You are here

Friendship Is Always A Sweet Responsibility, Never An Opportunity

Originally published in 2013

You know how it goes - you're pleasantly surprised to have someone take interest in you, thinking that they really would like to just hit some balls on the tennis court or chat over a smoothie or mug of tea. You're thinking that this person who has approached you thinks you're nice or interesting, and that this might be the beginning of a lasting friendship.

Then, you hear it. Words that make you feel like you just got greased.

"Now all I need is your credit card number."

"Hey, I feel so awesome taking this revolutionary product and you can make a lot of money if you check it out and sign up under me."

"Oh, by the way, I just started selling mortgages, so if you or anyone you know is buying, let me know - I'll take good care of you."

"I'm so embarrassed to ask, but I don't have enough for rent this month - can I borrow a thousand dollars?"

Usually, it's more subtle than any of the above scenarios. But the idea is one and the same: this person who has approached you with the air of wanting to be friends is looking to take. Maybe they're giving a little as well, but by the end of the week, you can be sure that they have taken more than they have given.

Actually, it's a bit easier to process if the person is a stranger or a distant acquaintance. It's far more damaging to be played for a fool by a family member or longtime friend. When a relative or family friend is clearly more interested in profiting off of me than caring about the well-being of my children, I'll still be polite, but emotionally, I'm done with that person.

I wasn't always so quick to close myself off. Before I became a father, there were many times when I wasn't strong enough to stand up for myself, to value myself enough to say no to those who wanted to take advantage of me. Now, as a father of two, I have so much more to be strong about - the feeling is that if someone wants to use me up, they want to take away from my children as well, and I can't knowingly let this happen. Not exactly the cloud of zen that I drifted within when I was younger, but this is my present reality.

I turn 40 this year, and let me just say that my days of feeling awkward and timid about gently declining such people are over. I try not to loathe because I know that the loather mainly hurts himself. But as soon as I recognize that I've been approached by someone who is faking friendliness to use me in some way, well, let's just say that said person's emotional bank account with me goes into the red.

I've actually developed some appreciation for people who just come right out and ask for what they want. If I feel that they are thoughtful and well intentioned, and if I'm capable of helping, I will. Just don't toy with my feelings, because friendship is a sacred thing, or as Khalil Gibran once wrote, friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.

Sadly, those who consistently look to take advantage of others contribute to a world where people can become suspicious of your intentions when all you're doing is being friendly and thoughtful. Have you encountered this? You do something nice for someone because you want to make their day, only to be greeted by a guarded response that tells you that they think you're creepy or they're worried that you're on the verge of asking for a big favour.

So that this doesn't turn into a pure rant, I'll get to my main point: As I get older, I inwardly celebrate whenever I spend time with someone who exudes goodness. This person is sitting with me right now because she wants to share laughter, worries, and triumphs. She isn't calculating what I can do for her. She just wants to be my friend. She roots for me and she appreciates that I root for her. I've been around long enough to know how rare and special this type of friendship is, so when I'm immersed in one, I naturally cherish it.

Not surprisingly, I see goodness and selfishness in young children. When our older son Joshua took tennis classes last year, there was a classmate who liked to ask Joshua to play before class, but always as the monkey in the middle. Not coincidentally, this same classmate would not hesitate to cheat to win - up until that point in his life, this child had been raised to look out only for himself, and no worries if his gains meant that others didn't get to have as much fun. On the other hand, there was another classmate who consistently looked to be encouraging; she never raced to be the one who got to hit the most balls, she called the others to a huddle to pump everyone up with positive energy, and she regularly applauded good play by her opponents.

Though it hurt me at times to see Joshua oblivious to the first classmate's intentions, doggedly playing the role of monkey in the middle until the whistle blew, I learned to be grateful for both of these classmates. I could point to the first child and explain to our boys that this child's behaviour indicated that he would not likely make a good friend for the long term. And we could point to the second classmate's behaviour and discuss how special she is and what a blessing it is to have a chance to be friends with her.

To reiterate, friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity. If we can hold this reminder close as we trek through life, we can give our best to those who most deserve it.


Join more than 80,000 readers worldwide who receive Dr. Ben Kim's free newsletter

Receive simple suggestions to measurably improve your health and mobility, plus alerts on specials and giveaways at our catalogue

Please Rate This

Your rating: None Average: 4.6 (105 votes)
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.


Loved this article and will send it to my contact list. I am recovering from a broken femur(4 breaks) and have been so grateful for the help and support of my friends. They cooked meals for me, cleaned my apartment, took me out for lunch and "walks" during my time in a wheelchair and made me feel very loved and fortunate and not one of them asked for my credit card or a loan!!

