Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Looking Out for Each Other

This was an address to JPII students on October 27, 2008.

Our friends often see things more clearly about us than we can see for ourselves. We all know situations where a girl dates a guy who is "no good for her”, but she cannot see this herself, because she's too blinded in her affection for him. I once knew a fella who drank too much, and his friends knew it, but he was too proud to admit it and claimed he could stop whenever he felt like it—but he didn't feel like it. Or maybe we have a friend who is in an abusive relationship and we see quite clearly that it’s abusive, but he or she cannot see it, because he or she is too wrapped up in it.

We see these things and we care about our friends, but we often don’t know what to do about it. There’s a part of us that doesn’t want to interfere, that wants to respect the privacy of others, that recognizes at some level that we have to live our own lives, and that if our friends make mistakes, they will eventually have to pay for these mistakes on their own.

But too often, this line of thinking is a cop-out, a rationalization to avoid doing what is hard. We don’t want to tell our friends. We know that they’ll get defensive with us, maybe even angry, perhaps tell us to mind our own business. We worry that if we tell our friends the truth, it will hurt our friendship, maybe even end it, and we don’t want that.

Two quick stories:

A former colleague of mine was the best friend to a woman who was engaged to the man of her dreams: He was witty, successful, very polished and handsome. What she did not know was that he was unfaithful to her, even during the engagement. My colleague knew this, but couldn’t bring herself to tell her friend the truth, because she knew it would devastate her. So she kept what she knew to herself. What eventually happened was entirely predictable, though tragic: they got married, had a daughter, he committed adultery many times, they got divorced, he remarried, he cut off ties with his child, the wife was hurt very badly, and her child grew up a psychological mess, having felt abandoned by her father. My colleague tells me it was one of the biggest mistakes of her life not to tell her friend what she knew well before the marriage—she saved her from hurt during the engagement and instead guaranteed her far worse hurt for many years, not to mention the scars the daughter now carries.

The second story: Two girls I know grew up together as best friends, from kindergarten on up. They spent the night together often, went on family vacations together, and had pictures of each other all over their bed rooms. Since they were both smart, they took many of the same classes together, and helped each other excel in school. They were very close. However, in their junior year, one of them began to smoke marijuana. At first, it was just every now and then. But as she became a more regular user, her friendships began to change, and she began to change too, caring less about school. Though she had been a very moral person, when she was high, she was promiscuous, and had been in several compromising situations with guys, which made her feel terrible about herself the next day.

Her friend didn’t know what to do. She talked to her, and was instantly rebuffed. She wrote a letter, telling her that she loved her and was worried about her, that she would go with her to tell her parents and to get her help, but was told to back off and quit acting so “high and mighty”. Her friend’s life unraveled further. She began to use other drugs. Grades were awful-attitude was worse. As a last resort, not knowing what else to do, the friend met with the girls’ parents privately. She told them that their daughter was her best friend, but that she was destroying her life and she needed help. She told them everything she knew. Her parents suspected as much and had been reluctant to admit it , but could not avoid doing so once told by their daughter's best friend. They family did an intervention. The girl went into treatment.

Of course, the girl who used drugs was very resentful toward her friend for what she had done. For a year, she cut off contact entirely. But as she became well again, she slowly became her old self and started doing better in school. She graduated on time with her classmates. Eventually, slowly, the two friends reconciled. “I hated you for over a year”, she told her friend. “But it wasn’t really you. I knew you were right all along. I hated myself. Thank you for doing what you did. You loved me even more than you loved our friendship. Please forgive me.“

Let’s look out for each other. It’s easy to be a friend when it’s all good times and laughter. The real measure of our friendships is how courageous we are to tell each other the truth, even when the truth is hard. Let’s not wait for things to escalate or to get out of hand. We often know things about our friends long before people in authority do, and when it finally reaches that level, it’s often too far down the road to resolve well.

May you be blessed to have these kinds of friends. May you have the courage to be these kind of friends to each other.

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