Strangers and Friends

THERE IS NO ESCAPING the fact that a stranger is someone you know nothing about.

It is easy to mistake strangers for friends. You may think you know scores of people from the bars or the gym, but they are really no more than acquaintances familiar from a common locale. A moment’s reflection shows how little of substance each really knows about the other.

The company you keep can work wonders. With friends you feel that you belong and are a part, whereas you feel apart with the merely familiar because they offer no company to keep. People who unfailingly notify you of their latest life dramas and solicit favors while never reciprocating or supporting your own happiness are not friends but public nuisances.

What is a friend? Someone who does friendly things. Friends care. When you are with them all is well and you are as flawless as they claim. The way to your friends’ mouths is through their hearts. Remember to speak well of them and they will speak well of you. Just as nastiness wins disdain, so courtesy wins goodwill. You can give it away without losing a thing. Treat your enemies with courtesy and you’ll see how valuable it really is. Nothing captivates like kindness, and the best way to win friends is to act like one. Choose well and some will last forever.

Better to keep your friendships in repair than flit like a bee always seeking new ones that are no sooner made than dropped. What have you to show for your busyness but a string of disappointments and chronic isolation? You may be afraid to reach out to new acquaintances, reluctant to go first for fear of rejection, and so feel the need to posture and wear masks. This only encourages judgments based on superficialities. The root of the much-despised “attitude” lies in our readiness to judge something we know little about. We know nothing about strangers.

Those who identify themselves through external accomplishments rather than personal fulfillment face a repeated conflict with intimacy of all kinds. Boy toy trophies don’t become lovers; competitors never become friends. Life is full of risks and there are risks to opening up, but these are nothing compared to the emptiness that sets in when we habitually wall ourselves off. Holding back makes us feel alone.

Reaching out takes time and effort. Turning a stranger into a friend requires understanding what you want and are willing to offer in turn. This requires clarity and intent. Intent shapes life and gives it direction by making you examine and choose before saying “Yes” or “No.” You cannot know what you want without a plan. Without understanding your dreams and desires you are a feather in an impersonal wind. To do what everyone else is doing is to march a thoughtless stride like ants.

Because friends can last a lifetime you should seek practicality in them as well as pleasure. Few people make good friends and you will have even fewer if you put no thought into choosing them. Good living is an act of intelligence wherein we pick the agreeable over that which is not.

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