Shots of Wit

A regular posting of witticisms, aphorisms, and general musings by Clifford Cohen.

Testing friendships…

Test your friendships.

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Who are your friends…and how do you tell? The answer: by testing them from time to time. In saying this I am not suggesting that you should create an artificial situation or request, and then challenge your friends to see who “performs” as expected. Rather, I am referring to a situation in which you need something (emotional support, a favor), and you would like to ask a particular friend to help you. If you are reticent to ask that person’s help because you are afraid that they might consider it an imposition, or because you are concerned it might somehow endanger the relationship, consider testing the friendship by making the request despite your apprehension. If your friend accommodates your request, this tells you that you matter to them. If your friend refuses your request with good reason, this is acceptable—provided that it does not become a pattern with future requests. If they refuse without good reason, you have an acquaintance (at best)—not a friend.

There is nothing wrong with having acquaintances, but it is always better to be clear-eyed about who your friends are and who your acquaintances are. Why? Because if you are unsure about who is who, you are likely to eventually find yourself with only acquaintances. Developing friendships means occasionally making sacrifices for your friends—and them making sacrifices for you—all within reason. Sure, you will need to protect yourself against that type of friend who attempts to take advantage of you. If you see things going in this direction, challenge your friendship with such a person by refusing to accommodate their requests.

I have noticed that many people speak freely about the number and quality of friends they have (strangely, this often seems to occur when a person is referring to the “important people” they count among their friends). However, the human animal is not wired to have a large number of close friends—the emotional and intellectual capacities just aren’t there for this to happen. If you have five people in the world who are true friends you are lucky. So, test your friendships—judiciously, sincerely, and courageously—when the situation calls for it. In approaching a friend for help, their stature or obligations should be of little importance. In a certain sense, you are doing them a favor, for how would they ever develop friends of their own if they aren’t given a chance to respond to such requests?

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