I have a sister who is a nurse and she should have been a vet. She seems to only love animals. She ended our mother's life without my knowledge and I believe without my mother's knowledge. She cleverly waited until I had signed the consent to cremation before revealing what she did. As far as I am concerned I no longer have a sister and I am at peace with that realization. I am no longer angry with her because she did what she did and I cannot change it. I don't know how she can live with herself. I guess she did it because she had the will changed - such a stupid reason. I last spoke to my mother on her birthday in July and congratulated her on becoming 87 and she replied, "Yes, I'd like to be 90; a nice round number." By August 18 she was gone.

People like my sister take from our lives the joy that we find precious. The lesson learned is that I do not need people like her in my life.

Over the years,I have been taken advantage of many times by not saying NO when I know I should have.These days I can count my true friends on one hand after many years of weeding out the not so good ones.The old saying "A friend in need ,is a friend indeed " is much truer than I thought.

I really enjoyed your article as it really hit home with me. I was always the kind of person that enjoyed people and was always friendly to most. I always thought the best of that person until proven otherwise. When I hit my early 40's (like you) it became clear to me that not everyone did think like me and that certain people will want to be your friend for their own agenda and when they are done, they just spit you out. I was devestated at the time, but it has taught me a tremendous lesson about certain people. I can now spot them out right away and am leary with making fast friends with people. Those are the friendships that do not work out. I believe in getting to know the person's heart and taking the time to do it. After all, you are letting them into your life. Once they know things about you, they can either support you or take that information and put all out there on the internet. It is so sad when it is family members. I have personally experienced that too. I love them from a distance but do not divulge personal information about me or my family. I believe as you get older, you do get wiser and sometimes that can be an expensive lesson, but it does stick with you for the rest of your life.

Dr Kim - wonderful article!! I believe so many people are too caught up in "life" and acquiring more to really look at who they surround themselves with. Congratulations on turning 40!! I will be 55 this year, and I'm sad to say that not much of what you're speaking about changes with age!! I like you could rant -- lol, but I'll be brief. Two thoughts - there are givers and takers - unfortunately there are more takers than givers! Second thought - you will have many acquaintances in your lifetime; however, if you are lucky enough to have one "true friend" in your lifetime, you are lucky enough!!

We always enjoy your newsletters, thoughts, and of course your products!! Thank you for all you do!!

Sue N -- You wrote exactly what I was thinking! I, too, will be 55 this year, and what you said about "givers and takers" and having many acquaintances but lucky to have even one "true friend" is so right! It is really easy to become so preoccupied with life that we forget what--and who--has true meaning and worth in our lives. We must teach our children what we took 55 years to learn about life. Thank you so much for your comments, and thanks to Dr. Kim for his great newsletters.


I'm so sorry that you have found more takers than givers in your life. I'm pleased to say that I now find more givers. Ten years ago I moved to a small town and it is filled with wonderful people. It is agriculturally based and few live with great abundance...,except abundance of friends and community spirit. I pray that the Christmas spirit blesses you this year.

Sometimes it bugs me that people who are friendly to me usually have a selfish motive for being friendly. I must confess that I myself often have a selfish motive also for being friendly with people. I think if one can learn to enjoy one's own company that can be helpful
or performing good deeds might prove helpful in the battle to reduce
being bugged by others and reduce bugging others oneself. No one should make a habit of being a buggee or a buggor as both behaviour patterns can lead to disappointment and the absence of fruitful rewards.

Hi Dr. I so appreciate all your writings...
This topic on friendship is very dear to me. I am an honest, humble, genuine and loving person and friendships are also sacred to me; I value other person's lives and give of myself unconditionally.
I have good friends of all age groups although most are older than myself; friends who have my back and I, theirs. My very best friend and I have known each other for 31 years... (We are 48).
Yet, at this age, I find myself still befriending others, giving of myself 100% and you know what? I still find family and friends taking advantage of me everywhere turn.
This recent person who is younger by some 17years and whom I've befriended seems to be slowly detaching herself from me even though we get along just fine. She claims I'm clingy because I call or text to see that she's alright, etc. She has family issues & lost her mother a few years ago and I've been there for her. Suddenly I'm too much in her life she says and is now speaking less or sharing less with me.
I feel like a stranger and so torn apart! Is this right? I'm always there for others & always lend a listening ear. My problem is I give my all so I get hurt easily. How can it be wrong to care about someone, to want to be there or befriend someone and be willing to be a part of their space? I can't be anyone else but me; this is whom I am and I'm told I'm too much... Did I miss something?


