Of Friendship and Personal Responsibility

One of the philosophies I have lived by in the past few years is the doctrine of personal responsibility: Every individual is primarily responsible for his or her decisions, successes, failures, feelings, and attitudes. That’s not to say that ‘outside factors’ cannot impact those things—they can—but ultimately people have more control over their own lives and their own feelings than they usually admit.

Ultimately, life is a series of personal choices that dictate 90 percent of its outcomes.

If you pay attention to the world around you, you will constantly hear people trying to offload blame for their bad choices onto others. When they get fired it’s not because they fell asleep on the job (consequence of choosing to stay up late), but because ‘my boss hates me.’ When they rob a bank it’s not because they’re selfish and choose to take money they haven’t earned, but because ‘I had a bad upbringing.’ When they fly planes into buildings or blow up abortion clinics it’s not because they choose to kill and injure people, it’s because ‘God wants me to.’ But these are all cop-outs, and there are millions more—small and large—where they come from.

I am tired of them.

With respect to friendships, three important considerations come to mind as part of this doctrine of personal responsibility. First, I must never forget that my friends are responsible for their actions and behaviors toward me, toward others, and toward themselves—and for the consequences thereof. Second, I must never forget that I am likewise responsible for my own actions and behaviors. Third and finally, it is my responsibility to choose my friends based on those interrelated responsibilities and how we each live up to them (or don’t).

When I first came to these conclusions a few years ago, my circle of ‘friends’ got purged. One-by-one, I evaluated each relationship by those criteria only to discover that the vast majority of people I considered friends were not friends at all. Most of them expected me to always be there for them, but were rarely willing to be there for me. They wanted me to listen to their life’s troubles, but were unwilling to entertain my well-intentioned advice or, for that matter, listen to my life’s troubles. They were one-way friendships, and when I finally realized this I eliminated them from my life.

Today, my circle of friends is much, much smaller than it was at its height, but the average quality of those friendships is much better. When choosing friends, I now value quality over quantity.

But people are dynamic. They change. Sometimes they change for the better, and too-often they change for the worse. Some of the friends I purged worked their way back into my life after reevaluating how they behave toward me and toward others. And, sadly, some that survived that initial purge fell away later when their friendships with me degraded into the one-sided falsehoods I mentioned earlier.

This last instance happened again recently—following a long period of stability—which brought all of this back to the top of my mind.

Somebody I’ve been close to for many years had begun behaving rudely toward my wife and me over the last few months and began exhibiting many of the other signs of a one-sided friendship. Initially, we took this as a phase and expected it to be short-lived—after all, this person was going through some rough times and had a lot on her mind. I have always been willing to accept isolated incidents of selfish, rude, and mean behavior from friends—everybody has those days; I’m guilty of them myself now and then!—but when those behaviors become a pattern that overshadows the value of that relationship, that is where the blind acceptance ends.

Almost two week ago, this ‘friend’ was downright insulting and mean toward my wife Melissa. Following months of questionable behavior toward us, combined with her displaying many elements of my brief Grownups Only, Please piece, she had finally crossed the line. That Sunday morning was the moment that the unpleasantness of this friendship finally overshadowed its diminishing value. It was time to cut ties.

Was I happy to declare an end to a long-lasting friendship that had once been so important to me? Of course not. But at the same time, I recognize that it is a bad idea to hold fast to any dysfunctional relationship—whether for the sake of habit, nostalgia, or a desire to have the highest number of friends possible. When any relationship causes more harm than good, it must be abandoned.

As I mentioned earlier, this is not necessarily a permanent end. At least three of my close friends were once ‘on the outs’ with me, and I happily accepted two of them back later (in the third case, she accepted me back later). But I do not subscribe to the doctrine of blind forgiveness expected by so many child-like adults and preached by so many new-age Christians who miss the point of their own Gospel. Forgiveness can be received through repentance, and only through repentance. The person who has done something wrong must admit they were wrong, ask for forgiveness, and—most importantly—change their ways.

Anything is possible, but I never hold my breath.

In the mean time, I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done. I’ll press on with complete dedication to the friends who I know would do the same for me, and I’ll keep pruning those who expect more than they would ever be willing to give. That is my responsibility to myself, and I will not shy away from it.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.