“The best vitamin for having a friend is B-1.” I saw this quote on the roadside sign of a small church on a lazy backwoods road in the South. I laughed aloud and thought, “How true that is.” The sentiment strikes at the heart of true friendship. If we want to have a friend, we should first be a friend. Start with a willingness to give, listen and share, then we can expect it in return.

This approach to friendship raises some interesting questions:

• Do we consider our friends our equal? I wonder if there can be true friendship between “non-equals?” By equal, I mean equal care, concern and treatment, not social or economic status. What do you think?

• Do you show your friends the same respect and attention that you expect from them? The answer to this question should clarify and be in accord with your answer to the first question. If you feel you are equal, then admit you don’t give them equal respect, isn’t that a contradiction?

• Are your friendships based on trust and honesty? The major benefit I see from friendship is the ability to be open, honest, and even vulnerable at times. This freedom to be our self is not possible if we feel our friends would give us bad advice or improperly share our concerns with others.

• Do you consider your friends’ positions when you make decisions that will affect them? This is another sign of the depth of our feelings of equality.

No, we don’t have to consider our friends in matters that do not relate to them. However, it should naturally come to mind to consider our friends in situations that could affect our friendships.

• Do your friendships survive the challenges of misunderstandings? This can be difficult. If we know someone for years, there is always the chance of misunderstandings. When they occur, what is your first reaction? Is it one of anger or hurt feelings? Or, is it the attitude, of “Well, I wish this hadn’t happened, but our friendship is strong enough to survive it.” Are you willing to make the first move to help resolve the challenge to your friendship?

Did any of your answers surprise you? Good friends feel and act like extensions of our self. They are another person with whom to share all the important aspects of life.

And, friends are people we can learn from without fear of ridicule if it is a balanced and mutually helpful friendship. Remember to take your friendship vitamin, B-1.

Tim O’Brien writes continuing-education courses and presents seminars on stress management.

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