visitor to my website goes on to say, ‘If you have a friend who has never asked for your opinion regarding their flaws, then your friend is not obligated to listen to your unsolicited opinion.’

I recognize that there are people who like to ‘hear themselves talk.’ They don’t render opinions because they care about you. They do so because they like to think aloud, feel important or otherwise work out their personal issues by spouting off—on your time. This sort of person doesn’t really care about your reaction, and isn’t a true friend. Friendship is, and should be, a two-way street where self-interested parties each gain something of personal value. And, since we’re all in the driver’s seat of our own lives, we’re just as free to say, ‘No thank you. I’m not interested.’