Making Friends on the
Playground and at Harvard
ust after the conclusion
of World War II, some of the world's most renowned
leaders and dignitaries were invited to a formal
dinner party to eat some of Europe's finest
foods. At the table, an elegant and refined,
yet relatively unknown British woman found herself
seated between two of the most significant men
of that era. On her one side was Mohandas Gandhi,
the prime minister of India; on her other side
was Winston Churchill, the prime minister of
One could hardly ask for a
more scintillating pair of conversationalists.
The next day, when the woman was asked what
it was like to sit between these two world leaders,
her poignant reply was revealing, "Churchill
was fascinating! I have never met anyone who
was more interesting!" In stark contrast, when
describing Gandhi, she simply stated, "I have
never met anyone who was more interested in
a Friend Means Being Interested in Others
What do you do when you meet
someone at a reception or dinner party? Do you
try to be interesting? Or do you demonstrate
an interest in them? Being aware of this distinction
is the first step to understanding what it takes
to build a friendship.
Being a friend begins with
being interested in other people. Building relationships
begins when we are other-centered rather than
Think back to a time when
you entered a new school or neighbourhood and
didn't know anyone—or even to the last
business conference or social gathering that
you attended. Did you notice that the best friendship
builders were those who looked around for someone
else who was standing alone, and then reached
out to that person? Some people may reach out
because of their own needs, where others may
do so unselfishly. The end result is the same.
The loneliness and awkward feelings melt away
in the warmth of another.
Several years ago, I attended
the Owner/President Program at Harvard Business
School. The participants included owners, presidents,
and CEOs from around the world. Their only common
bond was a desire to be the best corporate leaders
they could be.
It goes without saying that
this was a highly intelligent and self-reliant
group. As an experiment, I thought it would
be interesting to get their insights and perspectives
on friendship. A group of us met together over
lunch to explore what it takes to build close
friendships. It was fascinating how the thoughts
on friendship that emerged from this sophisticated
group of leaders at Harvard were so remarkably
similar to those commonly found on an elementary
Consider the following insights
that our group made about friendship, along
with the corresponding friendship needs of children:
A friend is someone who takes
a risk with you by being vulnerable.
A friend is someone who takes
initiative. A friend is someone in whom you
A friend is someone for whom
you want the best, and he wants the best for
A friend is someone to whom
you can talk.
A friend is someone who shares
his toys with you. A friend is someone who invites
you over to his house to play. A friend is someone
to whom you can tell secrets.
A friend is one who cheers
for you and someone for whom you can cheer.
A friend is someone who listens
Note that our needs for friendship
don't change significantly, even as we get older,
wiser, and more sophisticated. Neither does
the idea that the ideal friend is one who is
However, the concept of putting
others first isn't intuitive. It involves a
distinct choice on our part to reach out.
a Friend Requires Vulnerability
Friendship also involves taking
risks, and most times that means being vulnerable.
Many of us hesitate to be open wth others, since
we have all been hurt, let down, or disappointed
by people. Perhaps someone promised to meet
us and then forgot, or someone promised to care
for us and they didn't. Perhaps you thought
you had a friend who would be there for life,
yet after a period of time you drifted apart.
The bottom line is that, at some point, each
of us has been vulnerable in friendship, and
hurt as a consequence.
In The Four Loves, C.
S. Lewis warns that there are no assurances
against heartbreak—either in love or in
friendship. Protecting our hearts from hurt
by locking them "safely in the coffin of selfishness"
will keep them from being broken, but it will
also change them. "In that casket—safe,
dark, motionless, airless—it will change.
It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable,
impenetrable, irredeemable." The choice to befriend
others and to be vulnerable is ours. The problem
is we too often make that choice by considering
the negative consequences that might result
from being vulnerable, rather than thinking
about the positive implications to our psychological
well-being that will be our reward if we choose
to open our hearts to others.
Christy, my eldest daughter,
came to understand this in a delightful way
during her high school graduation year. She
and her friends attended a relatively small,
tight-knit, strong -spirited school. As graduation
approached, they began to realize they would
soon be taking different paths in life and might
never all be together again. They were quite
apprehensive about ending this phase of their
lives until one of them came across the following
phrase: "Don't cry because it's over, but rather
smile because it happened." Indeed, by adopting
this attitude, they chose to draw closer together
in their final weeks rather than to drift apart
in an attempt to diminish the feeling of loss
that was inevitable. Those who adopted this
approach were able to celebrate and savour their
remaining time together.
