The Art of Friendship

“Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.” – Octavia Butler

I have always found it interesting that we refer to things as “the science of…” when it is quantifiable or can be described in some defining way, but we use “the art of…” when something is ambiguous or hard to put into words. Hence “the art of friendship”. By definition friendship is a bond or relationship between friends (someone with whom we are emotionally close). It is something that pretty much everyone has experienced in their life…something we all have a sense of what it is, what it looks like, what it means, etc. Having said that though, friendship is not always easy. Anytime we talk about something that involves our emotions we know it will not always be easy – emotions add a level of complication or challenge to any relationship.

Friendship can mean many things:

  1. Sometimes it means you have to do things that seem counterintuitive, that may not seem supportive of the friendship. Sometimes we may have to let our friends make choices we know will not be good for them. Sometimes we have to sit back and let them go, experience their life in the manner of their choosing while remaining silent with our thoughts, opinions and concerns for their choices.
  2. Sometimes it means saying things that are not comfortable…having a fierce conversation because you care about them. For those times when it is not okay to remain silent, you have to find your voice and say the things your friend does not always want to hear. This is a hard thing to do as it can cause serious strife in your friendship…and since so many of us prefer to avoid anything resembling conflict we tend to remain silent or, worse yet, appear supportive by not speaking our truth. While staying silent and offering support in this kind of situation is certainly the easier route, in the long run it is harmful to your friend. Difficult as it is, be honest (in a loving and supportive way)…it really is the best thing for your friend and your friendship.
  3. Sometimes it means being there to pick up the pieces. When your friend makes that decision you knew was not in their highest good, whether you choose to remain silent or you spoke up with your concerns, when it all comes crashing down your friendship offers you the opportunity to be there to help pick up the pieces. Don’t underestimate the importance of this role. Even if you spoke your truth about their choice in the beginning, being there to support them (letting them cry on your shoulder, crying with them, letting them vent, talking through it with them…whatever it looks like) is super important. This, I believe, is one of the key roles our friends play in our lives. We need support systems like this to help us get through the difficult times.

I know for me personally when a dear, close, long-time friend of mine was going through a difficult divorce a few years ago and she was working through a wide range of emotions (doing things I knew were not the best for her, saying things I knew were a result of her broken heart, really just reeling from the whole situation), there were times when I stayed quiet, there were times I had to tell her things she did not want to hear, and there were times when I was there for her to help pick up the pieces. It truly is what being a friend is all about. It isn’t always something as traumatic as a difficult divorce, but whatever it is that your friends are going through your timing in the friendship is key.

And so I come back to the quote by Octavia Butler – there a time to let your friends make their choices, a time to be silent, a time to speak your mind, and a time to be there for them. Friendship, as with any relationship really, is all about the timing. Learn to master the timing and you will have learned to master the art of friendship – something for us all to aspire to and work toward in this lifetime.