“A friend in need is a friend indeed.” We all know that one. That a true friend stands by you during adversity, is an accepted, unquestioned assumption in, I dare say, all cultures. Does the same friendship remain unshaken during your times of triumph?
I hold the strong belief that the overwhelming majority of humans is kind. In my experience, if you trip and fall over in the street, strangers will rush to pick you up, ask if you are hurt, and offer help (and a cup of tea, if you are in England). If you are ill, friends and neighbours will rally in a spontaneous support group that restores faith in humanity even in a misanthropic cynic like myself. Time and again, when friends have found out that I had been through a difficult time, their reaction has been, “Why on earth didn’t you tell me? I would have come ‘round immediately.” True, not everyone will help you beyond the limits of his/her convenience. However, many, many people are willing to put themselves out to help you, if you are in any kind of distress. The sight of another person’s trouble triggers a rescuing response in us, which bypasses cerebral calculation. We act on impulse.
What about our spontaneous reaction to someone else’s joy or success?
Personally, I consider myself very lucky, in that I can think of a number of people I feel I can turn to if I need help. Then, something wonderful happens to me – be it a triumph or a stroke of luck – and the number of people with whom I feel comfortable sharing the happy news, suddenly shrinks.
You may find that odd.
My hesitation originates in part from tact, in part from superstition, but mostly from experience. I do not really want to show off my good news to a friend who is going through a difficult time. I fear he or she may feel left out, and resent the apparently unfair contrast between our states of mind and positions at that moment. Superstition is another reason. Of course, officially, I am not superstitious. I do not want to be superstitious any more than I want to be afraid. However, the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern elements in my upbringing are deeply rooted in my psyche. If someone compliments you for having a beautiful child, you quickly pinch the child, or make spitting sounds. You tell the person that your child is a bit naughty. If a guest admires an ornament in your home, you immediately give it to him or her. Hospitality, yes – but, also, you want them to take away the thing they may have left their evil eye on. The green eye of envy. In Han Suyin’s marvelous novel A Many-Splendoured Thing, the Eurasian narrator explains to her British lover that, in China, when you had abundant crop, you would wring your hands, shake your head and cry, “Bad rice, bad rice”, lest the gods got envious of your good fortune and decided to blight it.
Blight. A word that has been much on my mind since last Saturday. It was during the Q & A part of a day for aspiring writers, held by agents Curtis Brown, in Foyles bookshop, in London. Novelist Salley Vickers was on the panel. People were discussing the importance of feedback whilst writing a novel. Feedback from friends, from family, from fellow writers. Taking criticism on board or not, and when. Salley Vickers told us that – possibly because she is a trained psychoanalyst – while teaching creative writing courses, she notices frequent “blighting”. People sometimes give negative feedback because they are envious, she said. I wanted to cheer her.
We are brought up to accept negative criticism with humility, and the assumption that it is given appropriately and for our own good. If we reject it, we are told that we are either arrogant or do not want “to hear the truth.” I think, instinctively, we know when negative criticism comes from a generous heart, or if it is tainted with the bitterness of envy. We just need to trust our gut feeling.
When I started my blog, in February 2011, relatively few of my friends read it. Some said they had no time to read blogs, others, that it was “pointless writing for no money”, and one, that “nobody reads blogs, anyway”. The same people were there for me, when I needed help, so I cannot call them unkind.
How often have you told friends about a plan close to your heart, and had a reaction along the lines of, “be careful, don’t get your hopes up” or “I know someone who tried, and it went horribly wrong”?
A few weeks ago, one of my posts, The Delight of Hand Writing got over 4,000 views in twenty-four hours. I told a few friends. Some rushed with congratulations and expressions of joy for my success. Many remained silent. When, a couple of weeks later, I was complaining to a friend about a minor mishap in my life, he quickly said, “Well, after all that high over your blog, last week, you were bound to come down, sooner or later.”
His remark slashed me, like a paper cut. Yet he is a truly wonderful person and I know I can count on him, if I am ever in any distress.
Friends offer genuine sympathy and support when you are weeping over a man/woman. Tell them – walking on air and your eyes all sparkling – that you have just met someone new and there will be one or two who will say, “s/he’s probably married” or “s/he’s probably nice to you because s/he needs your help”. Crash.
When I got divorced, a friend eagerly invited me out to dinner to “take me out of myself”. Within a few minutes, she remarked that I looked well and not half as upset as she thought I would be. I thought I sensed a shade of disappointment in her voice, but discarded it. A little later in the evening, she said, “I don’t know why I bothered taking you out to dinner. You’re not upset at all.”
No. She was not joking.
And then there is the old favourite. Tell friends about something brilliant that you are doing, and someone is bound to exclaim, “You lucky thing! I wish I…” A slight scratch. Almost unnoticeable.
Is it a need to feel needed? Resentment at not being needed? Is there comfort in a session of mutual comforting and listing of problems? Does it feel safer to know someone who has problems worse than yours? Or is it something else, which I cannot yet fathom?
I suspect I might get a wave of comments from people protesting that they are always happy for their friends’ successes, and that they have friends who rejoice in their achievements. If so, I am truly happy for you. I can only share my experience on this point. An experience which makes me more inclined to reach out for help to those precious friends of mine who are unreservedly happy for me when I get a lucky break. I do not know why. Just a gut feeling.
