Old Friends

I have a tendency towards being solipsistic – so mentally focused on my own wants that I am not thinking about other people. It is not so much selfish as it is mentally self-absorbed. I say not selfish because my wants are related to the good of the community. I get so distracted trying to accomplish something that I forget to pay attention to the people I’m trying to accomplish it for.

Recently, when I was listening to Pinegrove’s song “Old Friends,” I realized I have been in this mode for a bit. Evan Hall sings, “I should call my parents when I think of them. Should tell my friends when I love them. I got too caught up in my own [stuff].”

It’s easy to get caught up in our own stuff. As leaders, we have lots of stuff. As parents, we have lots of stuff. As spouses, siblings, and friends, we have lots of stuff. If we didn’t get caught up in all that stuff from time to time, we wouldn’t be human. However, the best intentions won’t replace simply paying attention to the people in our lives.

We rarely remember how much money our family had when we were kids. We remember the time our parents spent doing things with us. We rarely remember the stuff we have accumulated. We remember the experiences with people we love. While we appreciate and need the higher level work our leaders do, we remember when we were noticed for the contribution we made or cared for when we were struggling.

Interestingly, one of the antonyms of solipsism is empathy. Empathy is identifying with or being understanding of the thoughts, feelings, or emotional state of another person. This may come naturally to you, but it does not for me. I must work at this. Empathy starts with mindfulness or self-awareness (not self-absorption), literally being aware of myself so I can intentionally become more aware of others.

Listening is the next step to empathy. Listening takes time and attention – two things we tend to be short of if we’re being solipsistic. Imagine the person you are listening to is your favorite author, artist, or celebrity. How would you pay attention to them? Personally, if I got the chance to listen to Bono, I would try to remember and internalize every word he said. That’s how we should listen to others.

Next you have the chance to set aside your own opinions and conclusions and try to see through the other person’s eyes. Notice when you are making judgment statements in your head and set those aside. Remember, you do not have to agree with someone to empathize with them.

Finally, you can offer support, including sharing your experiences that are similar. Support isn’t fixing things or explaining things, though you may have an opportunity to do those, too. Support is being willing to step into the space someone is in and hang out with them there. My experiences in recovery are full of true support; people who would sit with me without judging me or taking responsibility for the work I needed to do, but who could honestly say, “I know.”

I have some old friends (both old in their chronological age and old in the years we have been friends). What is special about them is the way we know each other. Years of shared experiences have given us the ability to see through each other’s eyes and have softened our judgment of each other.

Healthy communities are full of people doing their best to be old friends. We can choose to intentionally compress time and give others the benefits that too often only come after years and years of friendship. We all have lots of “stuff.” We can all use an old friend to help us through it. Maybe, by being that friend, we can find one and live the Bison Way.