Before I begin this post, let me clarify that I am no saint. The observations I make in this post apply to me as well. I do not claim to have any authority on what friendship truly means, nor am I a perfect conversationalist. That being said, these are my observations after spending more than two decades on this planet, and I would like to think there is a grain of truth to them.
I have recently turned 25, and find (to my dismay) that conversation with most people is not enjoyable. This is not completely new. It struck me in law school too. When I first joined law school (in India) I noticed that people enjoyed doing something called ‘taking someone’s case’. To those who are unfamiliar with this term, ‘taking someone’s case’ is the process of humiliating someone in public, by making a punchline. That is saying something superficial and funny, which on deeper reflection may not really be true. I attributed this to the fact that these were scared 18 year-olds who had deep insecurities about their place in life. But as I grew older, the trend continued. The ‘case-takes’ seemed caught in their self-affirming flatulent bubble, and began to see their ability to pick on people as talent.
This doesn’t mean law school was full of such people. In fact, I met perspicacious and sensitive people, people who were passionate about what they believed in, and humble people. But these really were the minority. Most of them, I became friends with.
But I also learnt to be sharp. To zero in on people’s insecurities, and to be able to say ‘witty’ things, that in retrospect were plain ugly. Perhaps, I was an 18 year old, insecure about my place in the word, but I lost track of the one quality that separates intelligence (I dare not say wisdom) from cleverness, and brightness from well-marketed mediocrity. That quality was humility. Growing up in a law school you think that marketing yourself and smooth talking is all it takes to get ahead. I wish I could say this was untrue. But I will say that you can do well without any of that. Some of the most interesting people I know, and the most successful, are the humblest and most self-effacing.
At any rate, I was lucky enough to find a partner who could call my bullshit, and made me introspect on the impact my behavior could have on others. I would like to think I am a better person now, or at least a more discerning one. These nuggets of wisdom are a result of that introspection.
1) Respect your adversary.
The worst thing you can do in a conversation is make a statement, and then check out. I wish this were not true, but a large number of people make this mistake. They make a statement, and then check out (mentally) for the duration of the time that the other person is talking. Sometimes, it is less subtle. You will occasionally meet people who if you disagree with them, will start checking their phone, or get a glazed look in their eye. Here is a tip: ditch them. No one is worth talking to, if they don’t have respect for your time and effort. If you are one of these people, then I am sure you stopped reading a while back.
2) Don’t make statements for shock value.
Conversation is about the exchange of ideas, and the persuasion of people through reasoned discourse. If you need to say shocking things to get people’s attention, you probably don’t have very interesting things to say. Of course following this advice is not going to make you popular, it will only make you a bit less of a git.
3) Friendship should be between equals.
We all have friends who doubt their worth, or feel that one person has all the power in the friendship. Maybe sometimes we are that friend. If you have a friend who thinks that it is a one-sided friendship, or who devotes time and attention to you that you can not reciprocate. Let them go. No good comes of holding on to people who are more attached to you, than you to them. Somerset Maugham said something like in every relationship there is a person who loves and one who lets themselves be loved. Sadly, my favorite author was dead wrong (and this kind of wrong becomes popular wisdom). Not only are there relationships of people who equally care for each other, but that is what healthy relationships are like. Holding on to someone who feels inferior or neglected all the time, is a disservice to them.
4) Pick character over personality. Every time.
If you have to chose between a boring friend and a interesting one with a whacky moral compass. Pick the former. Close your eyes and pick the former. Personalities become boring, just like youth fades. (Unless you have a painting in a cellar somewhere that ages on your behalf.. but that story did not end well). What does not become boring (perhaps because it is boring to begin with) is compassion and patience.
5) Surround yourself with people who have differing points of view.
This helps prevent you from burrowing yourself into an intellectual hole, where you only see one point as legitimate. These days I have the most interesting discussions with people, some of whom are conservative and some of whom pro-life. These discussions teach me to empathize, and to understand that reasonable people of good will can disagree on some fundamental things.
But what you should not do, is to surround yourself with people who like confrontation, and who have no intention of being persuaded. Drop them like a hot potato (as the song goes). You will just feel anguish over interactions with them.
6)Understand that most friendships have a life cycle.
If you see eye to eye with someone for a lifetime, they are probably your soul-mate. Am kidding. The only way you can see eye to eye with a person for a whole lifetime, is through hard work. That kind of hard work can be put into one or two relationships in your life. With the rest of the people, you will outgrow them. Its inevitable, like the end of the Daily show. No one wants it happen. But happen it will, because eventually Stewart will get tired of being in the same place for sixteen years. Umm, I am digressing. Learn that outgrowing friendships is a healthy sign, it shows you are not the person you were five years ago. (Trust me, we were all morons five years ago).
7) Eat a lot of fiber.
The wisdom of this is pretty self-evident.
8)Know that you are not self-made.
It is unfortunate that our embracing of individualism makes us neglect all of the factors that have contributed to us becoming who we are. Our successes, and those of others are a product of a lot of help. That may seem trite (frankly most of this post does). But it is inevitable that you remember, that people’s failures are also not completely theirs. So if you see someone failing, know that in another time and place, it could be you.
9) Realize that 25 is too young to be dispensing advice.
This last advice, is for me.
If any of you have stayed with me till the very end of a slightly preachy post, I would like to thank you. You really are the most amazing readers, to tolerate a 25 year old, talking like a 60 year old.