LIFESTYLES by Ronda Gates Smart Behavior

Exploring Friendship

As summer heat gives way to cooler days, I'm keenly aware that the birds and ducks that migrated north months ago are returning to the oasis we know as Leisure World. However, it's the arrival of the largest of these species-the human snowbird-that so dramatically changes the face of our community. Inevitably there is more traffic on our roads. We have to be more astute about signing up for activities with limited enrollment. Sometimes it's more difficult to find your favorite book at the library. But these inconveniences fade as joyous "hellos" and welcoming hugs prevail when friends and acquaintances cross paths after a four to six month interval.

Experiencing the joy of reconnections I experienced in September, and anticipating the arrival of those expected this month, I soon found myself reflecting on the meaning, qualities and value of the relationship we describe as friendship. Coincidence prevailed when a series of personal experiences triggered a desire to search a variety of resources in an attempt to define friend and friendship. I quickly discovered that the text used to describe this complex experience couldn't be captured in a few words. Dictionaries may minimize the definition, but results from books and the Internet could fill a half ream of paper.

For example, if you've been hooked into the Facebook scene you've quickly learned that a primary goal is to acquire "friends." It's here that the line between "friends" and "acquaintances" or "you're tagged" becomes ragged. My own list of more than 100 "friends" does not truly express the relationship I do or don't have with these people. Dare I refuse an invitation to "be my friend" from a high school classmate I sat next to in a chemistry class or who attended a workshop I hosted ten years ago? On the other hand, it's intriguing to note the connection acquired with someone I never felt truly linked to until I began receiving supportive Emails from him at a critical time in my life.

Those dictionary definitions, when limited to descriptions of human friendship (vs. a "friend" who supports a charity by donating time or money), ranged from a simple "someone who is not an enemy" to "someone who has a close personal relationship of mutual affection and trust with another."

In fact, the word "trust" prevailed in most descriptions. Ironically that's a subject deeply explored during the goal setting process at a residential treatment program I once directed. Guests were asked to identify prospective supporters and saboteurs to their healthier lifestyle after they left the structured environment. The conversation about these potential allies or adversaries evolved into a discussion of trust including how it is built, how it can be damaged, criteria for evaluating whether it can be restored and, if it can, how to muster the willingness to make the effort. Although trust building (and breaking) is a complex process, it was agreed that four criteria were the foundation for creating and maintaining personal or professional trustworthiness.


Webster's dictionary defines integrity as "uprightness of character." People have integrity when their behavior matches their words. In short, "hear the words but watch the actions."


Because we're human we make mistakes. Sometimes they are discovered and we're asked to be accountable. People who can be trusted don't shift blame. They admit it when they mess up then, to the best of their ability, do what is necessary to repair the damage.


When we are willing to accept that another person's different perspective or style is as valid (for them) as our own, we have an opportunity to move through the storming process that is inevitable in friendships. Successful negotiation through this difficult time in a relationship engenders higher levels of trust.


When we can say what we think and feel without repercussions our trust builds. A requirement to "walk on eggs" to maintain a relationship means our security is as fragile as the eggshell itself.

Like interest in a bank account, trust builds slowly as we share a series of trust building experiences. An abundant account will tolerate an occasional breech of trust. On the other hand, a series of failures to be trust-worthy or an out of character betrayal can rapidly deplete an account. Rebuilding trust in a betrayed relationship is much like reacquiring lost credit--it takes time and demonstration, over and over again, that you (or others) WILL act with integrity, responsibility, understanding and safety -- that your effort to "be a better person" is sincere.

Some people call every one they know, even in passing, a friend. Others are more sparing with the word. My experience is that true friends are there for the good times and the bad. They help us celebrate and help us grieve. We can agree to disagree in a mutually beneficial way-talking enthusiastically and interrupting one another, as extroverts do, or simply sharing quiet time together as introverts often prefer. A friend considers how what they do or don't do will impact a relationship. They support us becoming the best that we can be. But most of all, as it is at Leisure World, it's the ability to pick up where we left off, even after months of being apart.

Welcome back, friend. I can't wait to share new adventures with you.

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LIFESTYLES by Ronda Gates
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