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What Does A Truly Good Friend Look Like?

I've always loved the Korean word for friendship - it's pronounced "oo jung." There was a time in my 20s when oojung was actually the bulk of my e-mail address, back when gmail didn't exist and most of us were at yahoo or hotmail.

More than ever, I find myself considering what constitutes a healthy friendship, for my own well-being, and also to do what I can to help our boys understand what a truly good friend looks like.

When I was in my 20s and highly malleable in spirit, thirsting to find a path to serve the greater good, I was strongly influenced by "A Course in Miracles," a collection of thoughts on conscious living that I understand to be a chief source of inspiration behind the works of the late Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Shefali Tsabary, and several others I have long considered mentors.

Back then, I was deeply committed to being a source of love and kindness to everyone I met, even to people who were knowingly unkind. The thought process behind that existence was that unkind behaviour was a call for help, a symptom of having been treated poorly by others. I really believed that by being generous and loving with everyone, I was doing my part to help people heal and access more of their potential.

I still carry a strong desire to be a healing influence in others' lives. But now in my late 40s and continually striving to transcend my shortcomings and brokenness in order to be a better parent to our boys, I no longer believe that life is well spent trying to be a deep well of patience, support, and encouragement for everyone.

The reason is simple. Not everyone is looking to grow and be of service to others and the greater good. My experiences tell me that there are people who actively and consistently seek to take advantage of others. I'm not writing of mutual caring that goes on between family, friends, and neighbours. I am deeply grateful for people who look out for one another, those who thoughtfully look to be helpful and bring joy to others' lives. I'm writing about purposeful, manipulative freeloaders who want others to continually finance their wants in life.

When I was a senior in high school, one such predator who I'll call Reggie wanted to take a 3-hour road trip to visit a university that he was interested in attending. He knew that I had already decided on a different university, but said that he wanted my company for the long day trip. Happy to feel that a friend valued me enough to want to spend that time together, I went along. Within an hour of hitting the road, this "friend" stopped to get gas and nonchalantly asked me to pay for it since I was coming along. I was too stunned to do anything but bring out my wallet and cover the bill, which in today's dollars, was about a hundred quid, no small change for a high school student. That one tank ended up covering the rest of the trip, so effectively, this fellow used me to finance his visit.

I've come to learn that the Irish call such people snakes. Sadly, I'm seeing that human snakes can find enough prey to fund a lifetime of manipulative mooching. They become experts at painting themselves as righteous people who are going through hard times and are in need of help from loyal friends and family members. Incredibly, they typically have the gall to declare who among them are worth being friends with and who are selfish users.

Snakey behaviour is especially difficult to deal with when there are innocent children involved. A snake does not care what it costs you in time, stress, and money to take care of his or her children; once they have a taste for your willingness to be kind and generous, they only become emboldened to get you to pay for their children's meals, experiences, and lodging many times over in the future, even if doing so makes life more difficult for your own family.

I've learned that some snakes actually view their prey as being weak, as having a need to be liked - when they identify such a person, you can almost see blood dripping off their lower lip. Jackpot - this is what they think. Jackpot.

Snakes come in many sizes and forms. But what threads their many phenotypes together is a deep-seated intention to have things and experiences that they have not earned. Or where there are progeny involved, to give their children a life that they as a parent have not worked to afford. Snakes do not understand the difference between needs and wants. Or perhaps they do, but they simply don't care. They know what they want for themselves and their offspring and they will manipulate others into making it happen regardless of what it costs others. A snake, by nature, feels entitled to la dolce vita and he doesn't believe he has to earn it.

In case my spirit for this topic isn't coming through, please know that I share all of these thoughts with great pain and a protective fire. Because of my personal experiences with the Reggies of our world, it hurts my soul deeply when I see a snake at work. I see that most people are good. Most people will be prey many times over until they realize they are slowly being choked out. This post is the equivalent of writing a letter to my 20-year old self to warn him about snakes, only it's actually for my children, other children, and anyone else who has not yet realized that human snakes are real.

When we realize that snakes exist and they will not hesitate to use us up, we have more capacity to protect ourselves. Most of us have a hard time saying no because we want to be kind and helpful, as we should continue to be. But given the finite nature of our lives and what we have to give in time, talent, and tithe, we better serve the greater good by identifying and saying no to snakes.

What if a family member - a parent, a child, a sibling - is a snake? Let's remember that by regularly feeding a snake that which it hasn't earned, we push the snake to a quicker death via gluttony, ineptitude, and a life that is dependent on others. If we want to help a snake shed its snakey ways, our best chance is to stop feeding it.

By saying no to snakes, we make more room in our lives for truly good friends, don't we? A truly good friend would rather punch him or herself in the face than continually take advantage of others.

As I recently wrote at my Instagram page, when we recognize what a truly good friend looks like, we know what it takes to be one.

Here’s to celebrating those who share healthy laughter that isn’t at the expense of others.

To those who value sharing ideas rather than gossip.

Those who don’t measure their own or other people’s worth by appearances and monetary wealth.

People who feel your triumphs and disappointments because they actually care about your well-being.

Those who have it in their hearts to listen with sincere intent to understand.

And of course, those who don’t repeatedly take advantage of others.


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Friends help you move. Good Friends help you move bodies.

A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed.