Hi Anna-Maria,
I think what you have here just another example of someone who is a taker. Sure, maybe you got along well, but if you look back onto your friendship, you will probably see that you were the giver and she was not. She needed you when her mother passed away, but if she is past that and no longer needs you for that or anything else, telling you that you are "too much" is her way of shifting the responsibility of her feelings onto you. You can't fill her current need, so she doesn't want you around. I would bet lots of money that if something came up that no one else would help her with, she'd be banging on your door. It's sad, but we all have to accept that there are just people out there like that. Friendships are a RESPONSIBILITY, and this gal sounds like she doesn't want the responsibility. So sorry- don't let this change who you are. I hope you will stay close to your lifelong BFF- she sounds amazing.

What an odd friend you've got, Anna-Maria! Listen up: this friendship has run its course. You deserve way better. Now buck up! Love, Henriette.

There are givers and takers all over the place thats' for sure. Yes I believe somehow the givers find the takers or the reverse situation.I think
everyone has experiences growing up with learning to set boundaries and many
of us may be too generous or too caring.
I have been a giver for years and honestly like finding nice deserving
people who can use my help. The challenge has been to set boundaries here.
There are sooo many people who can use help (time, money, etcetera) you have to be choosy. I have found some people are more than happy to complain to you that other people abused their own generosity, yet these same people do not hesitate to ask for more and more of my time and effort.
I can also see things from another perspective as I sell VERY HEALTHY products, and since I do not know that many people or have relatives interested in what I market, i have to make contacts and phone calls. I call practitioners and either offer to do an exchange (i am also a practitioner) or to demonstrate my products at no charge. If you have NEVER been in sales try to understand the challenge of making a living this way. Do i use people's friendhsip to sell them products? absolutely not. They are or are not a friend whether or not they purchase from me, but i do relate to people much more who are open minded to what I offer.
namaste;, rachel

Ben, you said about the self centered boy at the tennis academy, "...thus far, this child been raised to look out for number one".

You don't know for an absolute fact that this kid is selfish because of how he was raised. The idea that our kids' flaws and good points are all our doing is a relatively new one. It's one aspect of liberalism and it's only a few generations old. This is not an ancient traditional outlook at all.

I am not saying that the parents' treatment of their children has no effect, only that genetic factors may count, also. I come from a family of three. We were raised by the same two parents. One of us kids is a nasty b*stard. Everyone has to walk around him. Guess what - so was his grandfather. Like 2 peas in a pod, absolutely amazing. I know of other examples, also.

I don't blame myself a whole bunch for my children's flaws nor do I take too much credit for their nice qualities. There's way, way more going on. Thank you.

Sounds like Ben's astute and pretty accurate observation hit a little too close to home, huh?

Hi Ben,

I most appreciated this article on friendship. I believe in living intentionally and that we should respect the rights of others. If we find those who don't then we should speak up and let them know. Say "Hey Buddy what you did violates me." Especially I have found children seeking the weak link in their schoolmates and playmates. If their parents won't correct them then the teachers and others should.

Secondly, when children begin school they come in contact too soon for their growth and development, objectional characters and I would recommend parents very carefully hand select schools or better yet homeschool their children.
This way the can build the childs character to better handle many of life's conflicts without inflicting unnecessary harm to their kind hearts.

Best Regards to you and your family.

Great post, Dr. Kim. It's interesting to reflect on how being used is something that occurs in childhood, albeit in other ways that may seem trivial to us now. That doesn't mean that they aren't important as those behaviors continue in other ways.

I might add that this shows up in more than just friendships - <strong>at work</strong>. The difference here is that you can't distance yourself like you would in your personal life. Your survival is somewhat tied to others that may want to use or manipulate you in some way. This can be a trickier situation given that there's more at stake. Nevertheless, it's importance to stand up for yourself in an appropriate manner.

I so agree. Friendship is a blessing not to be abused. I had to shed an abusive friendship - a childhood friend who used to be as close as a sister. All she wanted from me was money to bail her out of a continuing series of disasters, all made by her wrong choices. She refused to accept the reality that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Her betrayal of our friendship still hurts.

Very good commentary on friendship. I much dislike when my friends take advantage of the relationship to acheive some personal gain. However, it has taken me a very long time to understand that I create the arena for someone to take advantage when a friendship becomes more about 'being helpful' than about sharing of time, interests, and the like. Having learned this, I am more careful not to offer to assist someone when I am first getting to know that person. This is not to suggest that one should not be helpful to one's friends, but that friendship should begin by being about something other than helping someone resolve their problems.

It would be good to gently guide your child to form his own opinion about "friends" who take advantage. Point out what might not be obvious, ask how such treatment makes your child feel. If he can learn to be wary, it will help him in dealing with future encounters.