On coming full circle
When I was four years old I met a little girl who had as much fun riding stick horses as I did. Half an hour after I met her I ven tured what seemed to me a very natural question. "Do you want to be friends?" She didn't throw me any strange glances or run out of the room. She simply said, "Yes," and that was that.Skip to next paragraph
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It didn't matter to me where she was from, whether she was smarter than I, whether she could run faster than I could, or whether she had more brothers and sisters than I did. Those were the incidental things we would find out later, but the basis of our friendship was a mutual recognition of something likable in one another, something that went beyong the memorization of personal histories. My initial judgment was a good one, and our friendship is still a delight.
As I reached my early teens, I found there were variations on this theme. The question remained the same, but the wording was changed. It was no longer acceptable to say, "Do you want to be friends?" But it was OK to say, "A bunch of us are going to the show on Saturday. Want to come?" And the other person knew what it was you meant, and they would come.
It seems, though, as children grow into adulthood the procedure becomes more involved, more subtle, more strategic. Maintaining friendships in a world filled with mobility and change is a difficult enough chore, but establishing new ones becomes a monumental task. One of the problems stems from the fact that friendship is no longer limited to the simple prerequisite of "liking" one another. Through the years we tend to develop mental checklists; lists that categorize, analyze and judge another before we will consider any commitment at all. Also, we have come to view potential friendships with one question foremost in thought: Do not rewards outweigh the risks?
As the human mind becomes more complex, so do its defenses, and as the years bring disappointment and hurt we learn to shield ourselves from situations that may bring these hurts. We also, inadvertently, learn to shield ourselves from one of life's greatest delights -- the discovery of another human being. I began to see that this process of growing complexity was limiting my own actions and attitudes toward acquaintances as well as my closest friends, for while I wanted to develop open and sincere relationships, I was at a loss as to the way to go about it. I wondered within what framework we as adults could find the courage to advance beyond society's unnecessary restrictions as well as our own long-held fears, and find effective ways of establishing progressive, affectionate and secure relationships with others.
I first decided to trust my intuition -- to trust it enough to act on it. Then I asked myself: Just what am I looking for in my friendships? While in the sixth grade it was the quantity of friends that was important, that was no longer my foremost concern; quantity had become far less important than quality. I wanted to be able now to share all that I was -- my real self -- and in turn to discover what others had to share. I tried going about this process of discovery free of preconceptions, free of judgment, and this view allowed me to see not only what we were offering one another, but all that we could be offering -- what our potential for giving really was.