The other day, not for the first time, someone totally surprised me. It’s not unusual for me to be caught off guard or taken aback – I am almost perpetually naive in some ways, especially when it comes to matters of friendship. I always think that friends are forever, even if you don’t see them often, or years pass without a word, which is often the case with me because I’m really lousy at doing the things necessary to maintain long-distance relationships, including sending cards and making phone calls. And I tend to lose track of time. Six years can feel like six months to me.
Still, I view all the friends I’ve made, past and present, with affection. They’re all important to me, even if we’ve disconnected somewhere along the line. I would never think of summarily discarding a friend because she said something I didn’t like or held different views than me.
So I was surprised when someone called me the other night to pronounce their harsh judgment on a mutual friend of ours – someone they’ve known only for a few months, but whom I’ve known intimately for over eight years. Nothing I said would dissuade this person from their wrong-minded opinion, and they were more interested in nurturing their poor opinion than in speaking directly to the source of their angst.
It’s sad to me that we live in a throwaway society where people, like everything else, are viewed as a thoroughly disposable commodity — that some find it easier to toss a person aside than to give them the benefit of the doubt.
It’s just not a logical world, and fewer and fewer people seem adept at the art of asking the right questions. If they asked the right questions, the ones that would give them the information they really seek – if they weren’t too skeptical, stubborn, or afraid to ask – they wouldn’t have to lean so heavily on their internal script-writing skills. Instead of connecting the dots with scraps of their own guesswork, they might know the actual facts. They might then have a more informed opinion of another, and know them in a genuine sense, rather than by way of some flawed proxy.
Judgments are ready-made and quicker than asking questions, but much like that often-heralded thing called intuition, they’re often wrong. The highest trait of either judgment or intuition is expedience. “I’ve judged you, therefore you are what I’ve judged you to be.” “My intuition tells me to despise you, therefore there must be a reason.” More often than not, there is no good reason, but under this handy umbrella, people absolve themselves of any responsibility for learning the facts, and quickly cut other people down or out on what amounts to a whim.
I know we’re always learning but really, I’m tired of lessons like this.
After almost thirty years of writing about the human condition, I often feel like a walking textbook on human debris and dysfunctions. There’s probably not one subject in the dystopia of human nature that I haven’t experienced, studied, or at least touched upon – which isn’t to say I have good answers, because I don’t. There really are no satisfactory answers for some things – like child abuse and murder – and the answers for other, lesser, things are often crouched in some human mystique made up of habits, fears, superstitions, guesses, and perceptions that elude sensibility.
In a culture dominated by cynicism and snap judgments, it’s hard to hang onto the innocence that allows new friendships to happen. When the questions asked are wrong, there can never be any good, right, or informative answers.
“What’s in it for me?” she asked.
“I don’t know. A friendship?”
“I feel the way I feel. Nothing’s going to change that.”
“That’s too bad, because your feelings really don’t match the reality.”
“But they’re my feelings, and I’m entitled to them.”
“Did you even ask her —-.”
“I don’t have to ask. I just know. . .”
Knowing without knowing, causing feelings that have no basis in reason. . .the sky is falling, therefore it must be.