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Just Friends

If you’re someone who truly values relationship in your life, you probably also recognize how important it is in the work that you do. If this describes you, you must also be struggling to understand a few things in this era of the modern world, because we’ve lost something when we need Social Media to have relationships. We’ve lost something when we gather friends like so many coins or stamp collections.

A big part of this may be that we’ve allowed a young man who apparently doesn’t really understand friendships to provide software for us to become “friends” with each other. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg clearly does not understand the nature of healthy human friendships (as Yishan Wong, who worked with Zuckerburg, notes in Quora, he has a “…touch of the Asperger’s”), and yet he has done more than anyone else for creating an artificial notion of “friends.”

Over the last few decades, we may have created a notion of “treating friends like transactions,” as Ephrat Livni’s August 2018 article in Quartz describes it. Livni’s article explores this idea of “Transacting relationships,” and if you think about many of the problems of the day, it is clear that this mentality is impacting our modern society: we have apparently become confused about the way authentic relationships work. As Livni points out “Friendship isn’t easy and it was never meant to be, which is why people didn’t used to collect friends or quantify them as we do now.” This is in contrast to “The new notion of friendship...(which) encourages us to develop very tentative relationships, constantly assessing one another’s value. Every friend is a potential stock to be dumped when it tanks.“

So, are we friends? Or I am just your way into that next widget you want to sell? I truly hope we can find a way out of this transactional mess we are in, because, otherwise, I don’t really understand the point of this whole exercise of living.

The way I see it, we need to nurture our authentic relationships everywhere we go. Certainly in our personal lives, as most of us have learned in often difficult ways, but also most certainly in our work lives, where we spend most of the hours that we are awake.

Of course, not all of these work relationships turn out to be rewarding experiences in the end: some of the important work relationships I’ve had have ended badly for a variety of reasons, but this has typically been when one of us didn’t really want a relationship (sounds a bit like dating doesn’t it?) and turned out to want only a transactional connection in the end; or one of us turned out to be a wholly inauthentic participant in the relationship.

Like personal friendships, work relationships are not always easy. Sometimes, when you are in a consultative or management role, you have a life-defining part to play. Rather like an emergency room physician, at times you have to deliver the bad news that someone is going to depart from our lives or someone’s pet idea is already dead; but you still value the relationship with the person you have to deliver the bad news to, so you do your best to deliver a difficult message and the strength of the relationship helps you both through this difficult period.

This is what it means to have a relationship. This is  what it means to be a friend, in your life and in your work, and especially in your life’s work, whatever that turns out to be. For better or worse, until death do us part, right? Because, at the end of the day, we carry our relationships with us. We carry our true friendships into death, and that’s all that’s left when we make that transition into dust.

 

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