“Have no friends not equal to yourself.”

– Confucius (551 – 497 BC)

My wife Bonnett and I recently attended our class reunion. We were both struck by how gracious our classmates and their guests were. There was a feeling of equanimity and warmth. As people asked each other questions about where the other now lived or what kind of work they were engaged in, it seemed the questioner was actually interested in the other’s answer rather than asking primarily to determine who was higher or lower on the economic or social ladder.

That being the case, we felt we were among equals, in the sense that the conversations were much more about connecting rather than comparing.

These comfortable interactions contrast sharply with ones that we have all had where the balance of power did not feel equal. In these less comfortable interactions, where one or more parties to the interaction craved a feeling of power, the tone of voice as well as content of questions seem designed to determine rank… as if everyone there were like menu items on a restaurant menu and the whole goal of the conversation was to figure out who was the most expensive item on the menu.

So for me, having friends equal to myself is about focusing on our equality. And what constitutes equality? For this group of classmates it was sharing in the common experience of growing up with many of the same references, which have continued, in that all of us were children, many of us had children, we have aging parents, who now need more of our help, and we have careers and multiple relationships that are important to us. All of this is primary.

What’s not relevant for friendships based on equality is comparing the status of respective careers, assigning scores to the kind of education each party completed after high school or parading out the accomplishments of our children in any attempt to use those stories for upmanship games.

As you notice a high level of comfort in the company of a friend, you might also notice that it does feel equal, in that neither of you are focusing on issues that divide but instead the focus remains on the commonality that you feel. And after all, as we grow in maturity and wisdom, what could be more important and relevant than the fact that we are fellow humans, lucky enough to share a brief time together on this beautiful planet.

– Richard J. Chandler

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