Growing up as a Christian I was taught I should forgive and accept everybody. I still believe that. But what forgiving and accepting has looked like over the years has changed.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was given to me by my friend Ben. We were taking a break from a writing project, sitting out on my deck when I brought up some trouble I was having with a friend. I’d grown a little tired of this friend using me and I was losing trust.
Ben said something I’d never forget, he said You know, Don, there are givers and takers in this life, I got rid of the takers years ago and I’ve had it for the better. I’d recommend you do the same. To be sure, this was reductionistic but Ben was making a general point. The point is this: Some people aren’t trustworthy. He’s right. And if we don’t believe that, I think we’re being naive.
I took Ben’s advice. I let the friend go and I’ve hardly talked to him since. I simply lost trust in him. There were too many lies, too many victim speeches, too much manipulation. It’s remarkable to me how some people can’t learn and can’t change. He’d had a track record of building communities only to hurt people, play the victim and then walk away and build another.
To me, though, letting my friend go doesn’t contradict being accepting and forgiving. In fact, it was much easier to forgive my friend after I created a strong boundary against his schemes. I have no ill will against him, in fact, I’m grateful, my friend taught me what an untrustworthy person looks like and I am no longer naive.
In early Christian communities, God Himself rid the community of liars and manipulators. Honesty and transparency in community are incredibly important.
These days I have a filter against the kinds of people I’ll be close to.
Here are three kinds of people I keep at a distance:
False Victims: If somebody identifies as a victim (even a strong pessimistic attitude toward life) I keep my distance. Sooner or later people who identify as a victim are going to paint you as an oppressor. Victims need to be victims of somebody, and you can count on it that that somebody is going to be you eventually. Believe it or not there are people who want to be victims because if they are victims they don’t have to take responsibility for their lives and they think they will attract help or a rescuer. Certainly you may wrong a friend, we all do, but you want friends who will talk openly and honestly about what you’ve done and make amends, not flop on the floor like a European soccer player. If somebody is overly victim-like, be careful.
Bullies: The quickest way to identify a bully is to notice what a person laughs at. Bullies do not laugh at themselves, they laugh at others. If somebody makes fun of others but isn’t self deprecating, they’re a taker and not a giver. Ever heard a loud-mouth political talk-show host make a self-deprecating joke? Most likely not. Bullies make great radio-show hosts, for sure. I keep my distance from people who can’t laugh at themselves and have zero friends who aren’t objective about themselves and others. There’s an entire Pandora’s box that goes along with this personality and I’m not interested. If you have friends who are bullies, it may be because they “protect” you in some way. I’d keep my distance all the same. Bullies protect others on the condition that others submit. That’s an unhealthy relationship. Get some strength and learn to protect yourself. You don’t need them to do that for you.
Overly Religious: I love people who have a sincere, open and honest faith. These are some of my favorite people. But when a person starts proof-texting using Bible verses about why they’re right and somebody else is wrong (even if it’s true) and I’ll keep my distance. This goes along with bullying, to be honest. It’s all about controlling others. When somebody’s faith helps them realize their own depravity and walk in honesty, I want them close, but when somebody uses religion to gain authority, I’m out.
All of this may sound calloused, but as we get older, we realize there are people in the world who refuse to mature. Maturity means we are honest, safe and transparent. A mature person understands their faults and admits to them. An immature person is looking for power in some kind of game.
If you want to be mature, surround yourself by mature people.
Am I being unkind, leaving people behind? Perhaps. But being left behind was their decision. If a person wants to lie, make fun of others or not deal with their own depravity, they need to spend some time alone until they can learn to grow up.
I learned a lot about how to be a better person and how to surround myself with better people from Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book Safe People (not a sponsored link and I’m not compensated for my recommendation). If you find yourself struggling with the quality of people you’re surrounded by, consider reading Safe People and creating some personal boundaries for who you’re willing to interact with. Another benefit of reading Safe People was that it helped me realize the many ways I was unsafe. I’d like to be more safe to my friends, for sure.
What kind of people do you try to surround yourself with? What are the qualities that you look for in friends? What’s an absolute no for you?