On Being a Friend

I have learned something uncomfortable-but-transformative about my capacity to be a friend this week.

It is this: I don’t believe enough.

I’m fortunate to know many expressive people, some of whom are successful at enacting their dreams and visions in the world, most in less sure stages of development. There are people so clear about their abilities, and confident about their gifts, that one doesn’t question whether they’ll be able to pursue most of their interests and connections freely. And there are people endowed with such loving support around them that at the very least it is easy to see them as less encumbered, with a bit of a head start to snowball faster. If one of these friends tells me about their plans to write a book or to develop a podcast, etc., there’s no hindrance to my celebrating with them, adding my openness energy (I know, funny term, but it says what I mean!) to theirs.

But then there are the other friends who, knowing my editing work or general appreciation for creatives, tell me they’ve thought of writing, or what-have-you. I’ve always believed myself to be a supportive friend to them. Isn’t my availability for feedback and offering positive response outwardly, support? It isn’t. Therapy has helped me become far more aware of a critical voice in my mind which up to now I’ve thought was reserved for myself. I’ve seen myself as encouraging of others, even as giving what I do not yet have.

I flashed back to a conversation with a friend several years ago, who expressed that someone thought her young life camping in the Everglades with her dad would make a good story. I agreed that it would, but inwardly, felt she wouldn’t be up to it. Her education level was relatively low, and her interest in things like grammar and spelling were not great, so a quick calculation landed me with the general feeling that this couldn’t happen.

But you know what? It could have. What it might have taken would have been, if it was more than a passing interest, someone–a friend like me– to help her get the stories out in at least a draft. There were no limits on the type of book she might write; who knows what form would have appeared once she began? I didn’t say anything discouraging, and actually was quite encouraging at the time, but was my energy in that support? It couldn’t have been, because I didn’t really believe in her. I had a notion of what her level was. In my mind, she was still someone I, a horrible Math student myself, had tutored way back in 8th grade.

I could feel quite badly about this, and l do see how it is a pattern not just with this friend but in many relationships, but the truth is that these are quite normal inner obstacles. Objectivity can also be support at times.

However, what hit me today is that nothing I thought, was true enough to keep the ceiling so low. None of those factors mattered as much as they seemed to at the time. AND THIS IS TRUE FOR MYSELF AS WELL. If I was hesitant to face my limitations when it came to supporting this friend, I have been terrified to face the way I have talked to myself, bullied myself, taken on the mantle passed down in my family of “Don’t set your hopes too high”, when the truth is, none of us has any idea what is possible… not for ourselves nor each other.

We do not know.

I’ve had experiences of shared openness which should have convinced me long ago of the empowerment we might way more easily offer, and the wonderful effects that might have for the world should we tap deeper into completely available resources. Sometimes seeing a pattern is all it takes to melt it away. What kind of awesome friend, then could I be, even to me?


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