Being A Friend: Nurturing Healthy Relationships

We are fortunate if we have that special someone we could call a friend. An individual whom we all take for granted, especially when social media driven friendships predominate our lives, online and offline. A friend whom we have been through thick and thin together is hard to find, even keep. A person who recognises our flaws yet is still willing to work on the friendship instead of walking away at challenging moments when opinions clash.

Realistically though, many of us would most probably have a group of close-knit friends which comprise different individuals at different phases of our lives. Akin to a case of a revolving door whereby those who enter would be exiting at one point or another for a multitude of reasons.

It is not a matter of being an opportunistic friend as we form friendships based on mutual understanding and respect without attaching an expiration date on it. Though we might not gel well or click immediately with certain individuals, it is definitely worthwhile to find out if that particular friendship could develop into a meaningful relationship for both parties involved, which could very well last a lifetime. 

Sincerely Smiling

وَعَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: «لَا تَحْقِرَنَّ مِنَ الْمَعْرُوفِ شَيْئًا وَلَوْ أَنْ تَلْقَى أَخَاكَ بِوَجْهٍ طليق» . رَوَاهُ مُسلم

Abu Dharr reported God’s messenger as saying, “Do not consider any act of kindness insignificant, even meeting your brother with a cheerful face.” (Muslim)

[Mishkat al-Masabih 1894]

It does not have to be a grand, or even an expensive, gesture in order to make and subsequently keep a friend. Smile. Smiling does not cost you anything. In fact, there are many positive benefits to smiling. In addition to being a positive indicator of an affable person who is easily approachable, smiling is also contagious. This in turn contributes to elevating the overall mood. 

Inversely, we have all been guilty of the following at one time or another whether consciously or unintentionally: Faking a smile. One way to spot it is the absence of creases around the eyes that translate into a clear marker of the eye muscles not contracting. Though it is our choice to gift a smile to our friend, just as important is the intention or niyyah behind it. 

In our quest to uncloak the facade, we need to not be too quick to judge lest it leads to misgivings which are baseless. At times, a friend faking a smile might be hiding an emotional turmoil. It could very well be a sign of emotional distress, of a friend in need. It boils down to taking the initiative to reach out as your friend might be embarrassed to ask for help, or even choosing to suppress his or her moments of vulnerability in the misguided belief that being vulnerable in front of you is a sign of weakness.

“I Hear You; I am Listening…”

If one of the keys to opening the door in establishing a friendship is with a smile, the next step in cementing this precious relationship is to listen. Talking is easy. Having a meaningful conversation that starts with small talk paves the way to deeper interactions, such as learning about another culture. Conversely, when you are encountering difficulty in holding a conversation, just start off by asking questions.

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On the other end of the spectrum of talking is listening. Seems fairly easy and straightforward. However, upon scrutiny it is the opposite. You could hear yourself talking, but how often do you stop to listen to your friend? How keen are you in not just listening but actively listening in order to ask follow up questions? When we take an interest in others, we do not just talk about ourselves to them, but we also take the time to listen to what they have to say and share.

Drawing A Line

There are times when boundaries need to be set.

Know when to walk away, especially in toxic relationships. An opportunistic friend would only treat you like a stepping stone in their own pursuit of success with no respect to your own needs. You are entitled to prioritise you! At the end of the day, you are the constant variable in the friendship. You cannot control others’ feelings and views except your own. Keep your distance emotionally, temporarily, if need be. A friendship is not built on grains of sand. 

باب مَا جَاءَ فِي طَلَبِ الْعِلْمِحَدَّثَنِي عَنْ مَالِكٌ، أَنَّهُ بَلَغَهُ أَنَّ لُقْمَانَ الْحَكِيمَ، أَوْصَى ابْنَهُ فَقَالَ يَا بُنَىَّ جَالِسِ الْعُلَمَاءَ وَزَاحِمْهُمْ بِرُكْبَتَيْكَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحْيِي الْقُلُوبَ بِنُورِ الْحِكْمَةِ كَمَا يُحْيِي اللَّهُ الأَرْضَ الْمَيْتَةَ بِوَابِلِ السَّمَاءِ

Yahya related to me from Malik that he heard that Luqman al-Hakim made his will and counselled his son, saying, “My son! Sit with the learned men and keep close to them. Allah gives life to the hearts with the light of wisdom as Allah gives life to the dead earth with the abundant rain of the sky.”

[Book 59, Hadith 1]

It is a two way street. As much as you should dare to head for the exit by ending the friendship and not look back, you are also obligated to respect limits set by friends. Such as not impinging on their privacy by prying into their private lives.

Be A Friend To Yourself First

We are constantly plagued by feelings of guilt and hesitation in making such decisions. A matter of personal reflection is worth embarking upon in order to grow as mature individuals by reviewing our roles in the demise of the friendship before walking away.

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At the very core, we need to take accountability. How do you rate yourself as a friend? Are you an absent friend? A reliable friend? Or, are you someone who is meek in thought and actions that you rather succumb to peer pressure and choose to be bullied because of the irrational fear of being alone?

At the same time, consider the following, too — our friendships are not just limited to those with opposable thumbs and look like us. Have you also been a good friend to your pet?

Fostering forthright friendships is never easy albeit we constantly build friendships throughout our lives. Yet, how many of us could be truly honest with ourselves that we also put in as much effort in retaining those friendships and ensuring they are healthy relationships, for all involved, too?