I was reading an excerpt from one of my timeworn commentaries, that our neighbor is injured when we act towards him otherwise than a friend. This thought really got me thinking about the way we view and treat others. Most of us would agree that it is really important to be gracious toward anyone we know or meet. This is what Christians are supposed to do, of course. Yet, I started thinking; what if we went a step further, and treated everyone we know or came in contact with as if they were really good friends.
My mother-in-law is one of those dear souls who genuinely cares about everyone she meets or knows. She’s a bit inquisitive when she meets you, well maybe a lot inquisitive. And the reason is, she wants to know you, really know you. Ethel makes friends and she will not de-friend you, no matter what you do or tell her about yourself. Her husband Ray was the U.S. President of a sizable international company based in Europe – she was his sidekick traveling overseas, not just meeting but befriending executives and business leaders. As time went on the European executives took such a shine to her friendly ways they wanted Ethel to always accompany Ray when he traveled to Liechtenstein for meetings. As noteworthy as her life positioning and friendly disposition is and was, Ethel always treats everyone the same no matter their station in life. And everyone feels it and knows it. Once I went into my bank and somehow let the clerk at the bank know I was Ethel’s son-in-law. All the tellers and the loan agent in the bank perked up and acknowledged her kindness to them. I even had new friends as fast as you could say can I make a deposit! As I have prepared this essay, thinking about my mother-in-law I realized that everybody is a good friend to Ethel, and it is felt by everybody she knows.
Concealing or exhibiting displeasure, anger and hostility toward people’s mistakes and differences is a harsh and hard way to live. We might feel and act differently if these less than perfect people or contrasting personalities were good friends of ours. We would surely be more accepting. Most of us have good friends who have opposing political and religious views. But they are still good friends. In my lifetime politics has become increasingly adversarial and frankly very mean. Religion can also be very polarizing. Yet, good friends can share their views and not show or feel contempt for each other. If we cultivate this way of thinking, that everyone is a good friend, we would not be so quick to judge and castigate those with opposing opinions; not only about politics and religion but about virtually everything which requires human interaction.
People we have hurt in life and those who reciprocated by hurting us can even be thought of as friends as far as the way we treat them in the future. Accepting that there are some malicious types or those with personality issues that live in our space that we must learn how to keep at a distance: we can still consider them friends as far as the way we respond to them without any desire for revenge or vindication. God is the father of us all, slicing and dicing the nuances of the past hurts and difficulties people have with us and we have with them. This is not our job to figure this out. Our job is to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others. We can then offer our friendship in a new way.
One sign of maturity is knowing that some relationships require setting boundaries so that new relationships may thrive and be protected. Even in this case, we can still maintain a friendly disposition. There is little reason to be hostile toward someone because a relationship did not work out as well as planned. When we continue to be friendly toward those whom we have set some boundaries it does not mean they are back into our lives or that we are committed to them. It only means we are committed to civility and the power it has to make things much better in the most troublesome relationships.
Scripture encourages us in more than one passage to cultivate a friendly and civil disposition – to refrain from concealed or open hostility toward others and to extend our friendship to everyone. I admit, I have not embraced this Good Friend Policy as much as I should have as I have moved through life, but I want to try harder. The dispositional shift required to be a good friend to all is a lofty aspiration, indeed. But it would be hard to disagree that the world would be a better place for us, and those around us, if we followed a good friend protocol toward everyone; or at the very least when relationships are tenuous, we would be more civil and friendly.
Joseph C. Hutchison
Rochester Hills, Michigan
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