As a parent there are so many things that we feel we need to teach our children. In my case, as I am sure it is with all parents, I have learnt so much over the years and I wish I could download all that knowledge into my son’s consciousness. From what real friendship means and how important it is, to following your heart and forging a career and a place in this world. I could write pages and pages of instruction and “wisdom” for my child. Essays and lectures are constantly running through my mind. It’s a nuisance. So I thought I should finally write something down.
Today I thought I would like to talk about friendships. My wish for Adam is that he has few friends. I know that sounds like a strange thing to hope for, but here it is…
My dear boy, you are the kindest, sweetest soul I have ever come across. Never let anyone make you feel anything less than that. Don’t ever worry that people don’t like you or that you need to change to be accepted. As you grow up you will start to think that you need to be a certain way and act a certain way for people to like you. You may think that the more “friends” you have or the “cooler” you are, the more worthy you are. I am telling you right now that is a load of bullshit.
It is far better to have 1 or 2 real friends than a classroom full of mates. You will have to look far and wide to find these real friends and the only way to judge the quality of a friend is by the way they make you feel. A real friend will make you feel good about who you really are. A real friend will laugh with you, not at you. Real friends are honest and loyal and they will stand up for you and not allow anyone to talk badly about you. They will help you up when you feel down. But, and this is the really important bit, the only way to find these real friends is to first be a real friend. It sounds like a bit of a catch 22, but it’s really the simplest truth out there. Like attracts like. The Golden Rule: Treat people they way you would like to be treated.
There is no more basic rule than this. Treat people like you would like to be treated. Remember how you felt that time someone said something unkind? Remember how it felt to be pushed or made fun of? Whenever someone is unkind, use it as a lesson and say to yourself “I will not be like this, I will learn from this but I will not replicate it”. And don’t ever condemn the other person for their behaviour. Remember that when people are unkind it says more about them than it does about you. The little boy who says spiteful things to you at school is only paying forward the things he has learnt at home, trying to make you feel small because that is how he has felt in the past. The bully who tried to push you down and belittle you is only acting out what he has seen happen in his own life. When people cause pain or unhappiness it is only because they are trying to make themselves feel bigger to cover the inadequacy they feel inside. The biggest mistake you can make is to think that the way people treat you is a personal attack. Most of the time it is nothing personal and has more to do with what is going on in their lives than about you. OPS. Other People’s Shit. The way other people behave is all about them and never about you. Don’t ever let OPS bring you down.
So what do we do about these mean people? The key is to never fight fire with fire. This is one of my favourite phrases. Not even firefighters use fire to put out fire. We use the opposite. When someone comes at you with unkindness, respond with love. This is not easy to do. Trust me. I still haven’t got it worked out – so start practising as early as you can! Love is the only thing that matters in this world. In the day to day hustle and bustle this is easy to forget. But try and consciously bring it back into your life whenever you feel like you are losing ground or when things aren’t going the way you think they should. You know that silver heart strung up in my car? That is my way of reminding myself that love is the only thing that matters. As you grow up you will make lots of mistakes and when you look back, I hope that you will realise that those mistakes were made either because of a lack of love or the because of the presence of fear… which brings me to…
Fear. Fear is a terrible thing. Fear of failure is my great stumbling block. As well as fear of what other people will think. If you don’t do something because you think the other boys will laugh at you, or not want to be your friend, think again. Don’t let fear be in charge in your life. This week at school, you didn’t want to try out for the rugby team – because you thought you weren’t good enough. You also didn’t want to perform at the eisteddfod because you thought you would stutter and everyone would look down on you. As your mother, it breaks my heart to see this. To me, you are the most perfect creature that was ever created. You are packed full and brimming with potential. Never be afraid to show off your gifts and talents. Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid of what others will think – the genuine people out there will respect you for trying and the others? OPS. Don’t be put off because other people can’t be nice. Be brave and look past the fear. Learn to recognise when fear is choosing your actions and learn how to act in spite of it. The more you practice the better you will get!
