“You’re not my friend,” she said, incredulously.
We were walking to school and I had just asked my 7-year-old daughter why she was friends with me.
Admittedly, it’s a weird question to ask your daughter as you’re hurrying to school before 8 am.
I was given an assignment in my grad school class to ask three friends why they are friends with you. I didn’t have time to sit down and do a heart-to-heart with my lifelong friends from college, so I cheated a little. I used the people closest to me — my immediate family.
We don’t normally think of our family as our friends. So I decided to use this opportunity as a thought experiment.
“OK, I’m your dad,” I admitted to Clara. “But am I your friend too?”
She responded that yes, she was my friend, too. But then came the hard part: Asking WHY she was friends with me.
This was the essence of the assignment: Trying to figure out what you really mean to someone else.
When I asked my 4-year-old son, he had some basic explanations for why he’s my friend: I play Legos with him, I put him on my shoulders, I play cards with him.
“And… that’s all I can think of,” he said. “That’s all… stinky binky.”
Then he commanded me to put him on his shoulders and walk around.
Jess Cigelske talked about how we first met and the long genuine conversations that we had that neither of us wanted to end.
And Clara — after she got over her incredulousness about asking why she was my friends — offered some explanations about the notes I leave in her lunch, hugs and “just because I love you.”
In this assignment, Simon Sinek explained that trying to put friendship into words is difficult for a reason. He explained that “feelings come from the limbic system,” which doesn’t have a capacity for words. From a biological perspective in our brains, friendship is on a deeper level.
Sinek said that in this exercise people will generally start out describing general things that friends do — I like spending time with you, your funny, your smart, etc. But after continuing to probe and listen, they will start to describe how you make them feel. These deeper descriptions are the important qualities that Sinek calls your “why.”
The assignment was supposed to be about discovering what you have unique to offer by puttings to these hard-to-describe qualities into words.
This did do that for me. It gives you a chance to see yourself through the eyes of someone who accepts you and loves you, and not the self-critical eye we often use on ourselves.
But what ultimately stuck with me was really how easy it is to be a friend: Play Legos, have long conversations, leave notes for others.
Those things don’t take special talents. Those are things anyone can do with a little effort. We just need reminders that even if you’re family, you can also be a friend.