Friendship, freedom of information and the tendency to kindness.

It might be a little early to make grand sweeping claims about the year that’s been (and is still in progress), but that’s not going to stop me calling 2018 the unofficial year of friendship.

Buoyed by last year’s exposure during the camino, my usual fascination with fellow humans has since blossomed into a true capacity to hold and value friendship in my life.

It’s fair to say that friendship is often considered a lessor relationship, playing second fiddle to our more primary intimate engagements. Romance, it is assumed, is reserved only for that singular partner — regardless if they feel inclined to participate or not.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, see: “sisters before misters” or the ever more eloquent “bros before hoes.” However, these adages are reserved mainly for the times when the primary partner has failed on some front. For example, missed date night and stayed out all night partying with mates...

Frankly, I have always struggled with this concept — not so much missing date night — but rather that all our kindness and tenderness be bundled up and reserved for one person only. How can one person be the sole receiver of all your love, generosity, curiosity and creativity while also being expected to return it tenfold? Is it possible for one to have too much? Where should one direct the rest?

Friendship seems to provide at least part of the answer. Heaping love on friends, taking friends on dates, finding things friends would like and making sure to send them their way are all ways we can romance the other important people in our lives.

Small talk has always been a harrowing affair for me. Although I may look like a seasoned professional from the outside (thank you hospitality industry), make no mistake, inside, I am recoiling. As my commitment to wrestling with the bigger questions of life grows, my tolerance for the trappings of chit chat has substantially waned.

And so, sometimes when someone says, “How are you?” I might respond to them as though they really meant to ask me how I am. Which can be quite shocking for the unsuspecting asker.

For example, “My head’s a bit of a mess today, I didn’t feel like getting out of bed and I have some underlying rage about something I can’t put my finger on that is making me so irritable. I didn’t mediate, do yoga or go for a swim today and I feel bad I didn’t match my own expectations for myself. It might be the moon I’m not really sure, but hopefully the day gets better, thanks for asking.”

This approach isn’t always well received but, more often than not, it provokes a softening of defenses and reveals a kind of tendency to kindness.

I’m not the first to observe how offering vulnerability can greatly improve our ability to connect as humans. Brené Brown has devoted a lifetime to studying “courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy“ and does a beautifully succinct job of describing The Power of Vulnerability in her TED talk here.

I’ve also resonated deeply with a new Australian podcast called ‘Dispatch to a Friend’ which I can’t recommend highly enough. The two hosts of the show are two women who have enchanted me with the mundane sweetness and drama of their everyday lives through the sharing of their letters.

I have found myself sobbing in sadness and joy at the simple beauty of a genuine shared compassion between two women living life. Their open vulnerability is something we so often deny our friends and acquaintances, whom ultimately only seek to know us better, to share our lives better.

A few months ago now, a much respected friend and mentor urged me to read a book called Lost Connections. I devoured the few hundred pages over a couple of days and felt satisfied but not entirely enamoured. Hari’s assertion is that much of the depression and anxiety experienced all over the world can be put down to a general lack of purpose and connectivity.

While the book didn’t offer much new in the way of content but it helped contextualise my depression in a way I couldn’t. Every time we can see ourselves as part of a bigger picture I’m sure a little bit of our suffering is spirited away.

At this moment I’ll happily defer to English poet, David Whyte, in whose word’s I deeply trust and were first shared with me by another dear friend:

In the course of the years a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves. To remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves.

Through the eyes of a real friendship an individual is larger than their everyday actions. Through the eyes of another we receive a greater sense of our own personhood, one we can aspire to, the one in whom they have most faith. Friendship is a moving frontier of understanding, not only of self and the other but of a possible and as yet unlived future.

As such, let’s remember that friendship is not the number of people you write down on a list to invite to a party, nor the amount of texts you receive in a day. May our friendships not be measured in time, quantity or frequency but rather valued by the capacity in which we are able to be seen and heard and reciprocate the favour.

I am working hard at being able to express gratitude (without physically wincing at the triteness of the concept) but I can say I am so profoundly grateful for the friends near and far that have dropped in with me and lingered for a moment or two. Thank you for your presence of heart and willingness to reach out in whatever capacity you can. I will always strive to return the favour.