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True Friendship

 Whenever I hear somebody rave about a restaurant which I believe serves mediocre food, I’m faced with a dilemma.  I must choose between telling them I don’t share their opinion and saying something benign and glossing over our differing perceptions.  When I do the first I worry that folks will infer that I don’t respect their ability to distinguish between good and bad food.  When I do the second I worry they’ll mistake my reply for agreement. A friend of mine, when I told him about this concern, said, “What’s the difference.  Good or bad food is in the eye of the beholder; no one is right or wrong-it’s all opinion.”

I don’t agree with this position at all.  I believe there is a basic truth sitting out there and if we are discerning enough–that is, if we pay attention over time–we can spot it.  If I prefer Chef Boyardee spaghetti to a dish of Mario Batali’s home made pasta I’m demonstrating a lack of awareness. My palate is simply not yet discerning enough to know the difference. I’d add that if I were to prepare a dish for Mario Batali he would find umpteen things he would have done differently and I am convinced he’d probably be correct on all counts.

I find the same thing to be true with music.  I’m not a fan of rap music but I’m sure there is good rap and bad rap and some knowledgeable folks out there who have thought about and listened to a lot of hip hop music can probably tell the difference.  I know this is true because there is good jazz playing and bad jazz playing and I believe I can tell the difference.  It is your perfect right to prefer Kenny G. to Miles Davis but I can assure you that Kenny G.’s music is puerile and boring by comparison and if you listen to both with an open mind you will, over time, most likely recognize this to be true.

Because there is basic truth in the world, certain folks who are truly talented are likely to be appreciated as such and their endeavors will hold up over time. The endeavors of those who are not particularly talented (but may be good at salesmanship) are likely, over time, to fall by the wayside.  For example Billie Holiday’s recordings are still selling well and she’s been gone for almost fifty years.  The recordings of Theresa Brewer, a pop singer from that same era, are all but forgotten. Further, it’s a safe bet few present day music fans even know who she is. She was a mediocre singer who sold her songs with a couple of vocal tricks and over time her music did not hold up.

Let me clarify-I am not talking about preferences. If someone prefers spinach over kale or jazz over classical, there is no “basic truth” involved. I’m arguing that awareness, experience and time will allow us to make determinations about the quality of an endeavor, be it music making, cooking, wine making or painting. Even in the incredibly murky arena of politics, time and perspective allows us to separate the good politicians from the not so good. 

I make these points because I think the ability to be a true friend is an endeavor which can be assessed over time. There are charming folks in this world who form friendships easily but cannot maintain them. When we pay attention to the behavior of our new acquaintances we can usually, over time, spot those qualities or behaviors which do or do not allow the relationship to deepen and become richer.

The ability to build and maintain real friendships is a highly valued quality. One has only to attend the funeral of those with such ability (assuming they have not outlived their friends) to see and hear about their importance and value in their friends’ eyes. Happily, such qualities can be learned and refined. The qualities that seem to be essential to friendship are genuine interest and inquiry, respectful communication, empathy, thoughtfulness, supportiveness, absence of judgment, and loyalty.

If you read through the friendship articles posted on this site you will find these friendship qualities discussed and analyzed. Our goal is to help visitors to this site improve their friendship skills and enrich their social lives.

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.   


Comment from Rusty
Time: March 6, 2009, 12:57 pm

I tend to save ‘disagree’ statements for the times when it is an important issue. For example, the food doesn’t just taste bad; it’s spoiled. The third option to agree and disagree is some ambiguous statement that falls short of challenging the friendship. This allows two people to focus on the positions they agree on.
By the way, when you mentioned Theresa Brewer, I heard ‘Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon…’ for the next half hour. She’s forgotten but not gone.

Comment from Ed
Time: March 6, 2009, 2:20 pm

Ron, while I agree with you that we all believe we know the “truth” about what is good and bad music, food, etc., I’m not sure if this is valid. I don’t think that our opinions are necessarily the truth. Buddha said, “Don’t believe anything just because I said it or others believe it. It’s only the truth if it is the truth for you.”

Something to think about.

Keep up the good work,

Comment from Shannon
Time: March 7, 2009, 10:40 am

I have to say that I agree with your friend and here is why in my opionion. If your upbringing was all about Chef Boyardee and Macaroni Grill then that is the pallet you have grown to understand. A dish of linquini in clam sauce might not taste good to you if that is not the type of food you have eaten your whole life.

I am one who loves unique and interesting food; however, If someone does not, I feel for the most part it’s simply because they have not been educated or exposed to finer foods.

Now exuse me while I go make my kraft mac and cheese

Comment from Tony
Time: March 15, 2009, 10:47 am

Dr. Ron

Interesting post

I have certain friends that tell me they love Italian food, when referring to my Italian heritage. Often, I am invited over for Dinner at their house for homemade Spaghetti Sauce that they love and brag about. I am flattered they want to showcase their skills of Italian food with me. Unfortunately, I am always faced with a dilemma when there Sauce is filled with hamburger and too many onions.
I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I respond the same way, “Thank you, this was very good, but it’s different than the Sauce I grew up with. I’ll have to make you some of what I grew up with” Then a few weeks later I invite them over to have my Sauce. Ten times out of ten they love my sauce and have been using my recipe since. Now, I understand their sauce worked for them, but since I may have more experience in this area, I was able to share my recipe.
I was able to address a genuine interest that was important to both parties. I was respectful and able to show an absence of judgment by being empathetic to their feelings. I would expect them to do the same if it was something they were more experienced in.
I don’t believe things like Food, Music and Sports hurt friendships, I feel it’s how we address them that can determine the longevity.


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