Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"I'm Not Here to Make Friends"

In the midst of a moving elegy to his recently deceased mother-in-law Peter Berkowitz identifies a single idea that will be a major obstacle to your pursuit of success and happiness. Link here.

Voiced over and over by contestants on reality shows that involve competition it is: "I'm not here to make friends."

Happily, Berkowitz links a YouTube compilation where dozens of contestants are mouthing this phrase. Link here.

As an exercise in specious self-definition, the phrase is a symptom of cultural decline. When someone declares it he is saying that he is all business, that he is a fierce competitor, that he is focused on the task at hand, that he wants to win, and that he will let nothing get in the way of that goal.

If you look through the YouTube compilation you will see that these traits are perfectly well represented in female candidates as well.

For many people this attitude will sound healthy. It will sound like the goal we are all trying to achieve. But, as Berkowitz shows, the people who sound this discordant note are never the winners.

If you give up friends in favor of winning, you will end up with neither.

The contestants must believe that they are asserting something positive. They are, in effect, demonstrating their unwillingness to cooperate. Unfriendliness prevents them from being members in good standing of a team, a group, or a community.

If they are unwilling to work with others, they will also have problems managing and leading also.

As Berkowitz reports, studies have shown that people who have no friends in the office are less efficient, less effective, and less focused on their work.

The principle applies well to other situations. Think about a college student or a young adult who goes out to a frat party or a bar. He is not there to make friends; he is there to hook up.

He is there to get his fair share of what is rightfully his. He has taken a seminar in picking up women; he is chock full of self-esteem; he has mastered the technique. From the minute he steps foot in the bar, he is all business. He wants to score; he is not there to make friends.

But, as Berkowitz is at pains to point out, most people are not going to take his message very seriously-- a life without friends is empty indeed.

Here is his definition of what it takes to be a good friend. It has nothing to do with asserting one's self-worth and going out in the world to express one's true individuality.

Friendship and happiness, Berkowitz says, comes from what you give, not what you take. It involves the positive connections you make with others, not the flowering of your unique selfhood.

In his words: "To be a good friend, you have to give of yourself, but not so much that you lose yourself. You need to know what you want and pursue it, while helping others achieve what they want. You need to have personality while making room for, and supporting, other people's personalities. You need to care about, even love, people you might disagree with (I'm pretty sure she didn't vote for the same candidates as her husband). You need to be willing to give at least as much, if not more, than you take."

He adds that some interesting research has shown that money does buy happiness, but only as long as you spend it on other people. The same applies to the time you give to your friends, the effort you make for them, the presence you offer them.

As opposed to true love, friendship requires work.

Most people pay lip service to the importance of friendship and never really put in the time and effort required to establish and cultivate friendships.

For having suffered the influence of the therapy culture they have, perhaps unconsciously, devalued friendship in favor of more thrilling pursuits.

We have been told that friendship is not as serious as love, as hot as passion, as dramatic as an affair, or as spontaneous as creativity.

Many people accept these as their cultural values. As the contestants on the reality shows demonstrate, they have made a mantra of the phrase: I'm not here to make friends.

Friendship barely registers in the theories that have formed the basis for traditional psychotherapy. Whether their source is in Freud or in developmental psychology, therapies have insisted that life is a family romance and that human relationships must replicate what happened with mother and father during the developmental cycle.

I have mentioned it before, but this point is worth repeating. When your purpose in life is making and keeping friends you will be required to maintain a higher standard of good behavior and good character than you would if you are trying to actualize your individual potential, develop the kind of overweening self-esteem that only a mother could love, or relive the mindless dramas of your childhood.

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