6 min read

How to be a Better Friend and Son

When we’re just 4 years old, we imagine wild things. We talk about how our imaginary friend visited Antartica to get a leopard seal skin to make a coat (to keep herself warm), then she moved to the moon because it was higher. But then, just a couple years later, it’s all about RULES.
How to be a Better Friend and Son
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

I was walking around Whole Foods with my ex. Well, not really my ex. Just a sweet girl I dated for a couple months. (At what point does someone become an “ex”? That sounds too heavy).

We stopped at the fish oil section. She grabbed a bottle and examined the quality of the product. We liked this about each other — we both cared about health and knew a fair amount about nutrition.

She commented on the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-9, and the amount of DHA. I started rattling off something I’d read, then paused and said, “Mel… what the f*** are we talking about?” And we both laughed, because we realized we didn’t really understand anything we were saying. It was like we were conversational in a foreign language, but we were ultimately just parrots squawking back and forth.

. . .

There’s an interesting distinction between children at play at age 4 and age 6.

When we’re just 4 years old, we imagine wild things. We talk about how our imaginary friend visited Antartica to get a leopard seal skin to make a coat (to keep herself warm), then she moved to the moon because it was higher. But now she’s thinking she wants to move back.

And there’s this tension. We’re exploring our minds and creating these wild experiences all the time — improvising — because it’s fun.

But then, just a couple years later, it’s all about RULES.

“The person who wants to be it is the freezer! If they tag you, you’re frozen! But if someone else tags you, you’re unfrozen!”

We become enforcers. We yell at each other when the rules are broken. That’s because we are practicing having rules and getting used to living in a society. Instead of creating, re-writing, and imagining… we change our focus to not breaking things. Not screwing things up. Doing the game right, and being better than others.

. . .

My best friend from college came to visit me. I saw her taking a pill before bed, and I asked what it was. Later, she told me that she felt nervous saying “Ibuprofen” because she was worried how I’d respond. That I might tell her it was bad for her liver, or that she should be taking something more natural like Melatonin because — you know — I’ve read all these studies and know that 1 mg is ideal, you shouldn’t do more than 3 mg, etc.

Oh, I suppose you know about gluten? That thing in wheat that scratches up your digestive tract? Well, there’s this thing called glyphosate that’s in Round Up… blah blah blah.

And it made me think about this tension I’ve felt for the last… I don’t know… 13 years?

It’s weird. I’m not scared of death, really. But I’ve been scared of certain diseases because I’ve seen what they can do to people, and it’s frightening. Around 15 years old, I started to suspect that, hey, maybe we’re all being lied to about everything — about what our food really is, and our water, and the air, and TV. Maybe all of this is designed to mess us up and get sick. Maybe the doctors are in on it! And the pill companies! And food companies!

And having that guard up can help, and it can really hurt. It can help me make better decisions, but it can hurt others. It can hurt my family and friends when I seem to pass judgment. “DON’T DO THAT!” I’m an enforcer, who is just as confused as everyone else. We’re all trying to machete our way through an overwhelming number of choices and ever-changing information.

I think of my family, who’s dealt with hard health issues. And I’ve wanted to defend them against more suffering. So I thrust information upon them, like the rules I’m finding must be right, even though they’ve been searching for answers themselves for years. I think I might just be adding to the problem, creating a contagious mental disease of my own.

. . .

I love this idea I found in a book written by a yogi, where you never turn down a meal or gift that’s given to you. Even if it’s something you don’t eat. Because you want the karma to stay positive. You want the giver to feel that they’re doing a good thing.

And I’m realizing the importance of that.

Because a lot of my life right now, what I find meaning in, is defending people from suffering. Whether it’s from making a career choice they might regret or forgetting to enjoy life. But it’s easy for me to lose sight of the SPIRIT of the message.

You can encourage others to work on things they enjoy, but you shouldn’t make people feel bad if they’re in traditional jobs.

You can encourage others to live in a healthier way, but you shouldn’t be perfect. Because what is perfect? You have no idea. You’re just following all the rules that you think are “right.” But you’re not perfect, and it’s better to be someone who says “Yes!” with love than it is to say “I don’t do (such and such)” with the implication that they should feel bad about themselves.

The tension is between creating and enforcing. It seems like you need both — to come up with rules you love, to enforce them if it makes life better, and to let go of them if it makes life worse.

It’s not to say you relinquish discipline, or lay down and accept bad behavior. This isn’t the avoidance of uncomfortable conversations. You can still criticize ideas and behavior. It’s to be gracious and respectful of people, to treat others the way you’d want to be treated: with kindness and compassion.

. . .

Here’s an ugly truth: good marketing makes you feel incomplete.

In order to sell a solution, there must be a problem. I have to point out your pain, your flaws, and thrust a magnifying glass in front of your supposed inadequacies. There’s an art to it, of course — a human touch — but still… I get to tell you there’s something wrong in your life, and if you believe me, you buy what I’m selling. Even if what I’m selling is super cool, you don’t feel like you’re enough until you have it.

And this can go on your entire life, without you ever really processing it. That everything around you is telling you, “Hmm… nope, not good enough.” And you believe them. It makes you feel hurt, and cynical.

And you start treating everyone else the same way. Your guard is up, and they’re not good enough for you. And you’re not good enough for yourself.

. . .

“Try the scene again. Only this time, you like each other.”

Improv is amazing. You watch a conversation totally flounder and die, and you’re not quite sure what went wrong. And then it hits you — the energy. The karma. It was off. They were criticizing, being negative. It’s like trying to love with the emergency brake on. You can’t get anywhere.

As soon as you start saying “YES” to every offer you’re given, magic happens. Laughter is inevitable.

. . .

My ex put down the bottle of fish oil, and pondered… What if we just focused on being more positive? Thinking good thoughts? If the mind can heal the body, why aren’t we more focused on that? Who cares about DHA levels? How can we make each other feel better, all the time?

I met a neuroscientist who studies the brain when it’s in love. Interestingly, when two people hug each other for 20 seconds, their bodies and minds change. The neurons in their guts communicate with each other, and they get on the same frequency — their shoulders relax, the tension drops, and on a primal level, they know they’re friends. We’re safe together. Whereas it might take a half hour to do that if we’re just talking.

Maybe we should be touching and cuddling and hugging each other more. Talking less. Who cares how smart you are. How do you make people feel when they’re around you? It’s easy to be stimulating; the trick is to rejuvenate, rather than exhaust.

. . .

My friend from college remarked that she was proud I ate donuts with her, with zero hesitation. I didn’t make judgments or talk about feelings of guilt or regret, because I didn’t have them. I was just happy to be with my friend.

I want to be a good friend, and a good son. But the truth is that I didn’t make up a lot of the rules I find myself enforcing. I don’t always fully understand them either. So, why wouldn’t I laugh at them? Why take them soooo seriously? I’m not going to die — I shoveled a lot of junk in my body for three decades. And I’m still here. One meal, one day, even one week won’t kill me. Follow your favorite rules, do what you want to do, and have fun. Break the rules when the occasion calls for it.

Enforcers are exhausting. Live and let live. That means live your life, and let others live theirs. Because most people are really good, and they are doing the best they can. Lead by example, by shining your light. Help others when they ask for it, because that’s when they’re ready.

. . .

One of the top 5 regrets of the dying is “I wish I’d let myself be happier.” So, let yourself.

SLOMO from Josh Izenberg on Vimeo.