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How to Make a True Friend

I've been reading Michael Winger-Bearskin's book, Changing Patterns: Friendship, Fellowship and Transformation. He has this to say about how to change superficial relationships into true friendships: "Our true happiness comes from our belief in God ... Through this belief and obedience our ability to become attractive to others and develop deep friendships is enhanced. We begin to connect to others in ways that we couldn't imagine...and we become increasingly more happy." p. 88

In the industrialized world, time to spend on friendships can be limited. We are rushing from work to home to recreation to hobbies to sports--not to mention ferrying children to same. Where in there is quiet reflection, or time for tea and conversation?

Because human beings are social animals, not rugged individuals, close relationships are needed to maintain health and to grow. If we really want to improve our lives, we need a social network to support our efforts. The question becomes, how do I manage to make and maintain close friendships? Especially since, due to a variety of circumstances, friendships come and go.

Many of my family members and friends from years ago are long gone. Others moved away, changed life directions, or simply got lost in the daily process of living. Learning how to make new friends, as well as keep old ones is critical in order to stay connected. The Bahá'í writings offer this admonition: "Consort with all men, ... in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship....A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding..." Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 289

'Abdu'l-Bahá, son of the Prophet/founder Bahá'u'lláh, constantly told people to be happy, as a commandment of God. A smiling person in these days of generalized anxiety is so rare that he/she can stop traffic! But seriously, to make new friends, happiness helps to attract. Be a person that others want to be around, that makes them wonder, "Why is she so happy?" and it will widen your circle of acquaintance. (How to be happy is a topic for another article; see below.)

All right, I've met some new people, have new neighbors, maybe even new family members. How do I go about making a few new friends from them? What can create the intimacy necessary to foster a deeper relationship? It will require some vulnerability, exposing parts of myself I usually hold out of sight. And it will require that I actually listen to others with heart and mind, instead of simply waiting my turn to talk!

For many of the people we know, our conversations never go beyond the job, the weather, the children's sports team, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but to build trust, deepen that sense of kinship that first drew me to someone else, I will need to share something of myself--not the sort of disclosure that brings discomfort--but the kind that shows I have actually paid attention to someone else.

It really isn't that difficult, with some thought. The longer we live, the more we have in common with others, and it is often this shared experience that brings new relationships into our lives. Learning how to go beyond superficial conversation, to ask kind but unobtrusive questions to reveal how much we might have in common, is the challenge! We don't want to offend, or seem nosy or patronizing or manipulative while doing this, of course. So don't ask any question if you don't really care about the answer, or that you wouldn't want to answer yourself. It is a risk worth taking, because I'm sure most people do hunger for a deeper level of connection than the weather!

As for the specific questions to ask--of yourself as well as a potential friend--the Internet is replete with suggestions. Put "intimacy exercises relationships" into any search engine and find lots of ideas. What you are looking for in this instance is emotional intimacy, not physical, however.

There will be plenty of interesting choices, but I don't think the format or even the content of your questions is important. The bottom line is to be genuinely interested the answers. All the advice agrees that a true friend is someone to trust, with whom you can discuss the important issues, who will support your growth, rejoice in your successes and cry with you in times of sorrow. And you must be that person for them, as well.

To make a true friend is first to be a true friend. "The friends of God should weave bonds of fellowship with others and show absolute love and affection towards them. These links have a deep influence on people…" 'Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Changing Patterns, p. 48

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