“YES, he used to be my friend some years ago, but we had a misunderstanding and it has never been the same with us since. Indeed, now we seldom are together — I have not seen him for months.”
That is not an unusual remark to hear, and it is not at all an unusual happening. Most people seem to be ignorant of the fact that a misunderstanding which is allowed to remain between two people, even though neither one thinks of it more than once a year, still leaves a fog in the brain of each, — a fog which, if there is no opportunity to increase it by farther misunderstanding between the same two people, at least can be the breeder of other misunderstandings between each one of these two and other people.
An unpleasant misunderstanding is because of a state of mind, — it is not because of a person, — and no misunderstanding need continue if even one of the two parties concerned will keep a quiet mind. How do you keep a quiet mind? By positively refusing to resent or to resist whatever the other man says or does. Your friend may be remarkably foolish in what he thinks; there may be not only no justice in it, but no sense in it; — that gives you no right to resent him. He has exactly the same individual right to be all wrong that you have to be all right. You cannot, in justice, deny him that right. If you do try to deprive him of his freedom to think as he pleases by your own resistance to his opinion, it is not the misunderstanding that is making the trouble, — it is your resistance to it.
Suppose, on the other hand, your friend considers your opinion wrong and is resisting it even more than you are resisting his. That again is no business of yours. You have no right to interfere with his or any other man’s resistance.
You see, what I am trying to make clear is that peace between two friends does not depend primarily upon both parties; it depends really at first upon only one. To, be sure, the peace grows and may be much sooner established if each one of the two friends works alone and with equal interest on refusing to harbor resentment or resistance, and so is enabled to give attention with a clear mind to the attitude of the other. That, of course, is ideal in the clearing up of misunderstandings and putting “friendly” quarrels out of the question. But no one of us has any right to depend in the very least on the attitude of the other man to bring peace. Of course, if the other man does his work while we are doing ours, so much the better. But if he is delaying or refusing to do his work entirely, while it makes ours all the more difficult , we can — in so far as we, personally, are concerned — welcome the difficulty. For the greater the difficulty, the stronger and the more positive must be our refusal to resent or resist, and that very effort will result in establishing more firmly within us peaceful intelligence and affection, which is needed to bring our friend to his senses. Especially will this be the case if, when our resentment has subsided, we can find fault in ourselves in relation to our friend which we can acknowledge directly to him.
The mind of a man who has been blind to his faults begins to be clarified much sooner if his friend acknowledges openly and without excuse his own fault. To begin with, the other man does not want to be outdone in apparent generosity, and that often leads to a genuine generosity, which enables him to see himself as he is in more than one detail, and to meet his friend’s mind really.
I feel it almost a mistake to give even so little space as I have given above to what effect our attitude will have upon the other man, so much do I desire to emphasize the fact that what the other man is or does or says is none of our business,– none whatever,– until we have ceased absolutely to resist or resent him. When we have come to that living peace of mind ourselves, it is none of our business how it will affect the other mind except that we may be quite certain that sooner or later, if we wait patiently, the effect will be good. But just how the good effect will express itself we never can tell. Certainly not twice in exactly the same way.
How sick one gets of the false kindness of so-called friends! “I wish I could help you — do let me do something for you” is said from a sugar-coating of “kindness” with resentment, resistance and a sense of superiority seething and sizzling underneath. No one can “help” any one really unless he has first removed the obstructions to a loving heart and a clear mind in himself. It is what we are that counts, first; what we do, second; and what we say, third.
One little action or one brief sentence expressed by a truly generous spirit from one friend to another will mean more and be of more use than any amount of kindness or effort at helpfulness which covers up conscious or unconscious antagonism. It is surprising the amount of unconscious antagonism which one friend can carry against another, and of course until that comes to the surface and is faced and acknowledged for the evil that it is, the friendship has no soundness in it and no real peace.
” It takes two to make a quarrel ” should be followed by “but one can make peace.”
“We could be such good friends if only he were this, that or the other” is nonsense. It comes from the habit which seems now to be ingrained in human nature of persistently blaming the other man, whereas the truth is that the other man is not in it, — it is always ourselves, and only ourselves.
