Forward thinking: Making and maintaining friends

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Loren Simmonds

I recently turned 76…

It was not a birthday that I necessarily relished. To be perfectly honest, the word that pops into my mind is “endured.” I don’t view myself as being old. I confess, however, that this particular birthday has had an impact on me like no other. It has proven to be a major reminder that I have at least started down the slippery slope to becoming a true senior citizen — a golden ager, if you will.

More importantly, this last birthday triggered an unusual amount of reflection about the different “friends” that have crossed the pathway of my life over the years. I have truly been blessed. It would seem at every stage of life there has been a person or persons who have enriched and touched my life.

They are all different. I have friends who are wealthy and others who are quite poor by the world’s standards. I have friends who share my political perspective and others who shake their heads in disbelief that I could possibly hold such views…I could go and on.

I would even go so far as to say if you wanted to know something about me without asking any questions — study my friends. Look at the company I have kept. Those individuals — regardless of age, gender or educational background — are the mirrors of my soul.

My point is I have had and continue to have a lot of different “friends.” Those friends have played and continue to play an important role in my life.

However, having an abundance of friends down through the years has not been some fluke happening. Over the years, I have learned how to make and maintain genuine lasting friendships.

Guideline No. 1: Recognizing levels of friends

As I have thought about my many friends, I came to realize there are at least three levels of friendship. Most of us have many so-called “friends” whom we know on a superficial level. I personally refer to them as “acquaintances.” We have little more than occasional contact with these folks. We may know their name or recognize them by sight. We may bump into them at the coffee shop or cross their path at the grocery store or gas station.

Then there are “friends” with whom we share a common interest. We may work in the profession, enjoy the same hobbies or hold membership in the same church or club. My relationship with my former city councilmembers would fall into this category. We all cared about our community and desired to make it a better place to live, work and play.

I personally think of these relationships as “brotherly” friendships. We typically know a little more about each other. We are apt to spend more time with these friends and are ready to render help when called upon. We are more prone to confide in these friends.

The final level of friendship may be known as the “devoted” friendship. Another name for this level of friend might be “bosom buddy” or “best friend forever.” At this level the friends are inseparable and they are willing to suffer for the sake of each other.

In such friendships, there is a kindred spirit that is hard to explain. You laugh with them and you cry with them. You feel no sense of embarrassment when you share your most intimate thoughts and feelings. Even when extended periods of time lapse between visits, you can pick up where you left off with the greatest of ease.

Guideline No. 2: Initiate and maintain friendships

One of the ancient proverbs reads as follows — “A man that has friends must show himself friendly.” This simple wise saying reminds us of two facts about making and maintaining friends. First, it reminds us that friendship involves more than one party. You cannot expect to have friends if you yourself refuse to be one by your words and actions.

Second, it implies everyone has the duty to initiate and make friends. This is part of showing ourselves friendly. I recognize some of us by nature are quite reserved and very reticent. That makes it difficult to initiate new friendships. Nevertheless, we must try to put ourselves in circumstances where we enhance the possibility of succeeding.

Guideline No. 3: Be faithful, selfless and sincere

One of the most important virtues we must cultivate in order to be a genuine friend is to be faithful, selfless and sincere. The first and most important rule of developing genuine friendships is not to see friendship as being for your gain — or what you can get out of it. Rather focus on the good or benefit for the good of your friend.

Being a sincere and faithful friend also means being a friend at all times and treating your friend like a close brother or sister.

Guideline No. 4: Learn to share blessings and burdens

Friendship is developed through mutual care and concern. But deep friendship is founded upon the sharing of emotional ups and downs. There is a saying — “A blessing shared is doubled and a burden shared is cut in half.”

Guideline No. 5: Be prepared to confront — if necessary

Being a friend does not mean you must avoid confrontation at all costs.

In fact, what distinguishes a genuine, faithful friend from a so-called “fair-weather” friend is whether the friend is willing to speak the truth and address your faults. It is a form of accountability. In other words, we must always be honest when speaking to one another. If our friend transgresses then we ought to correct. We must not flatter, or we would be doing our friend a great disservice.

Guideline No. 6: Always be ready to forgive

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” is a very appropriate metaphor to describe the development of friendship between two parties. Not only do friends sharpen one another but the sharpening process also produces sparks or outbursts of anger.

Therefore, let me highlight one point that is crucial for maintaining a friendship — namely the need to be ready to forgive. You ought to love your friends; and if you love your friends, you must be willing to overlook and forgive any transgression they make against you. If you treasure your friendship, the one thing you must never do is repeat your friend’s fault to another. If you do, you can be quite sure it will be the end of your friendship when your friend finds out and he or she will.

Some final observations:

What I have shared in this column is probably not new to most of you. However, I am of the opinion that all of us need to be reminded periodically. We often grow too comfortable with ourselves and our current circle of friends.

At the same time, we run the risk of missing one of the richest blessings in life — making new friends and allowing others into our inner circle. Perhaps it is time to make a more concerted effort to make new friends and do a better job of maintaining our old ones.

Until next time…

— By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.

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