What does it mean to befriend? The dictionary defines it as: “to make friends or become friendly with; act as a friend to (someone) by offering help, support or aid.” Diplomats, politicians and businesspeople are successful when they befriend the powerbrokers within the system. Whether with competitors, peers or enemies, getting to know each other personally creates a foundation of common ground to help broker future deals.
The art of befriending can also be a powerful skill to apply in many areas of one’s personal life. One person wrote about befriending the country to which she recently relocated. Another, ordered an extra Starbucks for the homeless person she passes on the way to work each morning. How about befriending yourself—your thoughts and emotions, disappointments and regrets and health issues. The art of befriending can have endless applications.
Foes as friends
In 2017 Oprah Winfrey led a focus group for television’s 60 Minutes. Fourteen people were selected from a community in Michigan. Seven supported President Trump and seven were against him. As expected the discussion was spirited and emotional.
Following the show the fourteen people created a private Facebook page for further discussion and to stay connected. Then they took it a step further. They started to socialize over pizza, bowling and even visiting a firing range—essentially befriending each other. When 60 Minutes learned about these remarkable happenings they decided to do a follow-up show filming some of their outings and once again having Oprah facilitate discussion. Interestingly, none of the members had changed their views. But they had learned to listen to one another and understand the others’ views–and they had become friends.
Befriending invites one to step outside oneself, and in an imaginative way, step into another’s shoes to experience his or her feelings and perspectives. In this way, befriending unfolds as empathy, which fuels connection, according to Brené Brown, author and professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.
Befriending isn’t a new skill to learn. You already know this naturally. But you can learn new applications.
Think about the people you shun who are different than you. How does it serve you to remain separate from them? What would happen if you were to get to know them and really listen—without judgement—to their views? Is it possible to be open, curious and welcoming so you might learn more ideas? Other befriending qualities might include: caring for, encouraging, and having one’s back. These are essential for raising children, and for showing up for a family member or friend who is in need.
Very often befriending asks you to step outside your comfort zone. In the Academy Award winning movie, Shape of Water, a mute janitor befriends and eventually falls in love with an amphibious creature. One never knows where befriending might take you!
Sometimes you may befriend someone and then never see them again. Yet, you are both somehow enriched or enlightened by the brief encounter. This has happened to me many times when I’ve traveled. Some of my dearest friendships started this way.
For some people it is even possible to befriend a former partner or spouse. When my relationship with Tom ended a number of years ago, I really struggled. But with time and good therapy, I was able to accept that our romantic relationship did not work and no one was at fault. With a foundation of mutual understanding we later befriended each other and continue to share good times together. A deep trust and empathy have evolved between us.
YOU may be the most important person of all to befriend. There is much going on inside—thoughts, beliefs, stories and emotions. There are a myriad of things happening in the physical body at any given moment. How much of this do you take for granted…and possibly not treat very well?
The same befriending qualities such as curiosity, listening, non-judgment, etc., are equally applicable to knowing all facets of you. What sort of relationship do you have with your body: your health, your age? Is there something you want to change? Are there areas of disappointment or even disgust? Besides you, who really cares?
I love the title of Terry Cole-Whitaker’s book, “What people think of me is none of my business.” You can’t control other people’s thoughts about you—and sometimes your own. But, you can befriend the thoughts you think and the feelings and emotions that arise as well. Rather than block or resist them with sugar, shopping, TV or wine, take time to get to know them. Lovingly and tenderly befriend them.
Fear, for example, can be a rich source of insight. Rather than allowing fear to become an enemy that paralyzes you, befriend it. Sit with it and seek to understand it. Let your fear tell you what it wants. Let it show you what needs to be healed and let it become a companion to help you move forward. While this process initially takes courage, it also makes you stronger, wiser and more resilient.
Disappointments in life can often result in feelings of blame and guilt, especially when we didn’t meet our own expectations. Befriending can start by stepping back as an outside observer and witnessing the whole scenario or story about it. Make friends with the aspects that stand out, especially your beliefs and thoughts. Acknowledge what you have learned—which might even be a new skill that serves you later. The journey of life is filled with learning and growing from all experiences—positive and negative.
It’s a law of nature that with every negative there is a complimentary opposite, which is often uncovered in the learning. Each informs the other. A line from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, Kindness, reads: “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”
Live from befriending
Living from a place of befriending invites you to welcome whatever comes your way, openly, lovingly and without resistance. The art of befriending has a multitude of benefits that can empower you. It helps you feel more connected to life and frees you to feel more whole and complete.