“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you who you are.” – Unknown
I heard that phrase a lot while I was growing up. My paternal grandmother was an especially strong believer in that theory. She was often right about which of the kids we brought home to hang out would be the one to try to tempt us into trouble or be less observant when it came to following rules. As I got older, even when I professed to be my own person and an independent thinker who could choose my own friends, those words often floated up into my thoughts at times when I questioned whether I should keep someone in my life after witnessing troubling behaviours and attitudes. It became one of the many thought-provoking phrases to help me figure out what to do.
However, I haven’t always gotten it right. There were times when I suppressed that wisdom and let others convince me to act against my feelings. When I do that, I tend to find myself in situations that are less than desirable or outright harmful to me. Situations that range from being pushed to socialize with people who are so negative that talking to them is a physically draining experience; being at events with people whose favourite pastime is talking trash about whoever might be absent, while recognizing if I was absent I could be the topic of cruel conversation. I’ve even had to aggressively confront people who are so bigoted and intolerant that they comfortably verbalize negative stereotypes and make stomach turning generalizations about anyone not like them.
The most extreme situation I faced in recent years, involved a decade-long friendship. With this friend, I could no longer deny that he had a substance abuse problem and he wasn’t just a hard partyer. He came to my home to visit me shortly after I became ill to ask for some of my pain medications so he could get high. That situation did place me in direct harm and I got there because over the length of our friendship I repeatedly downplayed how incompatible the habits and vices of this person were with mine; and I wanted to believe that as long as he didn’t impose that part of his lifestyle on me we could continue being friends.
Unfortunately, I needed a jolt this shocking to remind me that it’s not realistic to have people whose views about the world are so drastically different from your own so involved in your life. I don’t mean that my friends always have to agree with me, but it’s hard to maintain a harmonious balance when you don’t share similar core values. Overall, I consider myself very fortunate, because when I think about my closest friends, I can see that I’ve chosen some incredible people to be in my life. The people in my life who are closest to me are loyal and trustworthy. They are supportive and tell me the truth instead of telling me what they think I want to hear, and we never have to hide our true feelings about anything from each other. They have empathy for others and always treat everyone with respect. Most importantly, we have meaningful connections, which I never worry might negatively affect my life