What is Authenticity? (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

 

Woman Shaking Hands (Retrieved on June 9, 2014 from http://thefutureofink.com/affiliate-sales-digital-content/)

Woman Shaking Hands (Retrieved on June 9, 2014 from http://thefutureofink.com/affiliate-sales-digital-content/)

Authenticity. Just what is authenticity? And, what is it not to be authentic? To be authentic, to me, means many things. A person who is authentic is real, honest, genuine, and appropriate. Someone who is authentic is one who is able to have respect and appreciation for another person, but not necessarily always agree with or go along with the other person, especially if that other person’s words and actions are inappropriate, unprofessional, wrong, immoral, or illegal.

For instance, a friend who is a true friend can say something to another person that might be potentially hurtful, but may be something that needs to be said. A true friend is one who can say something to another that is honest, and that the other person may not like to hear, but also that is something that needs to be brought to the other’s attention in order for growth, development, and progress to occur within that other person. A person who is able to risk losing a friendship or personal interaction by behaving in these ways is one who is authentic.

There are also those who are not authentic. Inauthentic people are those who are unable to say what they truly think or feel. People who are not authentic say and behave in ways that they want, being oblivious of the manner in which they may speak or act toward others in ways that are harmful and hurtful.

When I think of people who are not authentic, I think of those who commit some type of wrong against another, and ultimately, against themselves. These are people who may be unfaithful to their spouse; sexually harass others; overlook, minimize, or deny serious issues occurring within relationships with others, such as different types of abuses; commit crimes against others; and deny that they have had any part in causing another person to think, feel, or act in a certain way.

People who use verbal, physical, and/or sexual harm toward others, therefore, are those who are inauthentic. People who use their power, influence, money, and status in ways that harm others, deny services to others, or marginalize others are those who are also inauthentic. People who are the puppets of others, doing harm toward others just because they are “doing what they are told” and/or “following orders” are those who are inauthentic, as well. They are unable to see how their words and actions are inauthentic and harmful toward others.

There are many more examples of people in my life who have been inauthentic rather than authentic. Perhaps this is because they are more prominent in my mind as a result of the hurt and harm they have caused. At any rate, some people who have been authentic in my life have been a school principal who became my supervisor in a school where I was substitute teaching many years ago. He was authentic.

Another person who is authentic is a lady who was an administrative assistant in a Catholic school at which I worked several years ago. She is authentic. My son is also a person who is authentic. Perhaps it is because I have taught him to be authentic and that it is okay to be truthful about something, even when his conduct could have been better, that he is real. I am proud that my son is authentic, real, and honest.  I have found that those who are truly authentic seem to be people who are confident and sure of themselves, without having to put on a mask and hide who they really are.

An example of a person who is not authentic is a former professor/mentor who wrote recommendations to accompany my applications to law school many years ago. Believing that he and I had established a strong and good rapport, I asked him to provide recommendations for me, only later discovering that they were worthy of lining a trash can. He was and still is inauthentic, as I also had a recent experience in interacting with him in which he proved to me that he has remained inauthentic.

Other examples of people being inauthentic are those who portray themselves as trusted members of the community, and then betray that trust and confidence. These can be people such as a church priest who threaten others with the Mafia, simply because they are unable to take responsibility for their own wrongs. They prefer to dishonor themselves and cause harm to others because they are in denial and are unable to hold themselves accountable for their own unethical or immoral conduct. The same can be said of the wealthy and powerful church Santa Claus who sexually harasses those of the opposite sex, beginning when they are young girls, believing there is nothing wrong with his behavior, and in fact, blaming the girl for his own misconduct.

The same can be said of those whose misconduct reaches a criminal nature, particularly in relation to sexual abuse or sexual assault. And, what makes it worse is when a group, church, or community supports the person who is inauthentic because they are unable to be insightful about and believe that others can conduct themselves in the inauthentic manner that was described, which simply leads to even more inauthenticity with even more people. Additional people who are inauthentic are those who stand by and doing nothing to stop another person from being inauthentic toward another person in a harmful way. Simply not wanting to get involved is a cowardly excuse to me.

