Relationships: Reciprocity, and Expectations

May 19, 2005

I have many differing degrees of relationships with the people in my life. To split it up crudely, I have some best friends (I apply that term to more than one person), a larger group of friends, an even larger group of acquaintances. On a separate plane, I have my family.

I have been giving some thought to what separates out these differing degrees of friends. I always believe there is room for more people in my life, which is probably why I enjoy meeting new people so much. Some may think they don’t have time for more friends. I agree that there is a limit to how much time I have in the day, and therefore I have a limited amount of time I can spend with my friends. With some friends, this seems to limit how close we can become, while other friends I feel close to, despite not being able to spend a lot of time together on a regular basis. I truly value all the friends I have moved away from, or do not spend time with regularly, but with whom I can immediately fall back in step with, when we are together.

I used to believe that common interests were one of the most important attributes of my close friends. However, I am slowly changing my mind on this opinion. I have a friend now, who could be considered my complete antithesis in terms of interests. However, I believe we have a strong mutual respect for our interests, and in many ways, I find the differences between us to be just as engaging. I am definitely attracted to people who show a passion for what they spend time on, and I have a hard time being friends with someone before I find something to admire about them. I’ve also learned that if I’m committed, I can find something to admire about just about anyone.

Lately, I’ve realized that perhaps more important than any of that, is the expectation of what it means to be a friend. I find that the people I am closest to, have the same expectations that I do, with regards to our friendship. I think this can be extended out to other, more intense, relationships… such as a girlfriend or a spouse. If the expectations of the relationship are not the same, the chance of it crumbling at some point is very high.

I think a good example is asking a friend for a favor. Friends who have the same expectations as myself would do the favor without thinking much of it. I feel that I give in this way, and while I don’t expect the favor to be returned 1 for 1, I feel that if the roles were reversed, my friend would return the favor without thinking, as well. This is an important distinction, because I think most ‘friends’ would do their friend a favor, but some might look on it as being a much bigger deal. It is this difference that shows the differing expectations between friends.

You might be able to apply this example to borrowing money from friends, as well. The expectations have to be the same.

I should point out that no ones set of expectations is not in any way ‘better’ than anyone else’s… just different. If two friends expect a hug everyday as a greeting… that’s fine, and they’ll both get along well if they both expect it. That doesn’t make them any better or worse than a different set of friends who both expect a handshake. A trivial example, perhaps, but it highlights my point.

Examination of this idea has changed how I view new people in my life. I think I always gravitated towards people with similar expectations of friends, but now I am a bit more conscious of it. Thankfully, it has also helped me understand the friendships I have right now.

Arguing: Whats the point? (part 3 of 3)

May 11, 2005

My final point on arguing brings back a topic I talked about earlier last month. Listening. I believe one of the hardest things about arguing (or we can use the nicer term ‘debating’, as someone mentioned last week), is the necessity to listen to an opposing viewpoint.

I am usually guilty of cutting someone off during the course of the argument. Usually this is because I believe I foresee where they are going with their point, and I already am thinking of a rebuttal. Rather than wait for their whole discourse, I cut them off with my own thoughts.

Again, this is ineffective from the standpoint of trying to understand the other person. Cutting someone off mid-sentence gives them the impression they are less important to you than ‘winning’ the debate. Often, I am incorrect in my assumption of where the other person is leading with their point, and because I cut them off, I never heard the whole argument. Lastly, its just bad practice to spend your time thinking of a rebuttal instead of really tuning into what your conversational partner is saying.

I think all three points as to why arguing is difficult can be overcome by constantly turning our focus away from our own ego’s, and instead concentrating on understanding the other person.

Arguing: Whats the point? (part 2 of 3)

May 10, 2005

This time I’m discussing why arguing fails as good communication because it’s easier to begin to argue the person, rather than the topic.

This is easily the most frustrating and confusing part of arguing for me. There seem to be a split between the type of person who can argue intensely a topic dear to their heart, and not take it personally, and those who make arguments very personal. Perhaps more accurately, there are times when we are very objective with our position, and other times, perhaps when we know the other person well, when we use our knowledge of the other person, as part of the argument.

Ideally, if we were just arguing in order to exchange information, than anything personal would be thrown aside, and no feelings would be hurt. However, as I stated last time, the point of arguing is to understand the other person. Therefore a completely impersonal approach is not desirable either.

Like most things in life, the line between being too personal, and being too objective is fuzzy. If you are too personal, you might take a breakdown of your argument as a breakdown of your personality. If you are too objective, you might start communicating the idea, but not communicating to the person you’re arguing with. A fine distinction semantically, but a large one in reality.

Arguing: Whats the point? (part 1 of 3)

May 2, 2005

Arguing seems to get a bad rap in our culture. Why is it that we have such negative connotations with such a useful way of passing ideas? I believe its for 3 reasons:

  1. It is easy to argue with the wrong goal in mind. (It’s not to ‘win’)
  2. It is easy to begin to argue the person, rather than the topic.
  3. It is easier to talk than it is to listen. Especially when you are hearing an opposing viewpoint.

To begin, I should define what I call arguing. Some people may say “I don’t like to argue, I’d rather discuss the topic calmly.” I would argue (pun intended) that if you are discussing any topic, where you take a different stance than your partner, and you discuss the difference, that is an argument. To argue means to ‘present the reasons for supporting and/or defending something.’ That being said, a domestic dispute, where a couple is screaming at the top of their lungs ensued by a neighbor calling the police, is also arguing… but it borders on downright fighting, which is not the topic I’m presenting here.

The first statement, arguing with the wrong goal in mind, comes up when a person enters an argument with the goal of trying to change the others mind, rather than trying to understand the reasons why they follow that line of thinking. I think it can generally be assumed and agreed upon that we all think differently. However, with a friend, it can also be assumed that our the friend thinks similarly to us. After all, that’s probably a good reason why we are friends. Now, because we all think differently, it seems logical that we may diverge at some point along our line of thinking. The goal of having an argument is to find where that point is, and understand the person enough to realize why they chose to take a different path from there. This is easier said than done.

It seems more like a ‘win’ if you can convince the other person that you are right and they are wrong. In reality, this seldom happens, especially if one person does not come to the argument with a large amount of authority in the topic being argued. Ultimately, the goal should be to understand the other person a bit more deeply, as well as to flush out your own thinking. Sometimes arguments give me a chance to see if I can actually articulate the points that I hold dearly to. Sometimes they crumble, at which the point should be to take a learning role in the conversation.

If the goal is changed to understanding the person, and how they came to their conclusion, inconsistencies in their line of thinking will fall out naturally, and in a kinder manner. In fact, I often find that if someone argues in this manner with me, I usually find out myself that I am wrong, and I am much more likely to listen to their line of thinking than if they told me I was wrong explicitly. Asking questions surrounding the other persons argument, rather than making statements is a good way to do this.

“Really? Where did you learn that?” rather than “That’s grossly untrue.”

Stay tuned for Part 2, about arguing the Person, rather than the topic.