Carolyn Hax: A friend with seemingly everything still has time for fine whine

Classic Hax. You have to be pretty open-minded and self-aware to be able to sympathize with those who appear to be (and may objectively be) more fortunate than you are.

Or she’s genuinely unhappy. It can, of course, happen amid gaudy equity, lovely kids, an attentive spouse, a flexible career, stable finances and ambitious travel; just because these have societal value doesn’t mean they’re valuable to her.

And just because the decisions were “very-thought-out” doesn’t mean they were the right ones for her. If a person’s baseline understanding of herself is a degree or two off, then her choices can lead her, over the years, hundreds of miles off-course.

Carolyn Hax: A friend with seemingly everything still has time for fine whine

You Learn From People Who Mostly Agree With You | Ben Casnocha

Some of my best, most mind-expanding conversations have occurred with good friends who agree with me on almost everything––but not quite everything. Bottom Line: Want to learn and get smarter by talking to people? Seek out those who agree with you on 99.9% of things, and then push, push, push at the niche-y, hyper-specific areas of disagreement. It’s not about groupthink; it’s not about confirmation bias. It’s about learning on the margin.

Cf. William Deresiewicz.

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person.

You Learn From People Who Mostly Agree With You | Ben Casnocha

The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.

Hoffman & Casnocha. Warren Buffett agrees:

Hang around people who are better than you all the time. You do pick up the behavior of people who are around you. It will make you a better person. Marry upward. That is the person who is going to have the biggest effect on you. A relationship like that over the decades will do nothing but good.

If I can stretch this a bit, they don’t even have to be alive! See Austin Kleon:

The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want from them. They left their lesson plans in their work.

If it’s common now for men and women to be friends, why do we so rarely see it in popular culture? Partly, it’s a narrative problem. Friendship isn’t courtship. It doesn’t have a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories about friendships of any kind are relatively rare, especially given what a huge place the relationships have in our lives.

William Deresiewicz. Alexander Nehamas talks about this in his Philosophy Bites interview (also in the book):

It is close to impossible, for example, to recognize that a painting depicts two (or more) friends without a title to that effect or some similar literary artifice or allusion. The reason is that friends can be doing anything together and no single event is ever enough to indicate the presence of friendship.

He goes on to make useful analogies with the arts in general. You come to know a friend like you recognize a painter’s style: you can’t predict them necessarily, but you can see how things fit the pattern, once the friendship has “time to develop in the first place and time to flourish.” There’s also the idea that friends, and art, are things we use to become our individual, differentiated ourselves. Like Deresiewicz said elsewhere,

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person.

Via Matt Thomas’ weekly NYT Digest, for which I am always grateful.

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask.

By seven everyone is gone. They all offered to help, and you waved them away. There is a shabby nobility in failing all by yourself.

Excerpt from Bright Lights, Big City, a swift, often funny book with a terrible ending. Another favorite bit:

You have friends who actually care about you and speak the language of the inner self. You have avoided them of late. Your soul is as disheveled as your apartment, and until you can clean it up a little you don’t want to invite anyone inside.

On Tranquillity of Mind – Seneca

As predicted, I’ve been on a stoicism bender. This was a good one to dive into early, as my recent Heraclitus and Seneca might have tipped you off. This bit on friendship was one of my favorite parts:

Nothing, however, gives the mind so much pleasure as fond and faithful friendship. What a blessing it is to have those to whose waiting hearts every secret may be committed with safety, whose knowledge of you you fear less than your knowledge of yourself, whose conversation soothes your anxiety, whose opinion assists your decision, whose cheerfulness scatters your sorrow, the very sight of whom gives you joy! We shall of course choose those who are free, as far as may be, from selfish desires; for vices spread unnoticed, and quickly pass to those nearest and do harm by their contact.

On Tranquillity of Mind – Seneca