Friend or Foe

on Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sometimes, when the nuts are all gathered and safely stored, when the snow lies thick upon the ground and there is not much to do but to stay snug in the nest and out of the bitter winds, a squirrel's thoughts may turn philosophical.

On this occasion, I have been reflecting on the meaning of friendship. Is a friend someone who gives you support and love unconditionally? Or is a friend someone who stand up and risks even the friendship to tell you when you are doing something wrong?

Recently, I had a friend who wanted to take a very big life-changing step and who needed my help and direct support to achieve it. I did just that because I wanted to show my unconditional support but since then I wondered if I had done the right thing. Deep down, I have my doubts about whether my friend had made the decision for change for the right reasons and there is a fear that things will not work out as my friend had hoped.

So have I done the right thing by offering unconditional support? If so, why do I feel that I have contributed to a train wreck that is yet to happen?

The alternative would probably to tell my friend that he is about to make an ass of himself and as I friend I will not participate in his "ass-ification". I might lose him as a friend though and would be unlikely to have swayed his course. But would I at least achieve a "moral" victory? Hmmm.

When I look back at my own life experiences, I remember a time when a friend told me I would be certifiably insane if I pursued my desire to be a psychologist. Her point was that there were few career opportunities for psychologists in Malaysia and I would probably end up being a starving psychologist. I remember thanking her for her candid input but deep down I wondered why she would try to ruin my dreams and aspirations with mere facts and reality.

In hindsight, I am happy with the career that I did pursue even though it has little to do with psychology. Yet even though till today we remain close friends, that incident still shines like a beacon across the darkness of time to remind me that I did not get the support I wanted. The conclusion from my own experience would suggest that even I value support rather than the truth from a friend.

Yet, there is a part of me that would like to believe in the higher ideal that friendship must be about truth and what is good for the other person above all else ......even the friendship itself. In other words, better to be a good friend or even an ex-friend than a mere "yes"-man friend.

What do you think? What type of friend would you prefer? Please advice the squirrel.


the walking man said...

"On this occasion, I have been reflecting on the meaning of friendship. Is a friend someone who gives you support and love unconditionally? Or is a friend someone who stand up and risks even the friendship to tell you when you are doing something wrong?"

Why are these two positions presented as alternatives for each other? A friend does both, support but also does it as honestly and truthfully as possible. If the one receiving the support rejects the advice that does not kill the friendship, doesn't even have to alter it.

The point of every decision is to come to the best possible outcome isn't it? If a poor choice is made then the outcome still hoped for is the best possible one within the parameters of the circumstances involved.

Friends understand and accept the emerging reality of their friends.


I personally think that a TRUE friend would encourage whatever path you chose to go down and not discourage you.After all it is your life and I'm sure if the boot was on the other foot you would let this friend make his/her own mind up. To me a friend is someone who is there through thick and thin, the hard times and the good times.Fair weather friends are two a penny but True friends once found are there no matter what.

Have a good day.


Joyce's Ramblings said...

LGS, My friends are supportive but tell it like it is. Truth is a powerful thing and did you really want to do that other career when your friend didn't encourage and you changed your mind. A friend will give advice but not get upset when you don't follow it.
Awhile back when you asked about the burial of my infant uncle in 1909 the paper was lost. I found it and he died at 4 months and the paper just says stomach trouble.
You are never poor when you have a friend!

Owen said...

I think I'd like to have a friend who would give support but also be honest enough to point out whatever risks they might see, in a non-judgmental manner... People sometimes have to take risks and discover for themselves the reality of their choices... What was that line from the old Paul Simon song... "A man hears what he wants to hear...and disregards the rest..."

I'll never forget the friend from long ago who gave me encouragement about moving to France when many others were telling me to hold onto the job I had and not toss it away for the total uncertainty of finding another job in a foreign country. 17 years later I'm still happily living in France, and working... The friend who gave support at that time was someone who had emigrated to the US from Cuba, and knew the importance of following one's dreams and one's heart...

Becky Wolfe said...