In my experience, it has often been those who have positions of authority, and/or power due to wealth, influence, or status in a group, church, workplace, or community who are inauthentic. A person who is inauthentic can also be a parent or a spouse, simply because they are not real and are unable to consider or believe the truth of another’s story. Perhaps no one was there for them in their time of need, so they are unable to place themselves in the same position when a loved one is in a position of need.

It is important for people to be real and authentic. Often, people who are inauthentic believe they are always correct, believe they can do no wrong, and are unable to even listen to or consider that they may have had some part in a situation in which their inauthenticity caused another person to be harmed in some way. It takes two. And, sometimes, it may be an entire group that is inauthentic versus one person who is authentic. When people are unable to recognize that they are inauthentic, such inauthenticity only continues and potentially worsens.

What is needed for people to recognize is that in order to be authentic, one must be able to admit wrongdoing; take responsibility for his or her actions; not believe that he or she is always correct about everything; and make efforts to improve his or her conduct. Only in those ways will people become more authentic, being responsible and accountable for their words and actions, and making efforts to improve, no longer harming others, whether intentionally or not.

Hurray for Boys Standing up to Bullying! (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Stop Bullying (Retrieved from http://www.ftajax.com/bullying/ on December 27, 2013)

Stop Bullying (Retrieved from http://www.ftajax.com/bullying/ on December 27, 2013)

Last week, I attended a particular all-boy holiday gathering with my son and his dad.  We are brand new to the group, and began meeting the boys and their families who are in the group (but for one family whom we already knew) that evening.  My former spouse and I sat at a large round table with our son, and many other boys came and filled up our table.  Our son sat among the boys, including next to his new friend whom he made through school.  My Ex and I were the only adults at the table with the boys who were aged 10-12 years old.

During the meal of this gathering, one boy approached another boy and began bullying him.  I knew that both boys were brothers and passed judgment on them that they probably behave in such ways in private, much as I often see older brothers do with younger brothers.  My son, who was sitting next to the younger boy who was being bullied by his older and bigger brother, told him to “stop bullying.”  The boy who was being bullied completed the catch phrase – “speak up” – that has been seen on an anti-bullying TV commercial.  The older boy told my son to “shut up” as he messed with his younger brother, the older boy physically pushing his younger brother on his head.  My son stood up to the older boy, and he backed down and walked away from them.

During this interaction, I told my son from across the table not to get involved.  First, we were new to the group and did not really know the nuances of the interactions between the boys.  Secondly, I was concerned for my son’s safety, and did not desire for him to be hurt in some way by the older, bigger boy.  My son, however, knows what it is like to be bullied, and he does not like it.  He knows that I generally stand up to bullying, and I can see that my efforts have had a positive effect on him.

I later kissed and hugged my son for his involvement in stopping the bullying that occurred.  I told my son that I was very proud of him.  I also explained my reasons to him for not wanting him to get involved, however he saw that bullying is bullying, no matter who it is directed toward.  He did not want to see it happening, and he took a stand against and stopped it.  While he was uncomfortable about the situation, he was also proud of himself – and rightly so – that he could help someone and make a positive difference for him.  The situation also boosted his confidence level.  He was able to help the underdog, as he has all too often been in many situations, especially in school as well as within this boys’ organization on a broader scope.

In the past, I have also stood up against bullying – not within this individual boys’ organization in which we are new – but within other groups associated with this national boys’ organization.  The organization is supposed to promote goodness, kindness, and Christianity among the boys.  And, when a mom such as myself does not see that happening – and when my son also does not observe it occurring – we have stood up, made our voices heard, and taken steps to attempt to stop the bullying – not only among the boys, but also among adults, as well.  Sometimes, we have been successful, but most times, we have not.

Even so, the experience that my son had in standing up to and stopping bullying is a small victory.  Not only is it a victory for the boy who was being bullied by his older brother, it is a victory for my son, too.  He can place himself in the shoes of another person who is being bullied because he has all too often been bullied by so many.  The amount of bullying that he has experienced is incredible.

Now, at 10, my son is at an age where he feels confident enough to actually stand up to bullying.  When I did not want to stand up to bullying, he did.  That is also a victory for me, as well – my own son stood up to and stopped bullying.  I have taught him something, standing up for the right thing; and for that, I am very proud of him and know that I have made a positive difference in his life. 🙂

Note: This article has also been published, separately, in my anti-bullying group in LinkedIn, “People Against Retaliation and Bullying” on December 27, 2013.

