We don’t, do we? Not when it comes right down to it. We think we want to know the truth, but we exist in a survival bubble that whispers to us: “Well, of course, I know what’s wrong with everyone else. But…moi?'”
The impetus behind this article was a short throw-away article in the NYT addressing the fact that the writer had received an inadvertent e-mail…one of those REPLY-TO-ALL mistakes when they should have hit REPLY. In this case, the e-mail was innocuous. Apparently the writer isn’t terribly good with his money-making decisions, and his friends were having a good ole time, swapping anecdotes about him. What was interesting, however, was how surprised and shocked he was considering his smarts and sensitivity in other matters. He was completely blindsided by the fact that he, too, was in the category of Just Another Imperfect Schmuck, walking about upon a highly imperfect planet. Yet reality is still very difficult for us to stomach. We all joke self-deprecatingly about some of our cute foibles, but we don’t really expect others to notice them. Truth is: They do. They really do!
The question that immediately comes to mind is: If you really feel that way about me, how can you like me, tolerate me, want to hang with me, go out to dinner, play tennis, golf, shoot pool? If I’m that odious, maybe we shouldn’t be friends… That sort of conclusion is as dangerous as it is erroneous.
The truth is, and it’s heartening, is that everyone is so flawed, so imperfect, that if we shut the door to everyone who, talks too much, needs more Ban or Scope, thinks they’re an echelon above everyone else…I can go on for pages here, but you get the idea. If we all slammed that door, then there’d be no one to talk to…except maybe those rare individuals, who are absolutely faultless and perfect in every way. And those rare individuals who believe this, are the biggest pains of all! Perfection in a person is a myth, and no one even wants perfection, particularly in a friend. Why? It makes us feel bad about ourselves.
I called my ascerbic British friend, Alfred, to address this conundrum and offered as a test sample to examine myself in particular for this article. I explained the premise and then I began to lay out the annoying facts about myself as far as I’ve been able to glean. I held nothing back and came up with a solid five or six failings. Alfred’s response was a long pregnant silence, followed by some snide, hysterical laughter. He paused for a moment and then said, “Oh…sorry ’bout that. You were actually serious.” It seems that I hadn’t even scratched the surface. As a friend…and even more flawed than I am (other friends assure me of this) Alfred refrained from giving me an alphabetical listing with subsets of my flaws. He left them in the abstract, where they probably belong.
Truth is, I can’t handle the truth, at least not a big heaping shovelful of it. I doubt that many people can. Perhaps it isn’t so much our salient qualities that determine our friendship, but the hodgepodge of clay feet , warts, and imperfections we bring to the table. As I’m sitting here at this very moment, trying to conjure up my imperfections, I’m drawing a blank. Hey, wait a minute… Sorry, I couldn’t resist the cheap shot, but it does give rise to some interesting questions. Do we seek out friends because of their stellar qualities, or are we searching for people whose zigs match-up with our zags?
I’m thinking about Alfred now…Alfred the Brit, which makes me Henry the Yank. Truth is, I almost never think of myself as a Yank, except when I’m around Alfred, and we needle each other mercilessly on that fact, plus the fact that he adds extra letters to the words like aluminum. Alfred is an engineer, make that old-school British engineer, to my being a new-school hippy-dip, bohemian artist. By all rights this odd amalgamation shouldn’t work, and yet it does…sort of.
The perfect corollary to this concept occurred last week. A friend called me up to say that she had met someone, whom I just HAD to meet. He’s a philo major, likes to banter, laugh and apparently he’s a pretty decent artist. My friend assured me that we were positively guaranteed to hit it off. Guess what: The whole idea makes my skin crawl. I don’t think I could stand being around him. Vive le difference.