Hmmm, interesting question. I have a feeling that the 'unsupportive but truthful' moments stand out from time to time for me too. I guess it depends on what the truth is. In the case of your friend, she was being truthful but also opinionated... and truth can be said in less hurtful or opinionated ways. I think there is a way to be supportive and offer truth in a great friendship. But sometimes, the words of truth, even if they are hurtful, can help point us back on the right path. So, yeah, I guess I can say both are useful & if they are done in love AND support, that makes for a wonderful friend!

VioletSky said...

Humour is the key.
Although you both need to share the same humour in order for it to temper any disagreement.

Anonymous said...

I think a friend should be supportive but should express their doubts if they have them. I hope yor friend made the right choice! Betty

geewits said...

I'm curious why your friend's decision to be honest with you still stings after all of this time. Did you make your decision based on her opinion? And then regret it? If you made the decision on your own, why would it still bother you that she was being practical? I think unconditional support is unrealistic. If you really care about someone, you have to tell them if you think they may cause harm to themselves in any way. I've always been honest with my friends. And I'll be honest with you: if you really thought of this change as a train wreck, why did you support it? Do you really think that that's being a friend?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for your comment. I guess I ought to clarify that in this case, I have spoken my peace and have given my truthful advice but my friend has not taken it. My dilemma is that he needs me to actively do something so that he can carry out his decision. In other words, it isn't a case of just saying the truth and then allowing that people have a right to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes. I actually have to help him make that decision come true and I did. Should I have said no?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for your comment. Your position was in fact the view I took. I told him that I think he was making an enormous mistake but that I would help him if that was what he wanted. But I was wondering, if a child asks a parent for something that the parent feels is dangerous, doesn't the parent out of love say "no"? In this case, it is not just giving advice, I actually had to assist him in making his decision come true. It's like helping someone to get a driving license when you think he should not be driving at all.

the walking man said...

The rule in my world is do what the heart says. if you did that without qualm then it was the right thing to do regardless of what your rational mind says now. BUT if you were somewhat uncertain when you had to make a choice it would have been better to step back and do some calculations in the mind before committing to any course of action.

Uncertainty is the worst emotion when giving something because "the whatever" can not be given freely.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Words of wisdom. Thank you. But it is one think to give advice and have a passive role but in this case, my friend needs me to help him achieve his goal and I have done so but now think i should have said, it's your decision but I cannot in good conscience actively help you in a decision I believe to be wrong.

Thank you for sharing about your uncle. The cause of death is vague though.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I am sure that friend that gave you that encouragement holds a special place in your heart. I guess I can only hope my friend made the right choice and do my best to help prevent a train wreck.

Thanks for your comment. In this particular case, I did not have the luxury of telling my friend that I don't agree with his choice but I would support him and then play a passive role. In this case, I actually have to actively do something for him to allow him to achieve his goal. So if this thing becomes a train wreck, I will not be just a witness but I would have helped put the train on the wrong tracks.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I do agree. Humor and love. Clear and concise.

I agree with supportive but tell the truth. In this case, I also have to actively help him carry out what I believe to be a monumental mistake. So I am not just a bystander cheering him on.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I know in my mind that a true friend should speak the truth as they see it and that incident did not affect my decision or our friendship. Yet, to be truthful, my heart hurt when someone you share your dreams with pours cold water on them.

As for this particular case, I am wondering if I have taken the concept of unconditional support too far. And yes, I might regret it. For now, I guess I have to try to make sure the train wreck doesn't happen.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Honestly. My instinct for unconditional support kicked in. Only now, my rational mind begins to have its voice heard. Not good, I know.

Kathryn said...

Well, from reading the comments, it sounds like you've done what you can.

You aren't a parent to this person, & if you took a parental stance it could really damage your friendship. You're in a difficult spot, 'cause your friend doesn't just want verbal support but something more to speed them on their way.

If you've let this person know you think it is a really bad idea & is going to end poorly, but that you will support their decision (& remind yourself you'll be there when/if it goes bad), then i think you are being a good friend.

I just hope that this person is not one who will blame later, however. If you see disaster coming, is this someone who will later say, "Why didn't you stop me?!?" & it becomes your fault, then it could be huge.