“‘Team Greiner’: UB’s Champions” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Me with Carol and Bill Greiner at UB Graduation, Amherst, New York, May 1993

Me with Carol and Bill Greiner at UB Graduation, Amherst, New York, May 1993

When I think of Carol and Bill Greiner, I have fond memories of my interactions with them while I was an undergraduate student at the University at Buffalo (UB).  Studying psychology, political science, and music performance at UB for three and one-half years provided me with many opportunities for interactions with the Greiners.  It enriched my life to have them there, to be excellent role models, to experience their interest in and compassion for students.  As I walk down my nostalgic memory lane, I can accept and be happy with the interactions that I had with the Greiners at many university events, though I will always feel a sense of “unfinished business” due to the things that I was unable to bring myself to say to them.

For that, I wish I had been more mature, more open, more able to trust that I would receive a response from them that I desired.  Of all of the wonderful events and experiences that I had as a student at UB, there was one situation that occurred about which I was unable to speak with them – being the victim of a crime on campus.  I still wish I could have had more time to speak with them, and be able to open up to Carol about it, in particular, but at the time, it was too recent, too painful, too embarrassing and humiliating.  It took me years to fully address and come to terms with what had occurred, and to receive the support that I needed.  And, it was years later when I was able to disclose to Carol, anonymously, about my experience, which was helpful, but still not the same as speaking about it in person.

Something in me needed Carol to know what I experienced; I had hoped the Greiners might be able to implement programs or policies that would have better-protected students such as myself who had experienced what I did.  Never having shared about what it was provided no potential for change, improvement, or support for other UB students who had the same experience.  Perhaps, one day, I will not feel that sense of regret and loss about being unable to speak with the Greiners about the traumatic and life-changing crime that I experienced in my last semester as an undergraduate student at UB.

I first met Bill Greiner when he was the University Provost and I was a freshman, just taking flight as a student at UB.  He was at an event that welcomed students who were new to UB; my parents were there too, and my mom encouraged me to speak with him, and I did.  At first, I was intimidated about speaking with him, though when I did, he made me feel comfortable and welcome; he made me feel understood, appreciated, and respected.  The highlight of the event, in fact, was personally speaking with Bill.  I still remember the confidence he instilled in me in only a few minutes of conversation that I would do well and be successful at UB; I appreciated that.

Within two years, Bill was appointed President of UB.  That semester, I saw and spoke with him again at Homecoming.  At that time, the Homecoming parade was organized at the Main Street Campus in Buffalo, and the floats were driven to the Amherst Campus.  I was a representative of the UB Irish Club for Homecoming that year, in 1991; and was pleased to see and speak with Bill there.  His presence reflected his interest in and concern for students; that was evident and obvious, and again, was something for which I was appreciative.  As time progressed, I determined that these qualities were infused in his character and personality.  He did not just go to some rare event on occasion; he was actively involved in attending and participating in UB events, many of them, jointly, with Carol.

That year and the next, I saw both Bill and Carol at the Homecoming football games; and I saw and/or spoke with Bill on at least three other occasions on the Amherst Campus during my last semester.  On one occasion, I saw him while he was being interviewed in the Plaza by a TV reporter; on a second, I overcame my nervousness and visited Bill at his office, taking many gladioli from my family garden; and on the third, I spoke with him as we happened to be leaving Capen Hall at the same time one evening.  ‘Team Greiner’ was always there, doing more than their part to make UB even more of a success.

The Greiner Family, Susan with Husband, Daniel with Wife, Bill and Carol, Stephen with Wife, Terry with Partner, September 1992

The Greiner Family on Bill’s Inauguration Day as UB President; Susan with Husband, Daniel with Wife, Bill and Carol, Kevin with Wife, Terry with Partner; Sept. 1992

In my last semester at a senior at UB, Bill was inaugurated as President, and I saw alot more of the Greiners.  In fact, I saw them at so many events that I looked forward to seeing and speaking with them, and I actually expected them to be at the events that I attended.  It seemed that everywhere I went, ‘Team Greiner’ was there, too.  The supportive actions of Bill and Carol toward UB, and the students, faculty, and staff were warmly-welcomed and appreciated by so many.