There are acquaintances and there are friends. If you can't call someone at 3AM and ask them to come to your house *right now* - and not ask questions (assuming they're capable) - they aren't a *friend* - they are an *acquaintance*. Would you do that to a friend? (call them at 3AM)- probably not - but as Dr. Kim said, a true friend is someone who is very much interested in your well-being and is "in your corner". They are reliable, trustworthy, and honest with you. This doesn't mean that they won't tell you things that are hard to hear - but it means that they will be doing so with love in their hearts and not malice. Most people can count the number of *true* friends they are blessed with on one hand.

As a married woman, I am not pleased with my husband 100% of the time. Venting about him at such a time, helps me blow off steam and get over my anger. I have two friends good enough to do this with. No matter how serious of a transgression my husband has committed, a friend will listen and never hold it against my husband. I do the same for her. We help each other understand why this act might have been perpetrated against us and then dismiss it. I never worry about one of them mentioning how upset I was to my husband. A real friend knows that when you need to vent, all they need to do is listen and offer words of support, then forget about it.

Thank you for sharing, Wanda. I think that it's helpful to have that safe space in which to vent and feel better where your friends know that there is no evil intent on your or your husband's part. Just life. :)

True friends will help each other out doing anything and everything needed whenever they can and money doesn't come into question and both help each other whenever help is needed, they will treat each other when they can go places together and just have fun. They can also be trusted to talk about different things and not spread it to other people. You will only meet two or three people in your lifetime like that. You will meet many more people like the snakes that will take advantage of you and they are the people not to be bothered with.

True friends will remember you when you're in hospital, and in the months following when you are recuperating. When you aren't able to do anything for them, they'll still be there.
The false ones you won't hear from until you're up and about again and able to 'contribute' to their lives somehow.

Enjoy your articles and exercises.
People can be divided into three categories: sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. My goal is to be a good sheep dog, calm and quiet until the flock needs protection and then spring into action. The ones you identify as snakes can as easily be identified as wolves. The vast majority of people are like sheep, just innocently going through their days.

The three categories make it helpful to visualize their human equivalents. Thank you for sharing, Carr. Like you, I strive to be a sheep dog, though it can often take me far too long to recognize a wolf.

This article was really compelling. I actually have never gotten to know any such snakes. Instead, I seem to be a magnet for another type -- those who are in love with the sound of their own voices and will talk your ear off for as long as you'll listen. As I've gotten older, I've learned to guard my precious time. In friendships, I value enthusiasm for two-way conversations -- listening and questioning as well as speaking.

This also reminded me of another type that is sadly too common: adults who put down others. They're too smart to engage in name-calling, so their put-downs are subtle and well-disguised. These days, they're disproportionately represented in Facebook groups and other online forums.

Thank you for writing this article and for warning me about snakes.

Thanks for sharing, Moorea. I know such people who don't know how to listen or don't care to. Some of them even realize this and try to go through the motions in pretending to listen once in a while, but you can feel that they aren't truly listening with intent to understand - often, the sense is that they are mostly thinking about what they will talk about next.

Some call such people energy vampires. It's great that you've learned to identify such people and not give them too much or any of your time.

Dr. Kim, I wish I had a proven formula for how to avoid the snakes. Sometimes our intuition will guide us as to whether or not we have peace about trusting someone. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. There seems to be no time limit as to when a person will turn on us. I thought I had bad snakes in my life until I heard my brother's story. I lost two brothers within 17 days of each other - one from cancer, one from a broken heart after my brother died. A long-time female friend of my brothers' heard one of them was terminal with cancer. She showed up and moved in with my brother to "help" him. Thinking they could trust her, my brothers allowed it. She then proceeded to use a computer and printer and created a will where my brother left her everything and excluded my brothers. We even believe she overdosed him on narcotics and shortened his life. She took all his money, all of his furniture, a vintage jeep my brother was supposed to inherit, my mother's bedroom furniture he inherited, another car, all his photos including that of his ex-wife, his socks, his shoes... When this woman was done, all she let my surviving brother have was a flashlight, lamp, Pepsi Cola picture and a tool box with tools. My brothers were far closer than that. How's that for greed and meanness? She wasn't even his wife or girlfriend. Just a delusional, pernicious opportunist. Time will only tell what karma comes back to her.

That is just awful, Cheryl - it's a degree of evil that I don't believe I have personally encountered, and every memory that I have of someone knowingly manipulating and taking advantage of me seems mild compared to what you and your brothers suffered. I can only wish you some degree of peace and comfort in due time. I appreciate you sharing with us.

It is true that we don't need to be vulnerable and trusting of those who will only trample over that trust (don't throw pearls before swine). However, that does not mean we can give up on certain people. It does mean that we should know when to share tough love.

Tough love may not be advertised on Hallmark cards but tough love is in fact a kind and generous gesture--that prioritizes long term well being above immediate "needs".

It is also possible to share tough love in conjunction with empathy and grace (undeserved favor). For instance, when a "friend" calls at 1AM asking for a ride home because they stayed out too late, and the busses are no longer running -- offer to pick them up in the morning, or drop off a blanket and a book and a cup of hot coffee, or offer to pick them up half way.

Showing care and concern without becoming an enabler doesn't just break the parasitic cycle--it also helps us understand and nurture empathy in our own hearts so that we do not become jaded or bitter.

My approach to this type of situation has always been, "If they have the gall to ask then I need to have the gall to say no".

Even though I am years older than you, I learn from you. Thank you.