Law of Reciprocity
Peter Legge, as mentioned
before, is an internationally recognized motivational
speaker. He is also an author, publisher of
BC Business magazine, and president
of Canada Wide Magazines, Ltd. Among all these
distinctions however, Peter is probably best
known as a "friend maker." He is constantly
looking to encourage and support those around
him. As a result, those of us who he counts
among his close friends consider ourselves fortunate.
When speaking to groups, he often refers to
the "law of reciprocity," which states very
simply that we will all reap what we sow. Let's
think about this in terms of friendship.
One of my passions in life
is slalom water skiing. For five years now,
I have been traveling to Boca Raton, Florida,
to train several times each winter. In the summer,
I compete in numerous tournaments in the Pacific
Northwest and across western Canada. Each fall,
I travel with friends to California, where we
ski at some event sites.
I began competing in this
sport when I was approaching forty years of
age, and it has been a thrill for me to learn
and develop athletically at this age. However,
as all water skiers know, water skiing is not
a solitary sport. You must rely on someone to
drive the boat and on someone else to crew or
"spot" for you. (This essentially involves watching
the skier and telling the pilot when the skier
One of my training partners
for the past several years has been Ric Carrick.
We often train two days per week from 7 to 9
AM. For me, this means getting up at 5 AM to
eat breakfast, drive one hour to the lake, and
have the boat ready to go by 7 AM. Rain or shine,
Ric has always been there. He knows that if
he drives for me, I will drive for him. It's
a simple bargain, and a practical demonstration
of the law of reciprocity in its most basic
Ric is a gifted athlete who
has participated in many sports. As a result,
he has suffered five concussions in separate
sporting accidents. Now he suffers from frequent
Unfortunately, these aren't
type of headaches. The fact is that they can
be so debilitating that he needs to place a
blanket over his head to shield his eyes from
light and to prevent the pain from becoming
unbearable. Obviously, when Ric is feeling this
way, he is not able to ski.
One morning, he called at
5:45 AM to say that a migraine was coming on.
He was going to park his car at the side of
the road and would phone me within forty-five
minutes to update me on his condition. Sure
enough, he called within the hour to let me
know he was on his way. He couldn't ski, but
was still willing to drive the boat. Time after
time, Ric has demonstrated his commitment to
be there for me, even when migraines, torn muscles,
or even head colds would have caused less-dedicated
friends to cancel.
How does his commitment to
me relate to the law of reciprocity? Several
weeks after this migraine episode, I felt that
I had been skiing a lot and I wanted a day off.
That same day, Ric had a chance to get some
extra tow time on the water and asked if I would
help him out. Despite the fact that I couldn't
ski and had other plans, my first thought was,
"After all Ric has done for me, how can I refuse
to help?" So I adjusted my plans to accommodate
his request. The law of reciprocity compelled
me to be there for him even when I had other
things I would rather do. It is a powerful principle
that can be a practical foundation for building
and sustaining all friendships.
I must hasten to add that
this law goes beyond the concept of "he did
something for me so, therefore, I owe him."
Obviously, there can be a subtle keeping of
score in friendships. However, the difference
is in the attitude that a good friend has. In
friendship, the attitude moves beyond "owing"
and makes us want to do something for
the other. As such, it reflects a true desire
to honor a friend, not an obligation to pay
Another, more familiar principle
that has great application in building friendships
is the golden rule, Do unto others as you would
have them do unto you.
In raising our four children,
I have sometimes been called upon to help them
settle their disagreements. In doing so, I typically
ask them what the golden rule says about how
they should be treating each other. Because
we have gone over it many times, the kids now
reply (perhaps with a bit of an edge), "The
same way I want to be treated!" Once we get
past this routine response, I ask them how the
golden rule would apply to the present situation.
In almost every case, they know how to apply
It's simple and profound advice:
treat others as you want to be treated. In so
doing, you will have discovered a great way
to begin building friendships.
When prioritizing work time,
most men tend to relegate friendship to the
bottom of the list. The currency of the working
world doesn't put much value on anything other
than goals achieved and money made. Consequently,
many men don't actively pursue friendship on
the job. However, most of us have an established
"network" of business contacts. If we want to
"do lunch" with someone, we usually have a reason
or an agenda. We look to these contacts to help
us directly or to introduce us to other people.
We may see some as a prospect for our business,
or perhaps we owe them lunch because they helped
us with a project that we were working on last
This utilitarian approach
to friendships among men is a barrier to developing
relationships with greater meaning. We may even
believe that we are already experiencing the
very best that friendship has to offer, simply
because our luncheon schedules are full.
