Last updated on 11th July 2011
It's a couple of days since we drove back up to Scotland from Ravenstor. I blogged yesterday about the last morning of the group and I was thinking a bit about judgements and who we choose as closer friends. I feel a bit uncomfortable exploring this issue as I don't want to be dismissive of other human beings. However there is a valid question - do some characteristics or qualities that people have make them "better" potential friends than other characteristics or qualities do? For me the answer is a clear "yes".
So using yesterday's tree analogy, loosely I said different human beings are like different types of tree. An oak tree is different from a beech and a rowan from a yew. That doesn't mean one is better than another - they're just different. However I did say that a yew might be better than a rowan if one was trying to make a longbow, and an oak tree might be particularly good if one was trying to make a ship's mast. So are some human characteristics particularly good for making friendships? Yes, I think they are. And does it go beyond this - are some human characteristics or qualities particularly good in helping people "flourish" and lead lives that are more fulfilled? Yes, I think they are - and I believe that human qualities that I look for in friends overlap with human qualities that help people flourish. And these qualities are also qualities that I try to nourish and live from in myself.
When I complete the "Respected figures exercise" the same qualities emerge again and again, and have done for many years. And the two most central for me are compassion, love, warmth, open-heartedness, kindness and also truth, authenticity, self-direction, autonomy, courage. So the qualities I personally most respect in another human being - and strive (sometimes very unsuccessfully!) to live in my own life - are compassion & authenticity, lovingness & personal truth, different labels but this "healer"/"warrior" coupling is central for me. There are other qualities too that overlap with these two and, for me, are hugely important. So there's something too about questioning, about intelligence, open-mindedness, humour, energy, and interpersonal sensitivity. Last month's sequence of blog posts on "Meeting at relational depth" explores this area of interpersonal sensitivity pretty well. Note, for example, the post "Meeting at relational depth: a model". January's post "Different kinds of group, different kinds of friendship" is also very relevant here.
I know I didn't see it this way - or not so clearly/overtly - when I was younger. And I think my relationships and my life were poorer because of my lack of clarity. I don't think I knew very well "what was good for me". And I'm sure I'm not anywhere near 100% accurate now, but I am a lot clearer than I was. And this isn't just about my own personal preferences. Confucius apparently said "Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men". Not bad. I mostly agree with him. So much written on this website is relevant to these issues. See, for example, the posts "Friendship - a three day residential workshop", "Almost-midsummer lunch - the importance of our social networks" and "Strong relationships improve survival as much as quitting smoking". Maybe too, try the "Relationship need satisfaction scale" and see the many issues touched on in this site's section on "Interpersonal group work".
And it's not about self-congratulation or self-flagellation. I really believe that we're mostly doing the best we know and trying the best that we currently can. The diagram "Development & maintenance of distressed states" equally well illustrates the genetic, early life experiences, subsequent life situation, and current responses contributions to how well we flourish & to how well we relate with others. Those of us who have been more lucky have reason to feel gratitude not self-congratulation. Those of us who struggle more are not to "blame" - in fact, in this handicap journey we're all on, many "further back" in the "flourishing" field have the most reason to feel genuine pride in how they have been doing. And we do have choices. And we can move forward. Life can definitely become better for us. Celebration!
And see tomorrow for the final post about this year's four day Men's Group.