My friend had barely picked up her phone and greeted me with a hello and I was off to the races on my mini-rant. “Did you see the note I just sent you? Did you see the latest change?”
Without missing a beat, my friend picked up right where I had left off and we were soon catching up on the latest work news, business school assignments, and everything else going on in each other’s life. I would start one topic and she would chime in leading us in an altogether different direction. We were located several miles away from each other, but we just as easily could have been sitting across the table from each other.
My hands were flying every which way and we were both talking a mile-a-minute over and around each other. If someone were trying to follow our conversation, their head would spin, turning from one side to the other trying to keep up with the two of us. “Oh yea, that’s a great point,” I jumped in quickly when my friend gave me some advice on a work issue that had been nagging me for the past three weeks.
Friends like that are special. Business author and consultant Simon Sinek describes true friends like that as “someone with whom protocol is no longer necessary.” We all know that about friendships — especially in today’s online Facebook friend world — but good friends are still hard to find.
Despite my sometimes standoffish ways, I’ve been fortunate over the years to have a handful of friends whom I’ve been able to call-up on a spur of the moment without reservation and trade opinions and advice.
They are the type of friends that you may not see for months on end and then pick-up and chat on the phone for hours, sharing long forgotten stories and experiences. They are the type of friends who know instantly your foibles, flaws and idiosyncrasies and like you anyway. And for me, these have been the trusted friends that I’ve been the most open and vulnerable in showing them the drafts of my written work for their review and opinion.
The safety zone
Despite all that, when I picked up the phone to call my friend, I knew that I could chat with her — even though we come different races and backgrounds — about any number of challenging topics, including the types of subjects that usually are off-limits at work or in mixed company: politics, race, crime, or even family to cite a few of them.
I knew that if I wanted to, I could bring up and ask: Where does President Obama rank on the list of Presidents, one of the best or one of the worst? Is Donald Trump a crazy liar or exactly what the U..S needs? Is Hillary a devious career politician or someone who cares deeply about the American dream? Was neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman guilty in shooting African American Trayvon Martin or was it case of bad timing?
These are all meaty subjects that deserve serious consideration but are rarely brought up in the workplace or public square. We Americans love to talk about our First Amendment rights and the Freedom of Speech. We’re experts on our rights, but we usually run away from these heavy, highly opinionated discussions. I understand why: one word slogans or responses fail to cover these topics.
And most important, the fire burning underneath rages so deeply that these conversations usually go from zero to sixty with the snap of a burning twig. They offend. They anger. They tend to throw you off-guard in a sweaty panic. If taken the wrong way, they can turn father against son or daughter and brother against brother. You may as well forget about friend against friend, the chances of the relationship surviving are limited, very limited.
Stand-up and be counted
I have the deepest respect though for my friend because she rarely lets me off the hook, forcing the two of us to face these conversations head-on and in direct manner. For example, when I touch lightly on a particular topic, probing but too scared to bring up whatever is on my mind for fear of offending her sensibilities, my friend will tell me to shut-up and tell her what I really think.
Yes, I note the irony too.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to place even more value on these friendships. I’ve recognize how rare they really are. I value them because they allow me to let my guard down and to admit that, despite my best of intentions and all the bluster that I can muster, I don’t have all the answers.
No, I don’t have all the solutions, but these conversations help me to open my eyes and see an issue or challenge through the eyes, or better yet, the shoes of another person.
We need more of these conversations. I know I do. Here’s hoping the rest of world recognizes that they need these conversations too.
Thank you friend!