BY SOFO ARCHON
Although I’m reaching hundreds of thousands of people through my writing, I almost never meet any of my readers in person.
Well, today I happened to meet one. It wasn’t the first time I met him though; rather, it was the fourth. And something unexpected — and at the same time a bit frustrating — happened. But before I go into detail, let me first tell you the story of how we first met.
Over a year and a half ago (that is, in pre-pandemic times), my girlfriend and I participated in a local vegan social gathering, something we enjoyed doing from time to time. There we had the chance to meet a person who I like to call “the man with the biggest smile” (I really think he is) with whom we immediately clicked and became friends.
Soon afterwards, that friend introduced a friend of his own to my blog — a man who, as he himself told me just a couple of hours ago, was deeply moved and inspired by some of my articles, and as a result had formed a very high opinion of me, which made him want to meet me in person.
And so it happened. One night, we dined all together (he, my girlfriend and I, and the man with the biggest smile). We had a great time and met a couple more times from then on. During our meetings we’d discuss several topics, ranging from yoga to education to nutrition to art — topics that interest us all.
But then came today. This time, we met at his (the reader’s) house where we stayed from mid-afternoon until nearly midnight. And here’s the juicy part of the story: A few hours after being there and mostly listening to him talk, he asked me, “Sofo, nearly every time we meet I don’t hear you sharing your opinions and advice during our conversations that much. Why is that?”
My response was, “Well, actually I feel that I do share them, but perhaps not as much as you might want to.”
“Come on!,” he continued, “I was talking for so long on this and that topic, and you had so many opportunities to jump in and share your thoughts.”
“Well,” I said, “If that’s the case, then it doesn’t mean that I intentionally withheld my thoughts — it just means I didn’t feel like having anything to share at those moments. What you perceived as ‘opportunities’ were not been perceived the same way by me.”
“Does that mean you don’t like sharing your thoughts with us?,” he persisted.
“No, that’s not what I mean by that at all,” I said. “I actually love sharing them but, as I already said, only when I feel like it.”
“Tell me, then, when exactly do you feel like sharing your opinions?”, he pressed me on, clearly not pleased with my answer.
“What kind of answer would be satisfying to you?,” I responded. “I can’t tell you when exactly I feel like doing so. It’s something that just comes to me naturally — that is, spontaneously — depending on the circumstance.”
He nodded and smiled, and this slightly heated exchange of words ended.
But the conversation continued, and a bit later he explained why he asked all those questions: Because, after reading my blog he felt that I am a very talkative, wise guy, and expected that I would be sharing my opinions, knowledge and advice much more often than I did. He had pictured a certain image of me in his mind — and he felt a bit disappointed when I didn’t turn out to be exactly as he expected.
To which I responded, “Well, what can I do, this is me. If you want my friendship, then you’ll need to accept me as I am, not as you imagine me to be. Plus, if you want to know more about my thoughts on something, you can simply ask. Anyway, I usually feel more like sharing my opinions — and especially my advice — when people ask me for them.” I also added, “Of course, like any other person, I don’t have an opinion or advice about everything, so even if you do ask, don’t expect me to have an answer.”
It was getting very late, and my girlfriend reminded me that we had to go. So we hugged, mentioned the importance of having conversations like the above, and said goodbye to him and the man with the biggest smile.
Now, why exactly am I sharing this story with you? Because there are a few valuable insights it reminded me of:
1. Wisdom doesn’t equal talkativeness or heavily opinionated knowledge.
I don’t know about you, but the wisest people I’ve met in my life tended to speak far less than they listened, while the most foolish spoke a lot and rarely listened. To avoid any misunderstanding, I’m not saying this to make myself appear wise (which I don’t claim to be) nor to make my reader seem like a fool (which I don’t think he is; in fact, I find him to be intelligent and brilliant in many ways). I’m saying it simply because that’s what has been my experience, and when I contemplate on it, it makes total sense:
Wise people are wise because they have the ears (inner and outer) to hear and absorb information from their environment. This is how they learn and grow — through mindful observation. But this requires a sense of humility — and by that I mean admitting to oneself that one doesn’t know that much, and hence that there’s always enough room for personal growth and understanding. Fools, on the other hand, think they know pretty much everything and have an opinion on any subject, which is exactly what keeps them stuck in the psycho-spiritual state they are (i.e. that of being foolish). In fact, thinking they have it all figured out, fools aren’t willing to learn from anyone — not even from the wise, while the wise are open to learn from everyone — even from fools (yes, sometimes fools can teach us a lot).
Another thing I’ve realized over the years and want to briefly touch upon here is that, even if they are actually well-read and knowledgeable, people who tend to talk too much sharing their opinions and advice (especially when no one asks or cares for it) haven’t yet integrated that knowledge within themselves, and hence don’t apply it in their lives. So, why do they talk so much like that? There could be several reasons, but this is the most common one: They try to distract themselves from their inner demons. In other words, their behavior functions like a psychological defense mechanism arising from a deep-seated insecurity: that they might not be intelligent enough or able to deal with their own life problems.
2. Friendship can flower only under the sun of mutual acceptance.
To some extent, we all have expectations from our friends, life partners and people in general. For example, I do expect that my girlfriend won’t play music out loud for hours in my presence, or that she will be there to support me when I find myself in need of her help. This kind of expectations is a necessary part of a healthy relationship.
But there’s another kind that is extremely poisonous for both partners in a relationship: Expecting the other to be in ways they are not. For the one who has such expectations, there’s a constant feeling of disappointment and sadness (for their expectations can never be fulfilled), as well as a desire to control their partner — which results in further disappointment and sadness. And for their partner, such a behavior can be — depending on their psychological state — immensely painful, because they don’t feel accepted as they are. On the contrary, they feel judged, something that could emotionally traumatize them and leave them feeling inadequate and unworthy of love.
Acceptance is the foundation and very essence of friendship (or any other type of love relationship). That’s because for people to open up and intimately connect with others, they first need to be given the space to be who they truly are — and not how we expect them to be.
3. Strong relationships require genuine communication.
Although I felt a bit frustrated and uncomfortable during the above conversation with my dear reader (and now friend), I know that it was important that we had it. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to resolve any possible misunderstandings or tension between us.
To avoid interpersonal conflict, most people usually don’t express what they have on their mind. This way, however, they can’t really understand others or be understood by them. As a result, their relationships tend to remain stagnant, superficial and inauthentic.
To build stronger relationships with others, it’s tremendously important that we’re as honest with them as we can, as well as curious (albeit sincere) to better get to know them. At some level, everyone knows this basic principle, yet many of us tend to forget or overlook it, so I hope this article will serve you as a reminder to be true to yourself and others.