Listening to the so-called ‘Women’s Hour’ on BBC Radio 4 is a bit like walking through a meadow of wildflowers that has incidentally grown over a minefield. You could very well end up gathering quite a nice bouquet, unless you take a misstep. Sometimes the program is infuriating, sometimes trite, sometimes nonsensical. This morning’s topic, on friendship among and between women, included some interesting observations and intelligent comments from the interviewees. But there was something missing which I think is very important.
Whenever they would offer up a quick-and-dirty definition of friendship, or of friends, they typically used phrases like, ‘friends make you feel better about yourself’, ‘friends are all about supporting and affirming you’, ‘friends share your values’, ‘friends stick by you no matter what’, and ‘they support you even when you’ve made a mistake’. And when one woman was talking about trying to ‘drop’ a friend, it was because she always left the company of that friend ‘feeling bad’. Friends shouldn’t ‘always’ make you feel bad, surely, but they oughtn’t necessarily to always ‘make you feel good about yourself’ or always ‘affirm you’. I thought the closest the ladies on the program came to one very important aspect of friendship was the last remark on the list: they support you even when you’ve made a mistake. This at least half-touches on the reality of friendship.
My very dearest friends have not universally affirmed me, and are not ‘all about’ making me feel good about myself, nor am I all about making them feel good about themselves. Some of the most definitive points in my friendships with my girl pals were times when they told me hard, even painful truths about myself, or about something I’d done. Of course they loved me, of course they accepted me, but they made free to tell me when I was wrong (and sometimes it was more than just making a mistake, I’d add). And that was what the program missed–friendship is about truth as much as it is about anything else. Friends who share values, especially if the friends are Christians, should foster relationships that help one another grow, and that means saying and doing hard things. Support and encouragement are still there, but it’s not about always affirming, because that can lead to stagnation, or blindness. Friends should help one another become better people, and that requires honesty, truth spoken in love. Without the freedom to ‘call one another out’, friendship is just a giant tear-catching shoulder, or a mutual admiration society.