We work with an organization that sends teams out into the world. These teams usually consist of seven people who are assigned to be together. They live with one another, work, play, and travel – all together.
Part of our coaching is helping them work through the inevitable issues of living in community. And there is one refrain we hear way too often. It goes something like this: ‘These just aren’t my kind of people. I’d never be friends with them outside of this.
I’ll admit, I’ve said the same kinds of things before. But it is a bit absurd, isn’t it? We act like we held auditions to decide who was worthy of our friendship.
How It Really Happened
The truth is, the selection of our social circle was not as up to us as we might like to think. A person born around the same time as you. A kid who lives in the same neighborhood. Parents enroll us in the same sports. We get into Sophomore Organic Chemistry at the same time. It’s all so deliciously random.
Sure, we don’t connect with everyone. But we probably could connect with a lot more than we think. All it takes is one moment. One shared comment during a school project that causes laughter. One game of tag. The connections are not as deep as we imagine. They are connections of convenience and proximity.
This is how friendship starts. In the end, we are standing behind them on their wedding day, crying at their parent’s funeral, and throwing them baby showers. But in the beginning, it was mostly awkward chance that leads us into friendship.
What We Are Looking For
Why is this important? Because, if we accepted this process, we might find ourselves with more friends.
As it is, we find the making of friendship harder the later we get in life. Why? One reason is that adulthood frowns upon the awkward connections necessary to begin friendships.
The greater reason is that we find what we are looking for. And we are not really looking for new friends.
Our ego is looking for people to validate it. We imagine we’ll call these people ‘friends’. But what we really want is another person who thinks like me, looks like me, agrees with me. Since there is only one of me in the world, I find the foreign behavior and thoughts of others strange and sometimes annoying. I develop the same impossible standards for friendship as I do for dating.
Accept the Process
Here is the truth of the matter: People are amazing. They are weird and hilarious and completely broken. They are fragile and desperate. We are all longing for togetherness. We all have value as members of society.
This is all that is needed for the making of a friend.
I have a good friend, Jon, who decided we would be best friends the first day we met. It kinda creeped me out for a long time. But it worked. He decided we would be friends. And over time, I decided this weirdo was also a wonderful person. I decided to be friends.
It’s all a decision, a choice. Am I willing to invest in this person? This fallible, beautiful person? Because every person has value in this world.
The people you are around are not your old friends. They are not you. They are not perfect. None of this ought to disqualify them for friendship.
We would do well to revert to our childlike approach to friendship. Whoever is in our space, whoever crosses paths with us, is worthy of acknowledgment and friendship.
By the way, when I was on the same trip that we are now coaching others on, I felt adversarial towards my team. Included was a loud redhead I had no interest in connecting with and found myself frequently annoyed by. Today, she is my wife, my best friend, and my favorite person in the whole world.
Give people a chance.