Is it a sign of true friendship to ignore a friend’s flaws? Not necessarily. If someone is your friend, 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.
A reader of this column writes, “It’s not appropriate to comment on a friend’s flaws if they don’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. It may result in a secondary benefit to your friend, but it’s not your reason for taking this action.”
Interesting. 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. The great philosopher Aristotle put it brilliantly when he said that a friend is an extension of yourself. Friends gain from one other by being who they are. And 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. But the thoughtful ones grab my attention because they may give me better insight. I gain a better understanding about people and, at the same time, get ideas for future books, articles and columns.
The same applies to personal relationships. Your friend, spouse or other loved one isn’t going to listen to you unless you speak with sensitivity and honesty. Remember, you’re doing this more for yourself than for the other person, and that honesty helps you get what you want: To be heard.
Some people 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, be truthful. “Can I be honest with you?” is a good way to start. If you don’t say anything, then you’re enabling their sensitive behavior by conveying that you’re willing to pretend that this thing happening to them is either an accident or the fault of others. What kind of make-believe friendship is that?
Being authentic means caring enough to have an opinion, and delivering it with integrity. The greatest compliment someone can pay to you is to render a thoughtful, well-delivered assessment of something you possibly handled wrong. You don’t have to agree. 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 character. The notion that you should see no flaws in your friends suggests that you should ignore reality; that you should pretend to your friend and yourself as well. This is nothing more than lying, and makes no sense.
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 each in the driver’s seat of our lives, we’re just as free to say, “No thank you. I’m not interested.”
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