A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about friendships. I explored the challenging energy created by gossip, including the intention of people who talk about you, as well the betrayal of friends engaging in those unflattering or mean-spirited conversations. The crux of the blog was: Why was that person comfortable saying bad things about me to my friend? And it’s an important question to ask on both ends of any friendship.
It’s one thing for a friend to willingly indulge in a negative conversation about you, only to report it back in grueling detail. It’s another if that friend accidentally overhears unpleasant gossip or information or becomes aware of it in a roundabout way.
Do they have an obligation to tell you what they heard? Even if they know it will be upsetting?
Take this a step further, and it’s not only about information sharing of the negative kind. It’s broader. Perhaps your friend has an observation about your personal habits in what could be deemed feedback or, ahem, gentle criticism. Some people won’t take offense if it’s pointed out they’re mispronouncing a word (I’m most grateful for that information). Maybe it’s a chronic grammar issue. Many people do not appreciate their friends acting as the grammar police. What if your friend is unaware of how they can come off to others, perhaps they seem rude or dismissive of wait staff, as an example. I would want to know.
What’s your responsibility if you saw your daughter’s best friend hanging out in a park on a weekday (clearly skipping school). Would you alert her mother? Or what if you were privy to some lesser sin that was unbeknownst to your friend? In broader friend networks, it’s quite common to have worst kept secrets, usually around someone’s infidelity. It’s the secret everyone seems to know, except the person who needs to know it the most. No one wants to be the messenger in that situation, but if you characterize yourself as a good friend how can you keep that information to yourself?
It’s not simple, but I believe it’s our responsibility to say what needs to be said—if said with kindness and coming from the right place.
Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it’ll always get you the right ones.― John Lennon
We can’t control (or even want to control) how information is received, and we really are not responsible for the result of sharing this information. We are, I believe, responsible to share it, but only with those who want to hear our truth and trust us.
I have a “tell you everything” policy with my closest friends and family members. We have trust and closeness because we are completely ourselves during the good and challenging times. If I hold back from being one hundred percent truthful, I feel like I’m hiding something from someone I love and trust. More importantly, perhaps, I feel like I am hiding myself. And if that is the case, what really is the point of friendship? Where are the feelings, authenticity, acceptance and unconditional love?
All friendships provide significant opportunities for spiritual growth and transformation. Yet, rich and fulfilling relationships can only be built on a foundation of honesty. The work that we put into becoming our most authentic self with others is the work that earns us our closest relationships. This sounds reasonable—and perhaps a little unnerving— because truth-telling requires courage, confidence, and an approach of “kindness at all costs” when communicating our thoughts.
But as I said: it’s tricky. We know where we feel discomfort is often where we need to grow and, as Kabbalah points out, friendships can and should help us to evolve and grow into the highest version of ourselves. But I think navigating this requires a truth pact with others—an agreement to be on each other’s team, and be the team member they need us to be. It is a conversation you can have with friends and family with whom you feel aligned and accepted for all parts of you (the good and the part that is under construction). Some people may welcome total honesty, understanding information is given with love and they can receive it with gratitude.
Others might not want to hear it all. That requires a different kind of pact. If it’s going to be hurtful and upsetting, they have the right to decide that they don’t want to hear it (unless it’s imperative for them to know). Those are the friends who live by Eleanor Roosevelt’s mantra: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” If this is you, just know that this kind of agreement requires a great deal of trust and relies heavily on your friend’s discernment about what is need-to-know and what is not.
Personally, I prefer to hear it all, the good, bad, and upsetting. And that’s because whether the information is “on the nose” correct or a version of the truth, I am confident (for the most part) that I can trust myself to ascertain what feels truthful, intentional, and authentic to me. I can weigh the information with what I see, as well as the other person’s motivations. I can gauge —without judgment— where the person may be lacking, which would lead them to behave in ways that are less than their best. And I can be grateful for loving friends who want me to be my very best self. And by the way, it took a lot of work to arrive at this state, but it’s so necessary and worth it.
Is there an unspoken expectation in friendship to divulge information about everything? Don’t leave it unspoken. Initiate conversations with your closest friends. Are you both “tell me everything” people or perhaps one of you is an Eleanor Roosevelt person. Either way is fine! But coming to this agreement before something arises will help you both handle it in the best way for your friend.
Which makes you a better friend. Win-win.
Now. Tell me everything!