Strictly My Opinion

There’s Only You And Me, And We Just Disagree

Recently I had a lengthy exchange on Facebook with others about an opinion I shared. Some agreed with me, others did not.

What struck me was not how differently some people feel about things than I do (no great surprise), but rather how it seems like somewhere along the way it has become the norm to simply ‘eliminate’ those who disagree with us from our lives.

Why?

There is a way to disagree with others and be respectful. There is a way to not only have but also to justify your feelings/thoughts/opinions on things while taking away nothing from anyone else…..

It involves, for me, a few caveats placed at the beginning of your statement:

1. In my opinion……

2. What works for me is…..

3. What I believe for myself is……

4. The way I see it………

5. I can only speak for myself, but…….

I am sure there are hundreds of other ways to say the same thing….to say ‘This is my opinion…I own it, I believe in it, and I live by it’…….and still not discredit or disparage the opinion of others.

There are ways to avoid inflammatory exchanges and insulting others…….it involves avoiding saying things like:

1. How can any intelligent person think that?

2. Any educated person will agree that…..

3. I thought you were smarter than that…..

By avoiding the above, and the likely hundreds of other ways you can call a person unintelligent, ill-informed, and outright stupid without ‘saying’ it directly…..you also stand a far greater chance of avoiding getting into personal attacks and pissing contests with others.

We all have our opinions. We all have our experiences, our histories, our triggers, or deeply rooted beliefs and values. We all have them…..it doesn’t make you right and someone else wrong…it makes you right for you….for your life…..

It also doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with someone who disagrees with you. I’ve ‘unfriended’ only three people on Facebook in the six years since I signed up. Three. All three were being beyond inappropriate to me personally…..and that I won’t read or tolerate…so I took them out of my friends list….they weren’t friends I wanted to have if they felt it was okay to say the things they were saying.

But just because someone doesn’t feel the way I feel about something, or think the way I think about something? I won’t ‘unfriend’ those people. I may not agree with them….but I do learn something from their viewpoints and opinions and experiences.

More than that….I don’t just ‘agree to disagree’ with people….I respect them and their opinion…..because it’s theirs. It doesn’t have to be mine. I might never agree with them on certain points….so what? Do we have to agree with everything about someone to be friends with them?

I can only speak for myself, but………..for me the answer is no.

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Miscellaneous

2 a.m. Friends – If You Ever Run Out Of Gas

This morning on the way to school one of the boys asked me if I’d ever run out of gas while driving.

It brought to mind a story about the 2nd (and, thankfully, final) time I ever ran out of gas. I was on crutches, one of my ankles sprained, and had gone out for the evening (I was in my early 20’s, and prone to having evenings out on work nights) and was driving home through a rural stretch of road in Westbrook, Maine.  I had been eyeing my gas needle vigilantly as I had known I needed gas earlier in the evening, but had stayed out far later than expected and therefore all the gas stations were then closed and I was unable to fill my tank.

Lo and behold; I ran out of gas. As the car came to a stop I eased off to the side of the road in a familiar place. Fortunately my car had taken it’s last sip of fuel right at the base of the hill my office building sat upon. I was then in the habit of leaving my door key card in my car to avoid forgetting it in the morning, and blessed my good fortune that, whereas it was the middle of winter, I wouldn’t have to sit in the cold nor try to make my way home, which was several miles away.

I took my crutches and my car keys and made my way up the partly ice-covered drive to the building, let myself in, and made my way to my desk. That was the easy part. I now had to try to decide whom to call for assistance. It was 2 a.m. It was the middle of the week. Most people I knew were home asleep, safely tucked away in their beds (as I should have been). Beyond that, whose phone number did I know well enough to dial it from memory?

After a few moments, one name sprung to mind, and as luck would have it, so did her phone number. I dialed, and waited while the phone rang, already cringing at what I thought her voice would sound like, filled with annoyance at being awoken at this ridiculous hour.  She picked up and as if through a fog said, ‘Hello?’

