I have a friend who often uses the hashtag #makingfriendsandinfluencingpeople, which I believe is based on a book about doing just that—using specific strategies to create connection and influence others. I also believe that it was a book popular within business circles some years ago, so I have suspicions that the influence part was what was stressed, and the getting what you want from others is the point of using the strategies. I don’t know how much we can then call that “friendship”. (But I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to its tone or effectiveness with certainty.)
My friends—the true and real and lasting ones—are people whom I suffer with and rejoice with through all sorts of circumstances. And I don’t think that a book of strategy for connections would have been useful in the development of those relationships, because they were forged in fire, in many ways, and that forging was often horribly uncomfortable. Really, the way that we became friends was by not appeasing one another, and by venturing into dark waters together … some of which I thought would drown us both and destroy our connection. But the thing about being willing to sacrifice your friendship for the good of your friend is that it strengthens the bond with the people who are best for you, and offers those who would not be your friend through both thick and thin the opportunity to walk away.
I was recently speaking with a dear friend via Skype, and we questioned how we became friends at all, since we were both very closed to connection and guarded and mistrusting and walled off at the time. But, as we discussed it, I realized that sharing mutual distrust for humanity was what bonded us. And that sounds a bit weird, but we created a connection out of not connecting. We shared uncomfortable space. We were both different. We were both damaged. We were both in need. We both knew frightening dangers and horrible pain and devastating events in life. And because we shared all of this, we were able to quickly dive into the dark waters together.
Other friends have been less quick to dive in. Some friendships were not cemented until years without communication had passed, and the realization that the challenges the other had placed upon us were meant to love us, and not to harm us, and the remorse and the forgiveness and the forgetting of the division and distance made the bonds strong.
Suffering plays a big part in friendship, because the best way to connect is to break together and to heal together.
Religious texts mention this frequently. Warnings against fair-weather friends, and commands to support one another, and models of rising and falling together abound, not just in one religion, but in many. Life together means a life of ups and downs together.
I think that one of the reasons we fail, and make enemies instead of friends, is that we react harshly when we are incapable of rising and falling together. When we think that individualism is of high importance, and we refuse to imagine that those falling are doing so because that is half of life, but believe that falling is a moral failure, we speak in ways that harm others. When we are falling, and nobody will hold us as we do so, we sometimes lash out in what looks like anger, but is truly fear at its core. When we are afraid of falling, we pretend to be rising, and we become disingenuous and dishonest and untrustworthy, which breaks apart bonds and ruins relationship.
We make enemies and infuriate people when we don’t allow ourselves to enter the dark waters together. When we avoid the falling half of life, and try to wish away the times of struggle and the dangers and horrors that accompany life together, we cannot treat one another in positive ways. We make up excuses and judge individuals harshly and create scales of worth and value or hierarchies of wrongs and sins and evils in order to justify our refusal to join one another in the sorrows, and be half-friends who only stand in the moments of joy or praise or pride with others.
I am in a season that lacks joy or praise or pride, and others use the scales and hierarchies in attempts to discredit me, so they don’t have to accept that this season—this falling—can happen to any of us at any time. They hurt me with accusations and define me with degradations, in the name of fairness and righteousness and, at times, even in the name of god. And I don’t quite understand the instinct to distance one’s self from the one falling. It seems like far more work to uphold the excuses and the judgments and the scales and the hierarchies than to simply hold onto one another as we fall and as we rise.
I understand that the dark waters are a bit frightening, and that it takes work to swim through to the other side. But many of us aren’t offered the chance to ignore those waters. Some of us have been drowning in those dark waters since we were small children. Others of us wade in the dark waters daily due to lack of resources or abusive acts against us or illnesses or addictions or living in the midst of violence or deep loss. But those who have a choice, and those who choose not to venture into that space are failing the ones who are falling, and pretending at goodness by attaching themselves to those that are rising. Being that fair-weather half-friend makes a liar of you, because your joy and praise and pride is not your own, but it is stolen from another.
As one who has been in the dark waters for a lifetime, I want to share something with you. It is terrible and desperate and contains horrors … and you should long to dive in. Making friends and influencing people is meaningless if it is this false, half-friend sense of friendship, and the only influence is yours upon others, and not theirs upon you. Diving into dark waters builds relationships that last and that stand firm in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Diving into dark waters, and holding one another while we are falling and while we are rising, offers us the fullness of relationship that superficial connections cannot achieve. Trust, boundaries, vulnerabilities, honesty, and deep love can only accompany these dark-water friendships. Everything else is insufficient, and you are missing out on love and life if you don’t have people in your life who are holding you while you rise and while you fall—who don’t attend your struggles the way they attend your happiness, who come to the parties and not the funerals.
This is the fullness of love—the “unconditional” that we hear about, but rarely experience. Rising and falling together. Suffering and celebrating together. And refusing to hold on to any judgments or scales or hierarchies. Wading in the dark waters, and connecting in the midst of that murky river, with walls stripped down and conditions removed and humility and trust and the knowledge that brokenness is not all-defining, but that we can build a beautiful love from the bits and pieces, is a most fabulous use of time and energy.
I don’t often make friends and influence people. I live a relatively humble life, and I don’t get out into the world to make connections very often. And sometimes I make enemies and infuriate people, but not for the reasons listed earlier in this post, but because I push back at people’s refusal to accept the existence and the pervasiveness and the importance of the dark waters, and I try to break down the judgments and scales and hierarchies that some hold more dear than love. But I seek, every moment, to be the type of person who holds humanity in high regard, and who seeks to hold every human I meet as they rise and fall as a result.
I don’t always succeed. Because even as I seek to break down judgments, scales, and hierarchies, I was conditioned to hold them in higher esteem than humanity and love. So I know that it is a fight to continue to hold everyone as they rise and fall. I know that it isn’t easy. I know it doesn’t always come naturally at first, and there are days when you will revert back to the scales or judgments by default (and you are usually overcome with shame when you realize you have done so). However, every moment of that fight and every discomfort that results from diving into the dark waters is worth it.
Love—in the most deep and pure and deconstructed form—is worth it.
Rising and falling together is love. Meeting needs is love. Standing together in the darkest of moments is love. And if you don’t brave being in the deep, you won’t find love. You will find the half-friends who let you remain unchallenged in the good times, but abandon you in the difficult times.
When the deep rises up and you find yourself wading the dark waters, you want to be held by true love, and friends who are there for the whole of your experience. And you want to hold onto others as they rise and fall. Because a deeper, richer, more full life is the reward for holding on.
I want that life. I want those friends. I want that love.
Dare to dive in.