Does your idea of friendship include accepting a bit of well-timed criticism now and then?
MORE than most people, we in this Fellowship need the sustenance of true friendship. We all arrive as loners and we are lifted from our pits of loneliness and despair by warmhearted people who are both kind and understanding. When we become able to give kindly understanding to others we have completed the first leg of our journey on sobriety’s high road.
Volumes have been written about true friendship. One fact which emerges from all the words is that to have a true friend, we have to be one. This is a hurdle that most of us recovered alcoholics can take more easily than people generally. We know now that in giving we receive. It is more than a high-sounding maxim to us; it is a vital part of our new way of life.
All of us think of our friends in terms of their loyalty. We somehow feel that with them we need not be fussy about words and deeds. They will understand, and if we err, then they will forgive. It is just possible that in our serene acceptance of their loyalty, no matter what, we overlook another thing we should normally expect from a true friend: criticism.
When we are challenged by an enemy, we either fight or run. When we are challenged by a friend, we are too often resentful. “Who does he think he is to say that to me?” Have you ever asked yourself that question, perhaps audibly in the presence of others? If the question has gone unanswered, then may it be humbly suggested that the poor fellow probably thought he was being your friend?
There used to be an advertising slogan about a supposed cure: “Even your best friend won’t tell you.” In other words that was the ultimate misfortune. Literally it is. When you are off the beam and your (fearless) self-inventory doesn’t disclose it, what greater service can a friend perform than to point it out? And if he doesn’t do so, then you, but for the Grace of God, will find it out more painfully, and perhaps too late.
Now, of course, you may receive unjustified challenges and criticisms and if, after careful examination, you find this to be true, try to keep in mind that your friend has done no more than encourage a little extra self-inventory. This is an activity sorely neglected by most of us. If we still resent it, then it means that we need to toughen up the skin covering our ego.
Most of us would do well to enlarge our receptivity to challenge by friends. It would also benefit most of us to store up a bit more courage and frankness toward our friends. The greatest warmth and effectiveness of our Fellowship flows from the freedom with which we discuss our mistakes and shortcomings openly, honestly and frankly, one with the other. We should keep that door wide open so that the air currents of the Fellowship can flow through us. When we were all wrapped up in ourselves, it was a sorry package indeed. It can become so again.
Most important of all, perhaps, in connection with our receptivity to challenges by friends, is that thereby we preserve many fine friendships. Remember that the death of a friendship is even more sorrowful than the death of a friend.