Years ago i had a friend who was very dear to me. I watched her kids & we did many things together. Her marriage wasn't happy & eventually she began having affairs - many, many of them. I let her know that i didn't support what she was doing & felt that she would pay for it & that as a Christian woman she knew what she was doing was wrong - but that i was still & would always be her friend.

But that meant i was supporting what she was doing even tho i wouldn't admit it. I've not had many friends in my life & i found that having one was too precious to let one go. I also knew that what i said wouldn't make a particle of difference to her (yeah, not sure i knew the definition of friend).

She ultimately found one man, divorced her husband, married the new guy, & dropped me as a friend.

That caused a lot of hurt for me, but had i been the one walking away from the friendship, i would have hurt too, & always wondered if i should have done differently.

There are no easy answers

Cedar said...

I am distracted by shiney objects the word "ass-ification" took me totally away from your post, can I borrow that, it better than assdom.

I wish 14 years ago when I was making my decision to move to Seattle someone would have sat me down and said, "are you out of your mind?" But than again...

secret agent woman said...

I'd walk the balance between the two. I most appreciate friends who talk to me about their concerns and possible cons to my choices, but who make it clear that they will stand behind me regardless.

Anonymous said...

Ya, I think "truth" is too subjective. As the friend your truth might not be your friend's truth. People have to live their lives as they see fit and need their friends for support -- to celebrate with them when things go well and to commiserate with them when things go poorly.If they ask for your opinion be as honest and gentle as you can if it's something they don't want to hear but otherwise keep your "truth" to yourself, I think. The only time there should be an exception is if you are in possession of important information at that is important for your friend to know. For instance, if he's about to invest in something and you know the investor is a fraud. Or if your friend is going to marry someone who you know has been cheating on him.

squirrelmama said...

This is a tough one LGS. I think I would like a friend to be honest with me and tell me what I need to hear. A friend should be able to save me from myself and not endorse some hare-brained scheme just to make me happy. I hope I could be a friend like that but.....I know it's not easy.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I have been in this quandary but found a middle ground in which I could support my friend's choices, assuming they were not life-threatening or unnecessarily hurtful to anyone, while gently pointing out the possible pitfalls in pursuing such a course.

People should be encouraged to grow in their own ways. Not doing so effectively imprisons them in a box, so it sounds as if you gave your support and the implicit assurance that you will be there to pick up the pieces if things don't work out as hoped.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

What you said about not being a parent to that person is certainly something that I had thought over as well. I think we are perhaps guided by our experiences. Just as you shared your experience with your friend, I have a similar experience when a non-interference policy turned out in retrospect to lead to a bad result. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the opposite action could have had a better ending.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I am glad to contribute to the evolution of the English language and to your collection of shiny objexts. Feel free to use "ass-ification" to your heart's content.

secret agent woman,
I agree with your stand. My situation is slightly more complicated because I have to actually participate in enabling my friend to carry out a decision which I don't agree with. So I do not have the luxury of just saying my peace and then keep clear until after the train wreck before returning to lend a hand. Nope, I actually have to help drive the train to the accident site.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I agree. Unfortunately, many of our decisions also impact on those around us, like in this case in my post, the lives of several other people. They will not have a choice but they will be naturally affected by the decision made. That's where we have to look beyond ourselves when we make decisions.

Perhaps that's why they say a good friend is hard to find.

Anonymous said...

Tough. After all: You helped.
All your "second thoughts" about your friends decision - it must be done, before one can know: So you helped with the best of intentions. No worries.

evalinn said...

Friendships, like all relations, can be tricky (especially if you´re an introvert like me and no natural talent when it comes to relations).

Is there anyway you can talk to your friend and in a respectful way tell about your doubts, but at the same time tell that you respect big dreams and if your friend decides to pursue this, you will unconditionally support anyway, becuase it´s your friend?

Jo said...

I don't know what influence I have had on my friends, but I can say the friends who have had the most influence on me were the ones who were honest with me. Sometimes the honesty hurt for a while, but in the long run, the friends were always right. People can often see things objectively.

I do know I have also lost friends by being honest with them. It's a double-edged sword.

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