I go first. I realise that I am not. It’s an especially uncomfortable confession for me because some readers of this blog are my friends. Now that it is out in the open, I have no choice but to elaborate…
Honesty is not a good thing
It is perhaps an heritage of Russian upbringing to consider being honest as a good thing. If you have Russian friends, you’ll immediately recall them telling you exactly what they think about your new coat, arguing that it is a friend’s duty to inform you about an unbecoming purchase.
The so-called well wishers miss the point that an unkind remark may cause one to care less about both the coat and the “honest” friend.
Friends allow me to be myself
Reading Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, I realised that I probably fall into a category of people who assume “that friendship is a hallowed sphere where what we wish to talk about effortlessly coincides with others’ interests.”
“Proust, less optimistic that this, recognised the likelihood of discrepancy, and concluded that he should always be the one to ask questions, and address himself to what was on your mind rather than risk boring you with what was on his.”
Indeed, I am guilty of prioritising my interests and problems, if not taking for granted, then hoping that my friends are happy to listen and help. They are, but it helps to check how often I do the same for them.
Proust went as far as to write that “conversation required an abdication of oneself in the name of pleasing companions.”
Friendship is not about intellectual stimulation
Proust argued that intellectual stimulation may have so many different sources, while friendship is stemming from sincerity and kindness. I am biting my tongue as I recall many polemical conversations, where I preferred to stand my ground rather than to appear softer and more amiable. Alain de Botton writes that, by contrast, Proust frequently punctuated his sentences with ‘perhaps’, ‘maybe’ and ‘don’t you think?’.
To put it together, a good friend avoids talking at length about himself, has no resentment about asking rather than answering questions, sees friendship as an opportunity to learn about new things and others, rather than a lecturing platform and accepts a degree of false amiability in favour of brutally honest truth.
At the end of the day, I'd like to be regarded as an honest, intelligent and inspirational person and a good, loyal, kind and an empathic friend.