Mothers know the best. If there is one piece of advice from my mom that I will live by rest of my life, it is that it is always better to have one more friend in this world than one fewer friend. It means that it is always in our best interest to build one more bridge because the vicissitudes of life can take us in unexpected directions, and we will never know when we will need somebody. I am certain that all of us have heard some variations of my mom’s advice. In graduate school, I was told by a colleague to never burn bridges. I realized that for many years, I was burning bridges without even realizing it. I was actually very good at burning bridges until I had serious talks with my mom.
When I was much younger, I was very open to friendships, and I was one of those who made friends easily. I had no preconceived biases or presumptions toward anyone. As I grew up and found out more about myself, I realized that I was very different from everyone else in my preferences and interests. I became withdrawn and sensitive to anyone who did not see the world as I did. I admit that I deleted people off my Facebook. As I wrote in the past, it is not uncommon to have a shrinking social circle the older we get, but there is a distinction between life taking its natural course and actively subjecting friends to a filter. Was the problem me or them?
Some introspection was in order. I had always seen the world in black and white terms. I did not believe in seeing shades of grey. If there were people who did not enjoy the same activities, hobbies or the genre of books, then I did not see a purpose in establishing a bond with them. I was always very set in my own ways. I was aloof. But did I really have any friends who enjoyed the same things as I did? The second reason for my ability to burn bridges was that I liked to paint people with the same brush. If there were people who had wronged me, their friends were guilty by association. Looking back on my life, I realize that I was actually very childish. I look around at people with great friends and great career connections. What they have in common is that they have a strong understanding of how human beings work: we may not all like each other but we all need people to complement us, to make us find our blind spots, and to challenge us.
Of course, none of this is to suggest that we should throw caution to the wind and bring everybody into our lives. There are some people with whom we will never develop any friendship because of fundamental differences. Also, it could be their choice not to have anything to do with you. To be critical in selecting friends is a way to protect yourself. But we still need to give each other a chance. As my mom has always reminded me, we would all be a little bit happier if we had just one extra friend: who knows when you will need that friend? Nobody can navigate through life alone. Even the strongest of us will need somebody to lean on.