Friendship is Unnatural

February 15, 2010 | 18 comments
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800px-SantaBarbaraSunrise_4823I love the interactive nature of blogging. I had planned to close this series with a post neatly tying everything together, but all of your contributions have challenged my premises and preconceptions to the point that I can’t do it. I started this series with some really good ideas, as well as some very naive ones. In a year or so, as I’ve been able to sort between the two, perhaps I’ll come back with a follow-up series. In the meantime, let me close this series by touching on friendship. (And I have a couple more posts unrelated to community building I plan to write before I finish my guest-blogging stint here at T&S, so I’m not gone just yet.)

At BYU I studied dance education. Chris Ollerton, one of my teachers, complained to us how parents don’t appreciate the value of dance lessons. “They think that dance comes naturally to children,” she said. “Well music comes naturally to children too, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to take piano lessons.” Friendmaking is the same. We assume that everyone naturally learns the skill of making friends as children, but it’s not true — many of us feel lonely and isolated, and don’t know how to take even the first step toward building the deeply sincere friendships we dream of enjoying.

Loving, fun, respectful relationships are the key to everything else I’ve written about. Lifestyle, space, programs, and other considerations are mostly useless unless they are designed with the end goal of bringing people together. I wish I knew enough about friendship to give you some theory, some lesson, that you could apply toward making friends. I’m still working on that one. But mostly I want to leave you with the hope that, if you want to be a community builder but have difficulty initiating friendships, that’s okay. You’ll get better at it with experience.

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18 Responses to Friendship is Unnatural

  1. SVB on February 16, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    To anyone who has any interest in interpersonal relationships should read the book, “A General Theory of Love” by Lewis, et al. I could hardly put the book down. The authors explain why we like people and so much more.

  2. Ardis Parshall on February 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I’ve never thought of friendship skills as being something to teach and learn in much the same way as piano playing or tap dancing, but you’re probably right. There are a lot of fields of human behavior that we tend to assume people pick up naturally, but that many of us don’t. I remember being terribly frustrated that in the schools I went to we were never actually taught how to catch a baseball or serve a volleyball but were instead thrown out on the field or court — or even the uneven parallel bars — and expected to perform. Many did; I couldn’t. Yet we’d never just throw books at a child and expect him to read without instruction! Why would people skills be any different?

  3. Dane Laverty on February 16, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Ardis, that’s a great example. I felt that way during PE in school since I had never learned even the basic rules of most sports. I think it’s the same phenomenon we see in the church, where we feel comfortable calling just about anyone to teaching or leadership positions, but never call anyone to musical positions unless that person has at least a bit of musical education. But we see, it’s not the church’s fault — it’s a cultural belief that interpersonal skills like teaching or leadership should come naturally to people, through experience and without training.

  4. Porter on February 16, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    “it’s a cultural belief that interpersonal skills like teaching or leadership should come naturally to people, through experience and without training.” I’d say instead that it’s a cultural belief that interpersonal skills like teaching or leadership are acquired through practice, so that calling somebody inexperienced to be a teacher is great way to teach them.

  5. Melinda on February 16, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    SVB, thanks for the book recommendation. I put it on my list of things to read. Another book I enjoyed about how we connect with other people is “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Coleman. I don’t naturally know how to connect with other people very well, but I can learn from a book. I found a lot of good practices in this book. And yes, you can teach people relationship skills that will help them make and keep friends.

  6. John Hamilton on February 17, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    I think most of the problems with making friendships result from focusing too much on ourselves. When I was called to be a nursery leader in my ward, I thought there was no way I could relate to those little buggers. But, I found that if I took a genuine interest in what interested them, not caring what other might think about be getting all excited about some toy, they really perked up and enjoyed being my “friend.”

    Same with everyone else, I suppose. If I can take a genuine interest in another person, what’s important to them, not caring for what I get out of the relationship, friendship just naturally develops. Easier said than done though. Some people it is hard to take a genuine interest in.

  7. Alison Moore Smith on February 17, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Dane, I love this post. You are so true.

    When I was a kid, making friends was painful. When I got to college, I figured it out. Overnight in a rash moment of being sick and tired of being insecure., making friends became terribly easy.

    I have six kids and I’d generally say that half are the young me and half the older me in this regard. I know these are skills that can be learned and that people can change, but it’s still a difficult thing to share with someone else. In my experience the hard part is convincing people that making friends isn’t as complex as they usually think and that it’s really open to anyone.

  8. Stephanie on February 20, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Interesting thoughts. Relationship building is a skill. It comes easily for some people (like my little brother) and harder for others. Since my oldest child was young, I’ve focused on helping my kids to make friends and develop characteristics (like listening, compassion, etc.) that will help them retain them (I hope). I think families are a great place to start building a community from.

