Keep your friends close. That’s all

Do your friends help you? Do you enrich each other? If not, are they even friends?

My best friend is a GP doctor and I’m sure he won’t mind him mentioning him here. We go back to medical school days and since moving back to Wales, we’ve spent a lot of time supporting each other through our various endeavours.

Interestingly although we have some commonalities in our backgrounds, we had quite different outlooks, and even today, we have a lot of differences in how we see and do things, due to our circumstances, one of which is that I’ve been married for 8 yrs and he remains blissfully single.

I mention this because through our life journey, we (as in the collective we) have a habit of gravitating towards those who are similar to us in terms of background, social and financial status, occupational similarities, even to such issues of favourite cars, holiday destinations, hobbies and so on. I say gravitate towards, because we don’t start off life like this.

Have you ever noticed how children, by and large, don’t really care what their friends look like? My daughter’s school has an amazing ethnic diversity and cultural variety, and at the age of 5 has made loads of friends who are nothing like her in so many respects. Now, have you also noticed that if your child brings a friend home or you see your child with their school friends, you find yourself thinking, ‘how did my son find himself hanging about with this character?’, which makes some sense if your son is a teenager and starting to build relationships outside of the family sphere of influence, not to mention all the fun personal development stuff that teenagers go through. Guidance is not optional here, it’s an obligation. But do you find yourself doing this to your primary school –age children too? Do you find yourself instinctively making a judgement on your 4 or 5 yr old’s classmates when you see them at the school gates based upon how they dress, how their parents dress, what language they speak? Do you tend to guide them towards the ‘right’ kind of children? Think about it.

Children, as a rule, see the world as wide and open, with many opportunities and paths open to them. It’s like they see a football field or a beach, everything is open and free. Adults prefer the beautifully manicured lawn, cultivated garden or play area. It’s been designed, it represents order. We like order, it represents that rules have been followed, it is congruent with our identity of logical thinking to solve a problem eg this was a messy garden before, now it has well tended flower beds. Now see what happens when you let primary school children loose on that garden! Is it that children don’t appreciate order and rules? Maybe. Is it that they don’t appreciate beauty? Nonsense. It is well established that even young children have an eye for colours, designs, things that attract attention due to simplicity and form. How else do you explain the success of iPads with children all over the world?

Notice though that adults like the garden with distinct and signposted paths, areas to follow and more importantly, areas to avoid. We see the parts of the garden that are closed, more than those that are open. (Keep off the grass, anyone? What’s the point of grass if only seen from a distance?) And try as we might, we automatically convey those feelings of a ‘closed system’ to our children, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. Children are surprisingly adept at picking up these signals, especially as our body language may entirely contradict our words eg ‘Of course little Johnny can come and play on Saturday’ – body language says ‘that Johnny kid wants to come over? I’d sooner perform my own tonsillectomy. Using a kitchen knife.’

What’s my point in all this? My friend is a very successful GP, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time socially with doctors, apart from me, because he has such a wide range of interests. And when we’re meeting up, we hardly ever talk ‘shop’ because we simply do not define our relationship that way. In fact, if we listed our various interests, activities and backgrounds one would note as many differences as similarities.

I put it down to this – we are friends because we create value in our interactions with each other, and we learn something from each other every time.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m big on ‘value’, which means I want people I meet to know that I want them to feel better in some way for having met me, whether because I’ve given them some advice, I’ve offered some help or insight, or just because I’ve been there to listen. I’ve helped somehow. My friend and I helped each other through tough times in each other’s lives just because we value each other’s well being, and that’s what friends do at the end of the day. They offer without expecting reward. I’m blessed that I have friends like that, and I believe that it’s because I’ve been willing to offer value, not because they have helped me, or that I expect them to help me, but I know that if I do need help I’ve got people to call on who won’t hesitate to step up. I’ll get into this in more detail another time.

My point is this – my friends are quite unlike me in a lot of ways. Why then should we judge how our children should choose their friendships? In many ways, they have the instinct of offering their help (how many teenagers spend hours on the phone consoling a friend in need? Their mobile bill will tell you the answer!) and, given the example that creating friendship and support means not cutting off options based upon simple and unreliable factors like what kind of clothes they wear or what their parents do. Does your friend network offer each other value? Do you spend time with people who actively improve your life? Consider your friendships and relationships, they are what will count when everything else has gone.

So takeaways for the day…

1)      Be more ‘open’ to possibilities

2)      Value your friendships and relationships above all else. Keep in contact!

3)       Look to offer help with no expectation of a ‘return’

[Photo of friends together]

Enjoy the rest of the day , and thanks for stopping by.