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Friends Don't Grow on Trees

Friends Don't Grow on Trees

Why are some people blessed with wonderful, caring friends while others seem destined for loneliness?

by

Friends.

I have a gut feeling that 'Friends' is something more than a trendy sitcom. I mean Google just gave me 63,000,000 references for friends, in .28 seconds. That should tell us something.

And it does. Our search, our desire, and our need to surround ourselves with people we can share our lives with, begins when we are not yet verbal and seems to never ever end.

At times, it seems that our very existence is frequently dominated by the friends we have -- or have not. We long for friends; we require friends. We yearn for friends; we pine for friends. Friends can give us reason to live… to cry… to emulate… to strive… to show off… to play… to be silly… and to be somber.

What power!

And yet, defining exactly where this immense might really emanates from is elusive. Think of your three closest friends and try to identify the role they play in your life. Not so easy, is it? Now try to imagine experiencing any event of your life, of even minor significance, without any good friend with you. What could be more sad?

But attaining success in this most critical pursuit is far from automatic. We are all familiar with people who are surrounded with loads of good, loyal friends, while others know of no such circle. Instead, they shuffle along, pretending to love their autonomy and solitude ("You can't really count on anyone but yourself…"), while they suffer in silence -- alone, dispirited, and secretly afraid of tomorrow.

The question calls into focus the ageless quandary about God's role in pre-determining our lives vs. our own efforts in causing our successes and failures.

The question is, "Why?" Why are some people seemingly blessed with wonderful, wise, and caring friends while so many others somehow appear destined for loneliness?

The question is a troubling one. Not only because it affects so many people so profoundly, but because it calls into focus the ageless quandary about God's role in pre-determining our lives vs. our own efforts in causing our successes and failures. What is the reality? Are some people really blessed with those great relationships? Are others actually destined for a life of insipid isolation?

GOD'S WILL VS. FREE WILL

Great minds have grappled with this most central life question throughout the millennia. Philosophical literature and responsa are replete with attempts at unlocking the mystery of exactly how much God intervenes and determines our destiny and our decisions in life. While far from being an authority on this most confounding topic, I can state one truism about it. Not too many of us ever did or ever will fully understand it.

What does seem clear, however, is that few, if any, events in our personal lives occur without both of these dynamics at play. In other words, just about everything that happens to us, happens as a result of a combination of God's will and our own efforts.

For example, no one ever became a millionaire by collecting tolls on the Bayonne Bridge. Becoming exceedingly wealthy usually requires a plan of action, a failure or three, and a heck of a lot of effort. And then some divine intervention, as well (or a very rich and dead uncle). And yet, many follow the exact same formula and still come up empty-handed.

Similarly, it's unfair to expect to live a long, healthy life while you constantly feast on pastrami burgers, Cajun fries, deep chocolate mousse, and pancake syrup, never leave your couch except to meander over to the microwave, smoke three packs a day, and face constant financial and emotional stress. Of course, we all know people, some of them in their 80's or above, who seem to be doing just that. (We probably can't stand them!)

In other words, there are no guarantees. Usually we just play the percentages. In finances, health and countless other crucial areas in life we realize God has the final say, but we need to do our fair share. And then we pray and hope for the best. Very reasonable.

But not everything should be approached that way. There are certain facets of our existence that seem to be weighted more to one side or the other.

For instance, while cosmetics, clothes, style, and grooming can certainly help, a person's good looks are probably more dictated by God than by his own efforts. Frustrating, perhaps, but true nonetheless. And you might think you have 'lucky' numbers or are privy to some incredible "system," but whether or not you win the lottery is clearly more in the Divine domain than in yours. Sorry. And perhaps even more obviously, whether someone is prone to allergies or not has very little to do with how many vitamins he takes. These things -- and others -- have more to do with God's choices for us than our efforts for ourselves.

Sure, God's help is always important, but it seems that when it comes to our moral fiber, we hold the needle and thread.

Conversely, it could be argued that while people may be born with predispositions toward certain character traits (kindness, sensitivity, patience etc.), more often than not, we are responsible for our behavior. The more work we put into perfecting our temperament and disposition the more perfect they are likely to become. Sure, God's help is always important, but it seems that when it comes to our moral fiber, we hold the needle and thread.

So sometimes God's mainly running the show, sometimes we are, and sometimes it seems more equally balanced.

ACQUIRING FRIENDS

And now we come to friendship. Which category does that seem to best fit into? Many or most people appear to have referred this department to the supervisor Himself. As we said earlier, some of us are blessed with many wonderful friends; others are destined to relative solitude.

Frankly, I disagree.

Akiva, a friend of mine, heard that a rabbi of note was moving into his neighborhood some years ago. He had enjoyed a casual and infrequent relationship with him, but always dreamed of developing it into a true friendship. He didn't wait for the rabbi to move in and then "see what happens." He didn't count on serendipity (God) to orchestrate their paths crossing. He actually sat down and wrote him a letter before he moved -- welcoming him to the neighborhood and suggesting they plan a once-a-week study session for an hour, after the move.

