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The Company You Keep
This would make a great gift for
that special man in your life!

The transforming power of male friendship
David C. Bentall

Chapter 2

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 England.

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 me."

Being 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 self-centered.

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 school playground.

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 can confide.

A friend is someone for whom you want the best, and he wants the best for you.

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 to you.

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 other-centered.

However, the concept of putting others first isn't intuitive. It involves a distinct choice on our part to reach out.

Being 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.

The 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 falls.)

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 form.

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 migraine headaches.

Unfortunately, these aren't just pop-an-aspirin-and-it-will-all-be-better 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 up.

The Golden Rule

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 the rule.

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.

The Business Friendship

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 month.

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.

Starting 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 good network.

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 them.

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 each other.

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. — Proverbs 18:24




Contact: David Bentall's Office- Phone: 604.317.2624 -Toll Free: 1.866.594.4012 - Email: - ©2008 - Next Step Advisors Inc.