“Much of the vitality in a friendship lies in the honoring of differences, not simply in the enjoyment of similarities.”
At one point or another in our lives, we all develop friendships with at least one other person. While most of us tend to become friends with those who are like us, there is always that one friend who seems to almost never go with you on anything. Yet, they love you the same way your other friends do and root for you to succeed at every opportunity.
As it turns out, a friend who challenges you is much better than one who agrees with everything you do and never presents opposing ideas or assumptions by which you can measure your own. A friend who tells you that you’re wrong sometimes and sincerely means it and is unafraid that you’ll drop the friendship is someone to keep by your side.
You will find in a friend who challenges you that you both complement each other. This is often true with friends who go into business together. One person may be more of the planner-organizer type while the other one may be the big picture person. In another example, one may be the face of the organization while the other is content to work feverishly behind the scenes. They are polar opposites but this is what makes the business work because they complement each other.
Many of us wrongly believe friends are just people who do whatever we want them to do or who agree with us on everything. And anyone who believes that real friendships are easy must not have any real friendships. The friendships that appear to be easy or simplistic are often selfish relations disguised as “yes men” and “yes women”. They aren’t real relationships in which we are forced to grow roots and stand firm in the world’s winds.
Yes men (and women) are enablers. They’re those people who we have around us for the sake of convenience. These people don’t know the real us because deep down we can’t trust them and they don’t really trust us. They are just there to boost our ego when we’re down, tell us everything is okay when it’s really falling apart, and pat us on the back when we need a kick in the ass. They tell us what we want to hear instead of what we need to hear.
The problem with yes men and yes women is that they’re willingness to be the yes every time to us eventually runs out (kind of like patience runs out with some people). Being a yes person is a draining and dangerous profession. Such a connection with another person is transitory. These people will exit our lives at some point usually when we stop receiving their yesses. And we will leave their lives at some point because lies, even little ones, eventually get old.
Real friends don’t drive you nuts; they drive you to a place of decision and change when necessary. They help to stimulate growth. We don’t learn, grow, or improve by surrounding ourselves with people who are just like us, who think like us, act like us, shade themselves from the ideas in the world, and parrot our beliefs and lifestyle. The friend who asks you to explain why you believe something or why you don’t like something is a friend to be grateful for.
Often, when we are challenged to go deep into our beliefs and opinions, we find arguments that are not valid, reliable, or even reasonable. However, if our beliefs and opinions are left unchallenged, we tend to hold on to them for the simple reason that that’s what we’ve always believed. True friends help us to challenge and even change those invalid assumptions. Sometimes that takes getting in our face and showing us where we are wrong. It’s better to have the friend who stabs you in the front than the one who stabs you in the back.
The friend who challenges you will offer honest, unbiased feedback. He or she tends to look at things objectively and not be colored by their own personal views or jaded by your feelings and facial expressions. They are also unafraid to lose the relationship because of disagreement or argument. You never know how deeply someone loves you until that love is put to the test. When you’re not thinking clearly, instead of letting you barrel head-first on the bridge that’s out, they will give you good and wise advice while at the same time not forcing you to follow it.
For example, let’s say you text or call your friend and tell him you want to buy the latest gadget that’s just come off the market and selling at $999. But you both know that you’re supposed to be saving money for college and at the moment you are currently broke. A friend who challenges you will say, ‘Short answer is no. You’re getting back to your old habit of impulsive buying and it doesn’t help with your goal of saving for college expenses.’ That’s a friend who loves you enough to tell you the real deal even though you may not want to hear it.
A friend who challenges you is balanced in that he or she lets you make your own final choice. They don’t force you to do anything or demand that you change. They tell you the truth. They give their honest advice and feedback. And they leave it up to you to make the decision that you think is best. Friends are not parents. The balance comes in when they are still there after you’ve made the decision to celebrate with you if it was good or to share in the lesson if it was bad.
Whether you listen to them or not, you can trust a person who challenges you to be and do your best. A Native American Prayer reads like this: “Bless those who challenge us to grow, to stretch, to move beyond the knowable, to come back home to our essential nature. Bless those who challenge us for they remind us of doors we have closed and doors we have yet to open.”
“Support your friends – even in their mistakes. But be clear, however, that it is the friend and not the mistake you are supporting.”
— Hugh Prather