Fact is, for some reason the rabbi turned down Akiva's initial request. But the letter was heartily appreciated and it launched their current friendship of note.

Friendship is neither a luxury, nor a burden, nor a symptom of unresolved childhood dependency issues. It is an essential component of the human condition.

Friendship is neither a luxury, nor a burden, nor a symptom of unresolved childhood dependency issues. It is an essential component of the human condition. Yes -- some need friends more, some less. But even the Sages of the Mishna -- some 1800 plus years ago -- implored us to, "Accept a teacher upon yourself and acquire a friend (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:6)."

And acquiring friends does not mean waiting at home for your cell phone to vibrate, and then deploring your bad fortune when you feel alone. Acquisitions of this kind require serious motivation, very specific strategies, and the courage to risk. It isn't easy to lay bare your vulnerabilities and chance rejection. Often you need to summon up some hefty doses of chutzpah to approach someone you barely know and strike up a conversation, ask a question, or invite him/her to an event. And circumstances -- real ones, like age, time, neighborhood, cliques, financial standing, shyness, bad breath etc. -- frequently present formidable obstacles to overcome. But it's worth the effort.

Life is just too complicated and fragile to go it alone. Everyone needs at least a mini Advisory Board these days. And hoping, praying, or expecting these friendships to breed and develop on their own is unrealistic, at best; precarious at worst.

Taking an active role in this crucial hunt means sitting down with pen, paper and brain and thinking through who, within your personal radar, would be a really valuable addition to your address book. Crude and unromantic as it may sound, specific tactics then need to be formulated and implemented in order to increase your chances of establishing a meaningful friendship.

"But doesn't God just sort of put people together if they belong together?"

Yes… sometimes. But more often than not, you need to do most of the work. And the same work ethic certainly applies afterwards -- when you want to make the friendship meaningful, satisfying, and lasting.

God can help. But you must make it happen.

That's just the way it is.

Published: November 13, 2004


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Visitor Comments: 27

(27) benji, March 18, 2011 7:26 AM

yes.

wonderful-and very relevant article. lonliness is so prevalent.

(26) Teena Shetty, December 10, 2007 7:56 PM

Friends -yeah that topic hit me real hard

Hi, I'll be honest with you I've been searching for this topic for the longest time ever since i met a psychologist at UCI. She asked me if I would like to share some experiences with my friends? she also asked me if I care for my friends? That question is so unrealistic.It's hard to find a good friend because friends are people whom you have to be able to cut the ice(have an influence upon). Cut the ice is s cliche.If you don't influence people ,people won't care for you. To affect someone means to influence them.The worst thing in the world is having a really bad friend, not being homely. People are homely and are more than willing to change their looks. Looks are important and should be treated as a normalizing thing instead of a commodity. Talent can take you places you've never been to. It's a person's behavior and choice of words that make them attractive as well s trying to improve their physical appearance and do the best with what they have.We all can't be good-looking unfortunately. Good Looks is a blessing! However people take good looks for granted.

(25) Pessie Finn, December 6, 2004 12:00 AM

freedom of choice in moral matters

I know there is freedom of choice, but in studying brain science, I heard stories of people who lost portions of their brain (rachmanalitzlan) to injury. They maintained all of their cognitive functions, but lost their moral fiber. Originally, they were respectable citizens but they became unreliable, rude, and slovenly as a result of brain injury. This would indicate that the brain controls many functions that we credit to fee choice. We still have free will, but it is a LOT harder for some to make good choices than for others. What do you think about this?

(24) Anonymous, November 21, 2004 12:00 AM

RE: Spirituality - Friends Don't Grow on Trees

This is an awsome article i really enjoyed it. First of all because it couldnt have come at a better time. And because of it i am taking the initiative to send this email. I have always been taught to select my friends cause afterall you really are who they are. I am the process of converting to Judism and some how this path involves loosing most of your friends. I never thought i needed them as much as i have realized now that theya are gone . The interesting part of it all is that some of my closest friends are converting with me. And lately it seems that its G-d's will for them to draw themselves away from my path. And i am not as a none jew in a jewish comunity i am not exactly in welcomed with open arms. Lately i have been strugling with this because now it seems all my friends are gone. This article help me see things allitle differently and has given me a motivation to keep on moving foward and make me some new friends. I not saying its going to be easy, but i really have nothing to loose. Perhaps afterall this is G-d's way of introducing me to my new community. Thanks

(23) Chris, November 21, 2004 12:00 AM

The article is unhelpful

Well, I've found this article very unhelpful. From my point of view, I am fully aware that my lack of friends is due to a lack of effort on my part. However, I simply do not have time for friends at this time in my life and reading an article about how much I need friends does not help my situation. An article about accepting lonliness would have been much more useful. The fact is, it is possible, in theory, for one to be destined to be alone. Suppose one were trapped on an abandoned island. Your article would probably drive a person mad. I spend the vast majority of my time alone and I am coming to accept it. I do not need friends. I am not anti-friend, but I do not go about lusting for friends. If Hashem sees fit, he can make a little bird to speak to me and be my friend. In the mean time, I will be thankful for what I have.

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