When we have found peace in ourselves so that our friend does not and cannot rouse antagonism in us, then, if we drift apart, that is all right. It is because our interests are different and there are not the same things in the line of our living, and working, and thinking to keep us together. The friendship is not any less because there can be no intimacy. The lack of intimacy is not from lack of confidence,– it is because there is less kinship of interest. It is pleasant when such old friends meet; they have a good time together and part happily, with mutual respect and no regret.
How many brains there are full of the fog of broken friendship, — friendships broken because neither one has understood that in so far as he was concerned, his friend had nothing to do with the trouble between them, but only himself. Each one of the two friends could think that same thought of himself, and of each one it would be true.
If any of my readers can look back upon broken friendships with the thought, “We could have been such good friends if only he had been different,” let him try to see the fallacy of that thought at once, and place the responsibility of the broken friendship entirely upon himself. It may be hard to do so; indeed, in some cases it may at first seem impossible. But one of the happiest lessons we have to learn in this life is that we can and we must do the impossible. So, in this necessity for one man responsibility, if we persist in it, as a remedy for broken friendship, what seems to be the impossible will be done. If the friend with whom we broke is out of our reach, so that having cleared ourselves from obstructions we are unable to go to him, we have done our work as well; and if he does not feel the result, others will. But, indeed, our original friend may feel it, even though we never see him again.
When we resist the state, past or present, of another man, we are in bondage to him, and when we find the cause of bondage in ourselves, is it not within the bounds of possibility that the other man may feel the relief of our release, even if we never see or hear from him again? It seems as though it might be so.
You see we are never in bondage to those whom we truly love. The more we love another, the greater our freedom. If we think we love and know we axe in bondage, we can know that just in so, far as we are in bondage we do not love. There is no peace in bondage, and we are not delivered from bondage just because we are removed in space or time or both from the one who keeps us prisoner. Then again, we are never really in bondage to a person, but only in bondage to our own selfish attitude toward the person. So, as we continually persist in looking for the truth, we find more and more clearly the fact of our own personal responsibility to obey the law in all circumstances and in all our relations with others. And we find that in no way can we justly blame another for our own discomfort. In other words, our real peace of mind depends upon nothing but our own obedience to law. There is no “if” or “but” or “and” in this whatever. It is true in all particulars.
Impatience is a painful obstruction to the peace of friendship. If we are willing to wait for our friend to grow, — if we do not expect him to be always the best of himself, — if we are not surprised at various forms of selfishness, little and big, which make their appearance as we come to know him better, but wait patiently for him to find out his own obstructions, it will enable us to keep persistently near his best qualities, while waiting for him to conquer his defects. And it is a happy fact that getting free from our own obstructions of resistance and resentment has the effect of keeping us near to that which is best in our friend, and at the same time, it seems to awaken him to the defects in himself in a way that sometimes seems like magic.
One of the most wonderful things in the world is the effect we seem to have on other people when we are simply working in ourselves with no thought whatever of influencing them.
There were once two people — apparently very true and real friends — who had a falling out. Each one went separately to a third friend, in great unhappiness, with the whole story. The third person listened carefully, and in his answer, which was given very thoughtfully, he spoke hardly one word of the other, but referred each man alone to himself and his own mistakes. Fortunately he was listened to with trustful attention and intelligent acquiescence. Each one came to see clearly and acknowledge his own mistakes, and the result was that the friendship was not patched up to go on with further and similar interruptions, but weeds were removed which were obstructing its growth, and these friends have grown in mutual wholesome sympathy to each other and to those about them. Each had grasped the principle taught him by the loving, intelligent friend to whom they had each referred. A principle like that, once grasped, is never lost; for the freedom felt in seeing it work only stimulates one to obey it more truly. A failure to apply this truth is the one greatest — one might say the one only impediment — to the peace of friendship.
The foundation of all true friendship is the friendship in marriage, and if this law of looking always to one’s self first were followed steadily from the beginning, the beauty and the power of marriage would be felt deeply and much more universally than it is now.