Two Different Kinds of Friends, Are You Real or Fake?

I find myself in Riga, Latvia in eastern Europe and while it’s similar to Canada with its northern disposition and affinity for hockey and basketball, the two countries are otherwise very unalike. Walking around my hometown in Canada would be met with the sights of relatively small buildings with modest heights and space, space for pretty much as far as the eye can see. Conversely, walking in Riga is thatched with sets of evenly parallel streets typical of downtown settings and buildings with fine carved, dated architecture expanding far above your head, built far beyond your time (or your grandparents for that matter). It’s a welcomed scene for a Canadian guy who is normally surrounded by the ever-expanding, but comparatively fresh buildings from home.

The differences don’t stop with the city and its surroundings of course, with cultural norms and behaviours following their own unwritten but established rules. To the outsider looking in, it might even seem like these people just aren’t as friendly, operating on their own wavelengths and at their own pace. Even my limited encounters with some locals had demonstrated their knack for being pretty blunt when something wasn’t funny, pronounced horribly wrong, or just plain stupid- all things I’m quite capable of in conversation, sometimes in bunches! Like when I tried to say a former Latvian NBA basketball players name just my second night here, which was met with a laugh and a comment about how brutal my pronunciation was…

Building from this, I was reading a book that serendipitously coincided with this area of Europe and shared the thoughts of a teacher on these differences, and explained by the author of the book (which was The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, by Mark Manson- a great read on a healthy, productive mindset that’s worth checking out).

To summarize, the Russian teacher explained that the strong influences of socialism and communism felt by older generations had shaped the social behaviours of the people here (there is a heavy Russian influence in Latvia, and about 1 in 3 people are Russian). Basically, during these times in the mid 20th century, fear became a very real factor in the lives of the people and trust from one individual to another became one of the most valuable commodities. People became motivated to find individuals they could trust, and those who were trustworthy had more value to others, thus having a greater social gain. The teacher explained that the quickest way to build this was through blunt, honest, and genuine encounters in order to show this quality and gain the trust of the people around you.

Flip over to North-American culture and you see such a vast difference, where people often modify their behaviour to be liked more or present themselves differently at home, work, or otherwise. Capitalistic influences and making money and as much of it as you possibly can has seemingly motivated this difference, with people on a cultural level interested in changing how they act in order to maximize success in different ways. As a result, more people native to this continent are more prone to living in ways unauthentic to their true self, with these background influences of society ultimately playing a role in who they are as individuals.

While the first few instances of experiencing this firsthand were a bit of a shock, the timing of reading an explanation on why it’s like this was perfect. With this in mind now I find the difference pretty refreshing, and definitely something possible in learning from. It’s more typical here that what you see is what you get; if you just said something stupid or definitely, totally not their humour at all (ugh)- you’ll know about it. But when you hear something positive, it holds more weight because you know its true and not some BS that someone’s blowing up the back to make you feel better, or some sales pitch to make them seem like they have more value as a friend.

Just some things I found super interesting that got the wheels turning in thought and I’m sure there’s more to it- what do you think?

Leave a comment below or on Facebook!

5 Virtues Necessary For Every Friendship

No matter how adept someone is at maintaining friendships, there will always be conflict. Despite these struggles, friendship and social interaction is a necessary part of human life, so understanding them better is a vitally important topic. Here are some research based approaches of making sure those around you accurately receive how you feel about them (with sources at the bottom).

1. Adding Value

Poor friends take more value than they give to another, while good friends add more value than they receive. Healthy relationships function best when the value each puts in is relatively equal, and without expectation. What is adding value? Adding value is anything that makes the another feel cared for, loved, and valued by the other. A simple method of someone showing the value of another person in their life is by checking in with how a person really feels or is doing. Beyond the basic nature of “how are you” and other formalities, checking in with how someone is truly doing is an essential form of love in the way of expressing genuine care. If this is common sense, great- applying it further and making a conscious effort to think of more ways to make someone know they’re valued to you is fantastic and still underused in many relationships.

2. Empathy

This articles contents are all interrelated to each other, and empathy is a tool to better understand the people around you. By making an effort to see and understand what another person may be feeling about something is a great way to not only gain motivation for helping them, but also to understand the best way to help them out. The old saying of “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” is the basis of this idea and, aside from the overused cliche, it still rings true in dealing with not only your friends, but with anyone you come in contact with. It is much more difficult to be consumed with negative emotions such as anger and frustration with someone when you have a truly empathetic standpoint on why they might be doing what they’re doing. In addition, developing a strong, empathetic perspective has been shown to increase investment, as well as genuine care in others success.

3. Honesty and Being Authentic

Being honest and authentic is a no-brainer, but to expand on it further, openness and honesty is also relevant apart from just ‘telling the truth’. There are hundreds of interactions where people suppress their genuine feelings on something for fear of being rude, hurting someones feelings, or otherwise. For example, in Canadian culture (God bless our maple-syrup-loving souls), there are many cultural norms around being polite and friendly to one another. This is great and doesn’t need a remedy; the only time this becomes a problem is when someone avoids telling another person what that they need to hear, or pretending everything is terrific when it really isn’t. This can hamper someone else’s growth as well as create resentments from within that result from expressing a form of inauthentic behaviour. In other words, if you have to be someone you’re not, say something you wouldn’t say, or pretend to be happy and fantastic, research shows that it will take a toll on your own mental well-being. Being authentic and letting your true self show is easier and beneficial to yourself, as well as the people around you.

4. Communication

As mentioned earlier, these points are connected and this one stems from above. Knowing how to effectively communicate with someone else as well as knowing the right time to is important in making sure the message is received in the right context and in the right state. On top of this, communicating from a perspective of empathy can help make sure that the other person knows it’s coming from a place of love; strengthening the overall message.

5. Committing to Happiness

There’s a mass movement behind loving yourself and putting yourself first. While this is important, it should not take away from investing in your friendships by committing to someones else’s happiness. When someone commits to another’s happiness and they put it ahead of the friendship, they make a decision to do things that are best for the other person despite if it’s uncomfortable. For example, holding someone accountable can be tough and unpleasant, but is necessary to benefit them in the long run. Loving yourself and loving your friends are not mutually exclusive ideas, meaning they should be done together.

Leave a comment below or on Facebook on what you think is missing.

Photos from Elbsandsteingebirge (top), and Bastei Bridge (above) Germany
ReferencesLavner, J. A., Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (2016). Does Couples’ Communication Predict Marital Satisfaction, or Does Marital Satisfaction Predict Communication?. Journal of marriage and the family78(3), 680–694. doi:10.1111/jomf.12301

Valuing empathy and emotional intelligence in health leadership: a study of empathy, leadership behaviour and outcome effectiveness. (2005). Health Services Management Research, 18(1), 1–12.