Invincibles Don’t Make Friends

by Dan Walsh

Friendship needs pain, suffering, and defeat to flourish.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, is the definitive tome on social behaviour. It has sold over 15-million copies worldwide and has benefited countless people in their social adventures. I read it when I was in middle school and credit the knowledge within for my relative popularity in High School and beyond. The book is full of sound advice, but there was one message –  one rule – that has done me a disservice all these years.

This rule was to only discuss positive topics. No one likes a debbie downer, or a negative nelly, take your pick. So the logic follows that discussing negative issues will cause others to associate you with those feelings and thereby avoid your company. By only discussing positive topics others will view your presence as a delight and want nothing more than to have more of it. This is wonderful advice for first impressions and business acquaintances, but will hamstring the the development of deep and meaningful relationships.

The capacity to be vulnerable with another human being is the hallmark of closeness. Sharing negative emotions like fear, anger, or sadness is in some ways like admitting weakness or defeat. The ability to do this – admit our faults – is an indicator of the depth of a relationship. More importantly it is also the chief mechanism for deepening a relationship. Vulnerability elicits empathy and loyalty from all parties involved. Trust is the result of this kind of sharing, and trust is vital to all human relationships. By removing “negative topics” from my social repertoire, I made it very difficult for others to trust me and for me to trust them.

I actively try not to burden others with my problems. But who can trust someone without issues? Who can relate to someone who seems impervious to negativity, failure, or strife? To be invincible is to be removed from the common struggle of daily life – the struggle of being a normal human. Who would even want to be friends with someone like that – someone who “doesn’t know what it’s like.”

Looking back, some of my best friendships were formed on the foundation of bitching and moaning about a common grievance – a shared struggle. The emotional synchronization galvanized the friendship. It was a way to let our guard down and be real with each other.

I had multiple opportunities to let my guard down this week. I took those opportunities. I was angry. I was sad. I was frustrated and confused. I asked for help. I even yelled once. It felt good and I feel closer to everyone involved.