‘Julie….it’s Brad…I’m sorry to wake you.’

‘That’s okay…what’s up?’

‘I’ve run out of gas…I’m on crutches…several miles from my house…I need help.’

She asked where I was. I told her the location, and gave her a landmark that I knew she’d be familiar with.

‘Give me half an hour, I’ll be there.’

I hung up the phone and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Within thirty minutes she arrived. I had made my way back to my car and waited for her. She pulled up alongside my vehicle with her own and I opened the passenger door and climbed in.

‘Thank you so much….’ I began.

‘Wait….’ she said, ‘Let’s just save that for another time.’

We rode in silence to my house where she dropped me off. I thanked her once again, and said I’d call her that night. She nodded, put the car in reverse, and backed out of the driveway.

That was twenty-five years ago (give or take a few months). Julie and I are still in touch, albeit very sporadically via social media. She’s not as frequent a poster on the internet as I am.

I have friends that I’ve known since kindergarten. They’ve seen me through all the iterations of my life….quiet child…reserved teen…blossoming young adult…more confident man….husband…and father. One of them read a traditional blessing at my wedding. Another recently bought my mother’s car for his daughter and even helped me load some of her furniture into a moving truck. Several of them ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on my social media posts. I interact with them as often as I can, and bless the modern world for being able to know, no matter how infrequently, what is going on in their lives. It’s one of the reasons I will always be grateful to the world wide web for existing. Those I’ve known for more than forty years of my life, along with others I’ve met along the way, I consider to be ‘forever friends’. They will, I hope, be in my life until my last breath, in one way or another.

I haven’t run out of gas in twenty five years. But I have needed a shoulder to cry on…a place to stay…someone I can trust to watch the boys for an hour or two…assistance with my mother’s needs when she still lived in Maine..someone to hold my hand while I phoned for test results that were worrying me, or just a friendly face when times have been difficult. No matter what the ‘need’ has been, I’ve always had someone to meet it. I am most fortunate indeed that I say that. I count that amongst the greatest blessings of my life.

Some of my friends are former ‘enemies’. We have put aside and even laughed about our former animosities, and have given and received forgiveness. I’ve had the chance to apologize to people for my part in whatever we didn’t necessarily like one another for back then. Some of my friends are former lovers who, after the romance wore off, we both realized that the friendship could (and should) remain intact. I know many, many people. Some of these friendships are deeper than others, some just casual encounters now and again. I am grateful for them all.

I have tried in my life to be the kind of friend who will help you pack and move. The kind who will listen to whatever is troubling you and offer whatever support I can. The kind who keeps confidences. The kind who you can trust with your kids and know they are just as safe as my own would be when in my care. I’ve shared of myself with others not to make things ‘about me’ but to perhaps instill a sense of ‘you’re not alone in this’ in others when they’ve had challenging times. I’ve never expected to receive anything in return for what I’ve offered. I’ve been most fortunate to get it back a thousand fold from those I’ve given to.

What I tried this morning to impart to my kids, in the few minutes drive to school and with the ‘running out of gas’ story is how important friends are in our lives. How we never know when we will need to trust or rely on someone and how wonderful it is to HAVE someone to trust or rely on in your life.

And, more than that, how important it is to BE that for someone else. Be the kind of friend who shows up when someone needs you. Be the kind of friend who can hold on to a ‘secret’ as long as it’s not hurting anyone. Be the kind of friend who gives of yourself without anticipation of reward or compensation. Be a good friend. Be a kind friend. Be a constant friend.

Be a forever friend.

To my friends, my forever friends and my casual acquaintances alike, I hope you’ve read this and hope you know how important you are to me. I hope I have been the kind of friend that is deserving of your time and your caring. I hope I never do anything to betray your friendship. I hope that you understand that with me, no matter how much time passes in between our interactions, you are still my friend, and as far as I’m concerned we’ll just pick up where we left off.

And if you ever run out of gas, even at 2 a.m. – give me a call.

