Friendship and Self-Respect in Equal Parts.

12 of 45 Moments of Wonder

Have no friends not equal to yourself.

I have heard this quote used in the past to warn young people about the dangers of associating with those of bad character. Those who are beneath you will drag you down. That type of thing.

But I wonder if Confucius meant something very different when he said this? It has me thinking about the very nature of friendship and what we call friendship.

Why do people choose the friends they do? For most of our friendships, we choose friends who share our values or our vision. Our friends challenge us and lift us up, and we do the same for them. We find our friendships to be mutually satisfying and there is a sense of being equal. One friend is not more important than another. These friendships make us better. They fill in us a need for connection and community.

For some, however, what we call friendships are not mutually beneficial connections. Rather, they are opportunities for growth, for status, for feeling better about ourselves. This is the type of friendship that results in someone feeling used, disrespected and beneath the other. We may feel we are better than our friend and that we are doing them a favour by being their friend. We may be the friend who feels they have to do or perform in order to remain in the favour of the other. In these types of friendships, we are either not respected by the other or we are not respectful of the other. These types of “friendships” do not make us better, no matter which of the friends we are.

Have you ever had a connection like this? Whether you were a person who saw themselves as less-than another or someone who felt you were better than another, this is not an equal friendship.

I believe Confucius is telling us not to have these types of friendships, or at least not to call them friendships. When we consider someone a friend, we should feel they are our equal. No matter their status in the world, we should see them as an equal peer. No using our friendships to gain status. No using our friendships to feel better about ourselves by helping someone we view as beneath us…being someone’s project never feels good.

Today, I challenge all of us to evaluate our friendships. This may feel really uncomfortable and if it is, that’s okay. Dig up some courage. Do you see your friends as equal to you – neither above or below you? Are you giving as much as you are receiving from your friendships? If so, that is fantastic! If not, perhaps it is time to evaluate the value of those relationships. Call them what they are – networking relationships, acquaintances we help out, people we serve, mentors, whatever those relationships truly are. This doesn’t have to be negative. I think we just need to be careful about who we call friends.

I have a lot of people in my life. And I have a handful of people I would consider friends…people I would drop everything for and who I know would do the same for me. People I give and receive advice to and from. People who energize me and to whom I hope I bring an energy. Some of those friendships started off as something else, but they have evolved.

As you move through your day, be aware of the types of relationships you have. Name them, even just for yourself, and recognize the true value of the friendships you have. People who you consider your equals. Hold to those relationships with a special care. They are rare and beautiful. And remember, there is no one who is more valuable than you are. And you are no more valuable than another person – no matter their story. No matter their circumstances in life. No matter yours.

I hope your day is filled with light and love…and friendship.

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