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This is the first time I’ve run across the term “blighting” to describe this phenomenon; it suits so well. Whether the reaction is caused by envy or discomfort or fear of not measuring up, it puts a pall on the friendship because it creates a hesitation the next time there is joyful news that you are excited to share.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts so that your readers can mull this over, too. This is how the world becomes a kinder place. 🙂
Thank you for commenting. Yes, I thought it was a wonderful way to use the word. Salley Vickers is a skillful writer.
Spot on, as usual. I truly enjoy your posts.
Thank you very much, K.
I think part of it is definitely schadenfreude. People revel in misfortune because if they’re wallowing in someone else’s, they’re not wallowing in their own. They feel good about helping someone who’s having a bad time because if they can help, that means they’re at least having a better time of it.
You may have a point there. Thank you for commenting.
Dear my friend, during my university years, I had decided to attend one of the strangest courses being first time practised in my last year before graduation. It was called “Ego-Practice”.
According to specialists, almost 90 per-cent of the world population were helping each other mostly to get a little taste of satisfaction emerged by others’ appreciation on our “helpful” behaviour.
This doesn’t mean that our friends are too selfish and egoistic, however, in a way, yes we are, but unconsciously of course.
Being involved in an improvement of someone’s problem, be it your best friends’ or colleagues’, is so satisfying inside, that it is helping us a comfortable and clean sleep at nights.
The rest of 10 per-cent is also sleeping comfortably and clean but not because of being appreciated after helping, just because the empathy and the better feeling + better situation our friends may have after our “helpful behaviour”.
I don’t know if I could explain it clearly with my poor English, but there’s more of it…
When there’s no need of an involvement of a friend for a solution of a problem or just for support, and when you need someone only to share the joy, the excitement, the triumph, the “helpful” friends feel that they are needless – they don’t think of it consciously of course – and there is nothing which they can get involved to correct, to make better, to improve in your life. Thus, sharing your joy won’t be appreciated by her/his environment and give less satisfaction…
Still, this is all about our ego, and again still, people should be so much self-trained in order to share both your joy or bitterness without this unconscious expextation of appreciation.
But if I hadn’t taken that course, I wouldn’t be aware of such behaviours too.
So, I gave up blaming or criticising my good friends for not sharing my triumhs and joy as much as they did for my problems…
And thank you for this beautiful post again!
Sorry for my long comment. I wish I could express this shorter and better like you do many times…
Hello, my friend Deniz – How are you? Lovely to hear from you again.
Thank you for your – as usual – thought-provoking comments. I agree with you. I, too, feel good about myself if I’ve helped someone. As I get older, however, having realised that, I am trying to develop a healthier perspective on things… What was it Confucius said? Something about having spent most of his life trying to improve himself but still failing?
Please never apologise for your English or the length of your comments. Your English is fine and your comments truly appreciated.
All the best to you.
Wonderfully insightful blog this week – as usual. You are such a great observer of human behaviour.
It’s spending so much time doing people jobs… Thank you for you kindness.
Sorry to say that you’ve run into the usual fair weather friends – they prefer stormy days and cannot cope with other people’s sunshine. Many love us best when we are down but it just takes a bit of sifting as to which ones these might be. Keep blogging – not everything has to be done with a sale tag attached or a profit margin.
Thank you, eljaygee. I like the way you put it.
You express these friendship dilemmas well. One way to get our needs gratified is to give from our need, like responding to another person’s need. From that place, a friend having a triumph can imply a threat – I’m superfluous.
As to triumphs, I remember driving home after having achieved a major contract for a charity after many months of intense work. It suddenly struck and I let out a jubilant yippee, owning my achievement. It was like breaking through a sound barrier. I realised I would not depend on other people to make this success real for me. Some friends don’t like us to change, which is sad, but as we grow, we shed parts of ourselves, like snakes shed their skin.
… And I’m doing some significant shedding at the moment. Thank you for commenting. I can relate to your vocal “yippee!”
You make some very good points in discussing this topic! “Blighting” is a serious thing, and I know just what you mean.
Hello, shadowoperator. How are you this week? Thank you for commenting. Here’s to cleaning all “blighters” out of our lives :–)
I’m getting along just fine, thanks, how’re you? Clever pun on the word “blighters,” my friend!
Fine, thanks. Sunday night, so watching ‘Downton Abbey’ on television. Cosy.
Uh-oh, I feel the need to blight your joy, because we don’t get Season 3 of Downton Abbey until January here in the States (he!he! just kidding!).
Ha! Well, then I won’t spoil it for you – except to say that, so far, it’s been a really good series.
Very thought provoking but also makes me feel a bit sad. Why wouldn’t people be happy for those that they love? I was delighted for you with your “handwriting” blog post and I don’t even know you! I think it is a sad indication of us all (society wise) losing track of the things that are really important! We should always remember and be joyful whenever we can.
You are – if you don’t mind my saying – a real sweetie. And you’re absolutely right; our society is losing track of what’s truly important. I guess that’s what comes from being more and more alienated from nature. Thank you for your lovely comment.
Pleasure. Nothing else makes sense in my opinion. All this focus on negativity is ultimately so terribly destructive. I struggle with it. It is all so horribly unbalanced! Viva la happy, empathetic, joyful revolution. That’s what I say! 🙂