  9. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on February 20, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    It was written that the natural man is an enemy of God. This rich young ruler, met Jesus in Matthew 19 and ask Him, I am keeping all God’s commandments: Am I lacking anything? He left in a huff and a puff never to be seen again in service of God.

    Jesus reply: Spend your wealth and follow Me. So, Dave, friendship is indeed “unnatural”, especially across economic and gender lines.

  10. Ardis E. Parshall on February 20, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I know it’s stupid to ask, but I’m feeling stupid …

    Edouard, how does the story of the rich young man pertain in the remotest degree to friendship across gender lines?

  11. annegb on February 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    I’m not sure this something a person can learn. I’ve always made friends easily and have a rather large group of “best” friends. I keep my friends—I’m still friends with my first best friend–50 years and counting.

    I took this for granted until I had Sarah. She’s a darling but basically raised as an only child with much older siblings adoring her and she has a hard time making and keeping friends.

    Watching her lonely struggle and seeing her make mistakes has been hard and sad. Empathy and thoughtfulness don’t come naturally to her. She’s learned, to some extent, to be a kinder and caring person, but there’s still a hint of the prima donna in her.

    My very best friends are the kind I could call to bail me out of jail (or, as I often remind them, to send me cigarettes in jail so that I don’t have to trade sexual favors for amenities).

    There’s an instinct people have—or not. And the people who make the best friends are people who care about other people.

    I call it having “seeing eyes.” A lot of people don’t even see other people. They look right through them. They’re zoned on their own self. When our eyes meet, I recognize them.

  12. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on February 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    #10 Ardis. In our age of communicative technology we have not only personal friendships. We no longer operate in the village or family.

    I am still pondering Google and Facebook’s offer to create a family tree. What is the actual value for my household to join such effort?

    Ghandi and Martin Luther King were very instrumental in the creation of inter-faith and ethnic movements.

    I am a member of a school board, the other night at an important parent education event, someone approached me, saying: “Why are the Board’s prayer so Christian?” I never thought of prayers that way.

    Is it wrong to ask that question? Some on my board think so. If I do not allow that question; I remain ignorant and never experience what Jesus wanted that rich young ruler to learn.

  13. Ardis E. Parshall on February 21, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Eduard, thank you. I’m sure that was an answer to some question — but not to mine.

  14. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on February 21, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    The answer Ardis is not yet apparent, today. We may know it in the future. That the answer is coming, I am sure. Am I going to like it. NO!

    The immoral behavior of our politicians and entertainers is constant call. How do we improve it, when we re-elect them or pay for their services?

    If the calls for new civil rights beckons, don’t blame those who ask for these rights. Instead, bring these public violators to justice.

    Isn’t it a modern dilemma? How long can we remain a Constitutional Republic, if we allow our lawmakers and entertainers to make an exception for themselves.

    We are in a race to somewhere, but we are not aiming very high.

  15. John Hamilton on February 22, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Eduard: What the… huh?

    Ardis: I can see how there might be barriers for friendship across economic lines, but there shouldn’t be if we are trying to be true followers of Christ. As for the gender barrier, there will probably always be things I don’t understand about women, but they would say the same about me. The older I get though, the more I do understand, at least until senility kicks in—which should be any day now. Too late for Eduard, apparently. :) (just kidding)

  16. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on February 23, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Good point, John, #15

    Ardis, you are not comfortable with my answer. I like that! There are so many things I am not agreeable with; yet, I am in the midst of a troubled nation seemingly sliding into powerlessness. I am also a Latter-day saint.

    Isn’t there another question you could ask? Perhaps even accuse me of something?

  17. Eric Boysen on February 23, 2010 at 9:46 am

    It is a pain to be a righteous Nephite in the part of the cycle where the Nephites are less righteous as a nation than the Lamanites.

  18. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on February 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Eric, certainly it is a pain to be a righteous anyone.

    Think about Jesus of Nazareth, the unblemish Lamb Ancient Israel worshipped and Who, we belief is the Christ. He also suffered and was cruxified, He had the power to resurrect Himself and we call that Atonement. That’s a short answer to nothing. Yet, it is the nexus of everything that is created.

    What problem did He find in Jerusalem and who did He accuse of what charge? To Whom did He make His complaint known? He then, still allowed His accusers to crucify Him. Not under the Law of Moses, which does not allow for the death penalty, but under Roman law. Why?

    Is suffering not a problem we have in common with righteous Nephites against unrighteous leaders?