Always be proud of your achievements and abilities without being boastful. You are a bright, intelligent, massively creative little boy. Never feel that you have to hide this from people or worry about what other people will think. This is one of the most important lessons that I have to pass on from my own life. I was always ashamed of doing well. I thought other people wouldn’t like me if they knew how smart I really was. I thought people wouldn’t like me if I did too well at school. And you know what? Some of them were openly resentful that I could do so well with a minimum of effort. But do you know what else? I now realise those people and their opinions never mattered. 20 years after matric, I have realised that I should never have been concerned about what anyone else thought, because those people aren’t in my life anymore. What they thought was never important. But the important people are still in my life – and they don’t care how many “A’s” I got in matric. There will be people who are jealous and will want you to underachieve – but remember OPS – this says more about them than it does about you. Work hard, and always, always, always do your best. Sometimes you will do well, sometimes you will feel like a failure. But win or lose, pass or fail, what matters is that you did your best without worrying about everyone else. You will not lose friendships because you have either done well or failed.
Sometimes, when you think you have found a real friend, they may disappoint you or let you down. What you do at this point will be your own decision. Use your heart to guide you. You have two choices. Continue to treat them with love and respect (and caution) or move on and accept the lost friendship with grace and dignity. In most cases I would argue for the former, but sometimes the latter would be necessary. In my life I have been betrayed more than once by a friend or someone I loved. And I am sad to say that it will happen to you too and it will hurt like hell. My wish is that you don’t allow these moments to make you bitter or hurtful in return. I have had the friend who chose the other side in a bad breakup when I desperately needed someone on my side. I have had the friend that promised she had my back only to turn around and betray that promise. I’ve even had the friend who had a relationship with my ex/boyfriend. Not forgetting the friend who pretended to be a friend only to “tattle-tale” or gossip about the “juicy bits” or talk me down behind by back. I am glad to say that some of these people are still my friends and that I still treasure them in my life. Know that people will do selfish things and everyone makes mistakes or errors in judgement everyday. No one is perfect. Don’t allow one selfish act to cancel out all the positives that went before. Forgive and hold no grudges. Unfortunately sometimes an invisible line will be crossed or a friend will repeatedly treat you in an unkind way. When this happens, and you feel like there is no love and respect coming back to you, it is okay to say “I don’t like the way you treat me” and distance yourself from that person. If you find that you don’t feel good about yourself around certain people, then it is time to respectfully move away from the friendship.
Which brings me to gossip. I hate gossip. I love to know what is going on with people and have a genuine need to know if people are happy or sad – only because I feel that I can offer support in some way. But I hate gossip. Don’t ever talk about someone behind their back. Hopefully this is a “girl” issue and you won’t be having too many issues with it. Just as there are lots of boy-related friendship issues you will need to ask your dad about (like why all boys call each other by strange nicknames) and why sport is so important and why toilet-talk is so funny, this is a girl-related friendship issue. But it still has relevance. Hopefully you will have a friend that you trust and can spill your heart to. Someone that you can moan to. Someone you can tell your frustrations to. Just make sure that this person will never betray your confidence. Even so, even if you trust that person, always remember to never say anything about anyone else that you wouldn’t be prepared to say to their face. By all means, moan and express your frustrations but always imagine that that person is eavesdropping on your conversation… you will be surprised at how you change your words. Remember… if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!
Finally, don’t ever, ever, ever (never, ever) repeat what a friend has told you in confidence. Ever.
Remember that you will only (if you’re lucky) find a handful of genuine friends. These are the ones that matter. Look after them and guard those friendships with everything you have. Those are the friends who will be there in your darkest times and they will be the ones who are genuinely happy for your successes. All the rest deserve your love and affection but know that they will come and go. And that’s okay.
So what my little ramble has come down to is this: Friends are important, they support you and love you and laugh with you. If you are lucky enough to find a real friend, treat them like a precious stone – because a real friend is the most valuable thing you will ever own. But it starts with you – first be a real friend. Being the most popular kid on the playground is not what you should be aiming for. Always be kind, always act with love. Don’t be afraid of what other people think and don’t feel like you have to change or be “cool” to make people like you. Be yourself. Be loyal (protect and defend) be honest (keep confidences, never lie) and be true. Forgive others quickly for their actions and don’t hold grudges (remember OPS) but don’t be afraid to say “that’s not okay” and respect yourself enough to step away from people who don’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated.
Always remember the words of Maya Angelou — ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ Remember no man is an island – your friendships will keep you same when everything else seems crazy!