Who Are Your Friends?

There’s a good chance I will talk to nobody at all today. I have some meetings lined up for tomorrow in the city so I will be talking to people then. But nothing for today.

Dan, my business partner, and I are in waiting mode. We have things going on but nothing is happening today. And he has a new baby and a new house coming so he’s busy.

My kids are in school all day and then off to their mom’s. Nobody else in my family speaks to me. At least not on a regular basis.

I have no other friends that I talk to on the phone.  I have a hard time talking on the phone anyway. And I don’t always promptly respond to emails.

My best friend from childhood is probably dead. I haven’t spoken to him in fifteen years. I wasn’t a very good friend. I skipped the wedding of my best friend from college.

I wasn’t a very good friend.

He doesn’t speak to me anymore. I had to learn to be a better friend.

But I want to talk to friends. So I’m going to broaden my definition a bit.

First off, I only want friends that inspire me and lift me up. That doesn’t mean friends can’t have problems. I like when my friends come to me with problems.

I come to them with problems. i.e. we then inspire each other (ideally, and with sincerity) and attempt to lift each other up. It doesn’t have to be at the same time. It might be years apart.

Friends teach me new things. They challenge my beliefs in a constructive way. A few weeks ago a friend that I had known for 20 years (we were even housemates for awhile in college) kept commenting on my facebook in a destructive way.

I couldn’t understand his criticisms and he even admitted he didn’t know what was going on. So I un-friended him and blocked him. Friend or not, I don’t deal with people who turn on the crappy person gene.

I also know someone is a friend when I can go long stretches without talking to him or her and then we talk and its right where we left off. I have a lot of friends like that.

So who are my friends today?

For one thing: BOXES.

I have boxes called computers or TVs or books. And through my computers I’m sure I’ll associate with many people. I’ll respond to emails, I’ll look at Facebook and interact with people on twitter and in comments.

But even with these people I have to make sure I apply the same checklist:

Am I only responding to people who like me and uplift me?

Again, it doesn’t mean they have to be in a good mood. Just that it’s someone who I can be supportive of and is supportive of me. Even if it’s a new friend and we are still feeling each other out.


Am I only responding to people who are constructive?

And conversely, is it a friend I can be constructive with and I have no hidden agendas (e.g. I’m angry or I want money from that person or I’m intimidated by that person, etc).


Am I only responding to people who are teaching me something?

Or, if they are asking me to teach them something that’s fine also. Friendships go in both directions.


Am I only responding to people who understand the occasional absence.

I have to understand it from them also. This reminds me of the story of Chet and how he saved my business, Stockpickr, on a day we spoke after we hadn’t spoken in maybe 5 or 6 years or more.

That’s sad, one might say, that you only have friends through computers. “That’s not real,” one woman said to me yesterday in a thick Russian accent, “It’s not real if you can’t touch them.”

But I don’t care. Isn’t that what social networking is about? To find new ways of being social? To not be trapped in the inflexibility of only being friends with people you can physically face. I’ve developed good friendships online. People who I might never meet.

The last time I spoke to Chet, for instance, he told me he’s never going on a plane again. I might never see him again in person although I know I will be friends with him for life. Why won’t he go on a plane? Chet is a genius. And most geniuses I know are slightly paranoid because they know the non-geniuses that run the world often make mistakes.

So he doesn’t ever want to walk through a radiation scanner at an airport. “Those things leak, man,” he said, “if you walk through one of those things on a bad day, the next day you could be destined for leukemia.” I have 14 airplane trips coming up in the next few months.

But not all of my friends are through social networking. Some of my friends don’t know me at all.

I might watch a TV show starring an actor I like that inspires me and uplifts me. So that show is my friend. Or I might read a book by an author that inspires me and uplifts me.

Today I’m reading  Tim O’Brien’s latest collection of stories about Vietnam. I’ve never read fiction about Vietnam before. I like how he mixes the past, the present, fiction, non-fiction. How he puts “Tim O’Brien” in some of the stories and yet some of the stories are from the point of view of the other characters. It’s structurally challenging, it’s teaching me about writing, it’s teaching me about Vietnam, and I feel like he’s sharing of himself. I like him.

Even though he has no idea who I am. So that author is my friend.

By the end of the day I will have responded to about 30 or so emails.

I will have responded to about 30 or so comments on my blog or others (my biggest challenge: never responding to the haters).

I will interact with another 20-30 people or so on Twitter or Facebook.

I will read pieces of two or three books and watch at least one or two shows (but not shows that bring me down – like news shows that have the specific agenda of scaring people.

Those are NOT good friends to anyone). Everyone I interact with will have the qualities of a friend. They might not show up at my funeral but I’m dead at that point anyway.

I’ll find (or give) pleasure from these people today. For me, that’s what friendship is about.

So I might interact with over a hundred friends today. I’ll continue to avoid the people who put me down. I’ll continue to interact with the people who uplift me. And, by the end of the day, I might not have said a single word.

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