Coming through

I did some stuff that was outside my usual boundaries this weekend and if I wanted to tell you about it, I’d have said what it was. But it was new for me and it generated a lot of thought, which meant I needed my friends to think with me and offer their perceptions. I knew immediately which friends I could talk to.

The friends I could talk to about this are the friends I can tell anything to and be completely sure of their reaction. These are my friends who pass no judgment, who approach all my thoughts and doings with loving acceptance. Those are the people I turn to, and therefore the people who know me best. They offer me judgment-less listening and know that I’ll return it.

I had to learn this no-judgment approach. For a long time, I thought there were right and wrong ways to do things, and that you could evaluate people’s actions against an external standard. I’ve abandoned that in a lot of realms. That just isn’t an approach that gets me what I want, which is deep and open relationships with people. When I realized how much I love receiving unconditional acceptance, I changed my base assumptions so that I can give it out. For my friends, who are sweet-natured and accomplished and generally of my worldview, I start with the assumption that anything they do is the right thing, considering their priorities and options. They have brought their lives this far to my general approval; they wouldn’t have come to a wrong decision. Faced with what looks like a bad choice, I immediately look for a cause that would make it the perfectly reasonable thing to do. It is a loving and constant conviction that your people get the benefit of doubt.

It is formulaic even. You turn to your girl friend, or Chris, if you’re lucky enough to know him, and you say “I tried heroin this weekend! I think I LIKE it.” Your girl friend blinks in surprise a couple times and says something noncommittal and reassuring while she processes it: “Oh honey. You were so brave to try something new.” Pause. Then, while she is patting your arm and breathing short breaths, she thinks hard. What, given everything she knows about you and within the constraints of well-meant behavior, could explain this? That may be a very small intersection or even a null set, so she works harder. She may ask for more information to make it make sense. She remembers the time when she was tempted by something similar and explores that out loud, saying to you what you need to hear. We are alike; we feel similar things; I understand; there were reasons; people do that and you did it; you did your best; I would have done that in your place; I would have wanted to do that in your place; good people can act that way; you were brave to tell me, my sweet good friend; I still love who you are; I always love who you are.

That is, frankly, it. That is pretty much all I am willing to tolerate from my closest friends. A hint of less or disapproval means that person does not get my confidences next time. Friends who don’t offer that may get access to lots of me, but not my scared or confused or ashamed parts, so not my most interesting parts. There is a time, later, after the loving acceptance, when you can reintroduce critical thought, starting again from the baseline that your friends are good people who do their best. “Hon, did you like how that turned out? Were you kind to yourself when you did that? Have you had different ideas since?”

Sometimes any sort of reason fails. What your friend did was beyond the pale, more hurtful than you can put together a generous story for. Then you get two choices. You can simply be loyal, on faith. You love your friend, including all she does. Or you can stop being friends. This is actually a good test for me. If finding empathy and loving acceptance for someone is a consistent struggle, that means I shouldn’t be a close friend to that person.

I suspect some of you will have a very hard time with this concept. But there IS right and wrong and people DO dumb shit for bad reasons and I have to live by the TRUTH, you protest. To which I say, some external version of truth is not what I want when I’m struggling. I want a haven and a gentle listener and the sure knowledge that my friends will apply their tremendous focus to finding the softest path open to me. I will go to the people who offer me that. You can have your judgment or you can have my confidences and trust and gratitude and deepest friendship.


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