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Miscellaneous

A Shared Burden Weighs Less Upon A Troubled Soul

I have friends now that I’ve known for most of my life….since I was five years of age.  Even younger than that.  True, we have gone through periods of time where we’ve fallen out of touch, but then picked up again where we left off some time later, and it’s as if not a moment has passed.  That is the way I feel about most of my friendships; that they go through cycles of contact and the ‘down time’ is not an indication that the friendship is suffering or any less meaningful, it just means, to me, that a fork in the road cropped up, we parted company, and the road will lead us to intersect once again down the line.

One of my favorite ‘resurgence of friendship’ stories involves my buddy Scott.  I had plans for dinner with another friend who asked if he could bring a buddy along, and of course I agreed.  As we sat and laughed and joked and talked, this friend, Scott, made a reference to Little Falls School. I said, ‘That was my elementary school…you went there as well?’ – Ten seconds later we realized we’d attended at the same time, in the same class….and known each other as children.  It was an amazing moment to reconnect with someone I’d not seen for 20 years….and to realize that despite the passage of time we were still just as compatible as friends as we’d ever been, even as adults.  We are still friends to this day, even after another period of lapse in contact, but now, via the miracle of social media, are in regular contact or at least know what’s going on with the other one.

Scott is one of the people I’ve known since kindergarten and still maintain a friendship with.  There are several others.  Certainly we are all older…some have kids, some not, some are married, some divorced….but despite the highs and lows we’ve experienced in life, we still have common ground, common interests, and plenty to talk about.  We’ve had months and months of no contact, and then chatter away as if no time had passed at all. It’s comforting, to me, to still maintain friendships with people who have known me for most of my life, and still wish to be friends.  People who have changed and grown and transformed and reinvented themselves time and time again, and yet at their very core they are still people who I am happy and honored to say are my friends.

I’ve worked very hard over time to shed certain baggage and character traits that I no longer wish to have in my life.  In ways I’ve wanted to rid myself of a me that I used to be and didn’t wish to be any longer.  I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to maintain certain friendships over time that after seeing me at both my best and at my worst they are still a fixture in my life.

I’ve also worked very hard to even be able to “let” my friends see me at my worst.  To drop my guard even 50% and be my often-times cranky, unreasonable, wounded self and be okay with putting that out there.  To say the difficult things and be open and honest and not cap off the story with some pithy, sarcasm laced punch line. Sometimes there is no punch line.  Not everything’s a joke.  Sometimes nothing at all is and it’s so hard to say it and put yourself in a circle of people who can either support you or stone you.  Sometimes it just feels easier to find an empty chair in an empty room and just sit there and keep your burdens to yourself.  It may feel easier, or even just ‘safer’.  It rarely accomplishes anything other than keeping you stuck under your own dark cloud.

Sharing my burdens with others has not been easy for me to do, for a variety of reasons.  It’s a work in progress, and I am a complete novice at it.  It has more to do with me not being comfortable with it than a lack of faith in my friends and my friendships. I am truly blessed to know the people I know, and from those people be able to say that I know others who, without a doubt, would have my back day and night, and always will.  Those are the kinds of friendships you hold the closest and the dearest…and the ones you need to give to as well as take from.  That doesn’t mean just give the good, either…..you have to give them the bad too, and trust that they are still going to be there for you, right or wrong, light or dark.  These are the best friends to have.  Not those who have the most or look the best. Friends that you can, even if you don’t usually, say anything to…the ones that you can be yourself with, whomever that is, and they are still your friend.  Those are the most valuable and the most important friends of all.

I keep telling myself that a shared burden weighs less upon a troubled soul.  I keep working to believe in it more fully and apply it to my life. I keep seeking other souls that I can share burdens with, and know that they will help me carry the load.  I know how important it is to be grateful, every day, that I have friends like this.

I only hope that I am a friend like this, too……and that other troubled souls feel comfortable sharing their burdens with me.

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