Once upon a time, I didn’t have any friends. As a little girl who was painfully shy and painfully smart-mouthed (a losing combination), I clammed up or said awkward things at first introductions. I felt out of place in classroom settings, and was never quite sure how to behave around other kids my age. This phase stuck with me for a few years. I wanted friends so badly, but just never seemed to know how to get them.
I remember crying to my mom about it and by the look on her face, I know she felt for me. Then and there she gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. To have friends, you have to be a friend. Other people need someone to care about them, too. Be the first to be friendly. Go up to them and introduce yourself. Ask them how they are. Treat them like a friend, and maybe they’ll become one. To my surprise, she was right. I forced myself to ignore my shyness and reach out to others. The more I extroverted myself, the more it became a natural impulse.
Because of my painful experiences, I could easily identify people who were feeling out-of-place or being snubbed by others. These were the ones I approached. Conversations were much less scary when I stopped focusing on how awkward I felt, and started trying to make other people feel at ease. I can’t say I had much in common with a lot of those people. In fact, I was just beginning to discover my own interests and views at that age. But that lack of common ground itself taught me to find common ground, to accept people on the merit of who they are, regardless if our respective taste in music lined up.
Conversations were much less scary when I stopped focusing on how awkward I felt, and started trying to make other people feel at ease.
As I grew older, it mattered less and less what clothes someone wore, which bands they listened to, or whether or not they were “in”. Things like character, work ethic, attitude, and how they behaved toward others began to matter when it came to forging friendships. No one was concerned about prom dates after high school. They were worried about getting in to college, getting a job, and having people there for them when tragedy struck. Through this transition of life-stages, I realized the people I already knew were those people of character. I had friends — friends who treated me with love, generosity, loyalty, and respect. We were friends not because of who we were on the outside, or how much we had in common, but because we were kind to each other, and because we valued our relationship. We were thankful that someone loved us, and that made it easy for us to love in return.
Friendships like that last because common ground can change. Circumstances change. People change. Throughout your life, many friendships will come and go. The ones that remain will ebb and flow in waves of closeness and distance, but a friendship where the tie is love and service is far more likely to stand the test of time.
Go up to those who seem uncomfortable, out-of-place, or off of the A-list’s radar. The very act of being friendly toward another will remind you of the great power present in kindness and compassion. To let your actions tell someone “I see you and I believe you have value” is to give a gift that they may never forget as long as they live. I have been on both sides of this. On one side, I have felt relief, rescue, thankfulness, and love. On the other side, I have found out that many of the people no one else runs to are the some of the most loyal, compassionate, march-to-their-own-drum, and creative friends that I have ever known.
How have you learned to love those not like you? Is there someone you can reach out to today?
Image via Izzie Rae Photography