Unfortunately, by itself,
the business friendship doesn't fulfill our
deepest need to connect to other men and establish
meaningful friendships. This is not to say that
our work environment or a business lunch cannot
act to initiate friendships that, over time,
can become progressively more personal and supportive.
In fact, this is an easy way for men to start
friendships, and I would encourage you to take
time this week to invite someone to "do lunch,"
for no other reason than for the sake of friendship.
a Purposeful and Intentional Friendship
In my younger days, I didn't
have particularly close friendships with other
guys. This became painfully apparent when my
wife and I were dating. During a romantic dinner,
I told her that I loved her and then raised
the subject of marriage, in a way that might
allow me to see what she thought about it.
I then said, "Alison, if we
were to decide to get married, I wouldn't know
who to invite to be my best man." As those words
came off my lips, I knew they revealed a deep
truth about my lack of friendships with other
men. Although I had scores of acquaintances
from high school, university, rugby, and church,
there were very few whom I could call friends.
To use business terms, all I had was a pretty
But if one day Alison and
I were to walk down the aisle together, I wanted
to have some real friends standing at the altar
beside me. So, that night, I consciously made
a commitment to begin building relationships
with other men. I first made a list of ten or
twelve men whom I already knew and who were,
in my view, candidates for meaningful friendship.
Alison and I then looked over the list together.
We chose two guys (Mike and Dean) for me to
approach to determine if they were interested
in developing a deeper relationship with me.
I followed through, and asked each guy if he
was willing to work purposefully and intentionally
at developing a closer friendship. I'm sure
I was clumsy in my explanation, but somehow
they got the message and, much to my surprise,
I received a positive response from both of
Mike and I had first met several
years earlier at a summer camp while we were
both trying to "tidy" a ski boat. The ropes
and boat fenders were not stowed in a manner
that either of us felt was truly shipshape.
Oddly enough, this common perspective brought
about an instant connection. Just like Jerry
on Seinfeld, we were both obsessively
fastidious about neatness and quickly realized
that we were alike in a way that might have
quickly made others insane. I told Mike, right
then and there, that he'd be the kind of guy
I could share an apartment with.
After all, it's always best
to keep the neat freaks together under one roof!
As it turned out, Mike and
three others were looking for a fifth roommate
to help share the cost of a house for the next
year at university. Mike invited me to join
them, and while sharing responsibilities for
meal preparations and house cleaning, Mike and
I built a close friendship.
My relationship with Dean
also went back to my university days, as we
worked together at a local restaurant. It was
Dean who first gave me the idea of trying my
skill at waiting tables. In fact, without his
inﬂuence, I probably wouldn't have had
the great experiences working Friday and Saturday
nights serving prime rib.
Happily, a few years later,
Mike served as the head usher at my wedding
to Alison. Dean was there as my best man. (In
a surprising but rewarding twist, I also stood
as the best man at Dean's wedding when he married
my wife's sister, Kathy!) Mike now lives in
Australia and Dean in Southern California, but
we all keep in touch, and something from that
special season in our lives still lingers today.
The key to these friendships
was that each of us was committed to making
an investment in the relationship. Mike, Dean,
and I didn't leave the growth of our friendship
to chance. We made the decision to be purposeful
about establishing meaningful friendships, and
as a result we experienced significant relationships
that provided support and strength as we journeyed
through our twenties.
At that time, our friendship
was radically different from our other friendships
for the following reasons:
1. We talked about our relationship.
Most friends enjoy doing things together, but
rarely or never talk about how the friendship
is going or how they can encourage or assist
2. We were purposeful friends.
In other words, we were proactive in building
and bettering our relationships.
3. We made time together a
priority. We didn't meet every week or always
take part in the same activities. But we made
a point of scheduling time for each other and
scheduling other activities around this
time together, rather than trying to squeeze
our friendship into an overly full schedule.
4. We talked about goals that
we had for our lives and careers, and offered
input to each other, as well as support.
5. We prayed for each other,
talked to each other about our spiritual growth,
and endeavored to help one another in our spiritual
walks with God.
This wasn't rocket science,
although I was slowly becoming aw are that there
was more to "hanging out with the guys" than
I had ever imagined. I realized that being together
with other guys who shared my values gave me
energy. It also gave me encouragement and insight,
as daily challenges were discussed and as we
problem-solved together. Purposefully and intentionally
building friendships with other men may sound
a bit revolutionary (or perhaps even odd) to
some, but it leads to a life that can be transformed.
A man of many friends
comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks
closer than a brother. —