Wednesday 1 July 2020

Where the Magic Happens: A Few Thoughts on Friendship, Difference, and Understanding

“Friend, how did we come here down such different roads?” (Martin Baker)

I’ve always delighted in the differences between people. The gaps in thinking, experience, and outlook offer enormous potential for growth, learning, and understanding. They are where the magic happens. This isn’t always easy, of course. No matter how much we care, significant differences in attitudes and opinion can get in the way of communicating effectively. It takes patience and commitment on both sides to handle difference creatively but I believe it’s possible if both parties are open to doing so.

Difference manifests in many areas of our lives. The following differences (and more) may be present in any given relationship.

Differences in age, gender, and sexual orientation; nationality, race, and culture; marital status; wellness and illness; financial and material security; education, skills, and abilities; life experience; worldview, political and religious beliefs; employment status and history.

It’s largely on the basis of such information that we make up our minds about other people and they make up their minds about us. It’s how we describe ourselves to a new friend or on our resume. The greater the match between our profiles the more at ease we feel. Conversely, too great a mismatch can put us off and get in the way of exploring deeper. If so, we are missing out, because this kind of information says very little about us as people. We rarely describe or introduce ourselves in ways that reveal our true selves, at least not up front or all at once.

Hi! I’m Marty. I get a bit carried away by new people sometimes so you might want to watch out for that but I’m a loyal friend. I didn’t know how to cry for most of my adult life but these days I cry easily so bring tissues! I have come a long way but I haven’t stopped growing, or learning, yet. I value honesty and openness and being called out on my shit so if you’re good with that let’s grab a coffee!

If we shared this kind of information more readily — our frailties, our fears, what delights and motivates us (who we are rather than what we do or what we have) — we’d see we have more in common with one another than we might otherwise realise, and begin to see the potential for understanding that our differences represent.

I believe this is what Fran detected early in our friendship:

“Fran, I have never thought of you as someone with bipolar or chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia, just as you.”

“And that is the point! It’s how you are with me. You treat me no less. People do not treat me that way once they know I have illness. It is a powerful thing. And it has helped me see how I am. That I am not just my illness, I have value and gifts to give.”

She didn’t mean, of course, that I was blind to her illnesses or their impact. They represented — and represent — significant differences between us as friends and between the life Fran lives and the life she would prefer to live. But difference of any kind does not define us, and whilst it can be a source of misunderstanding, complication and difficulty, it can also provide an opportunity for exploration, awareness and growth.


Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.


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