In September 1992, Bill’s Inauguration Week as President of UB provided opportunities not only to speak with Bill and Carol, but also to experience the happiness and joy of those events with them.  There was a Roman Catholic Mass performed at St. Joseph’s Church, right next to the UB Main Street Campus in Buffalo to essentially “kick off” Inauguration Week.  I made every effort to attend because it had been the night before that I had experienced crime victimization at UB; I was already traumatized from it, but did not realize or deal with it.

Additionally, at St. Joseph’s Church following the mass, I was also able to meet and speak with certain other members of the Greiner Family, including his sons and their wives and/or significant partners.  It was wonderful to have the feeling that the qualities of both care and compassion so evident in Carol and Bill had also been transferred to their admirable offspring.  In speaking with their adult children, one immediately knew that they did a fine job at parenting.

Me with Greiners at UB Christmas Concert, Amherst, New York, December 1992

Me with Greiners at UB Christmas Concert, Amherst, New York, December 1992

As Bill’s Inauguration Week progressed, I attended what I recall as being a symphonic concert on campus to celebrate his achievement; it was beautiful.  And, I also attended Bill’s Inauguration as the 13th President of UB, an event for which I remember arriving very early because I wanted my choice selection of seat, as well as to scope out the best locations to take pictures to add tangibility to my fond memories.  Again, I had opportunities to see and speak with members of the Greiner Family.

Following the actual Inauguration was a reception that was held in the new Student Union building, one of many major projects that Bill influenced and completed at UB.  By this time, I really felt a connection with the Greiner’s and their family.  I had seen and interacted with them at several events, and believed that I could trust being more openly, emotionally vulnerable with them.  I had particularly wanted to share about the crime that I had experienced only a few days prior to the Inauguration.  I tried to do so at the reception, separately, with Carol, and with Terry, one of the Greiners’ sons, but I could not bring myself to do it.  I had psyched myself up for it, but talked myself out of doing it, and have always regretted it; it was just too painful and traumatic.

As someone who was active in numerous UB clubs and groups, including ethnic/language-related groups and student government, I received invitations to attend the Student Association’s Christmas parties for two consecutive years, in 1991 and 1992.  On both of those occasions, I saw Bill and Carol, but spoke with them only at the second such event.  By then, three more months had passed, and I had mentally-buried and not dealt with the crime that I had experienced.  It was also at this event that I asked Bill if he would write a recommendation for me.  He asked me to see that he received my resume, said that he would write a recommendation for me, and he did.  I still have and cherish it.

Prior to finishing the last of my classes as an undergraduate student at UB in December 1992, I again saw and spoke with Carol and Bill at a Christmas Concert, held in the Ellicott Complex, my group of dormitory buildings on the Amherst Campus.  Following the Christmas Concert, Carol was very warm toward me, much as always, and spoke with me about alot in a short time.  She made me feel important, valued, and accepted; she showed to me much warmth, understanding, and compassion, like one would receive from a good mother, and much as I do with my own son.

I felt such a connection with Carol during our conversation, and remember wishing that it could last forever.  I needed the warmth and compassion of someone; and I privately thanked God for her, and for her to have treated me as kindly and lovingly as she did.  Interestingly, Bill was somewhat of a sour puss that evening and I could tell that he did not want to talk, though I did not allow that to dampen my happy holiday spirits.  I remember wondering how anyone could seem so grouchy after such a wonderful and festive holiday concert.  It was a different side of him that I had not yet experienced and had not expected, but accepted on that occasion.

The last time that I interacted with the Greiner’s was when I returned to UB for my graduation in May 1993.  I had completed my coursework for my two baccalaureate degrees in December, moved to and was working in Manhattan, and came back to participate in the graduation ceremonies.  I’m glad that I did, and I have many wonderful memories of celebrating my accomplishment with many of my student colleagues as well as my family.  Seeing the Greiners again at this event showed me how much I had grown in a few months of having finished my studies, though it also left me with a longing and nostalgia for maintaining a connection with them.  It was difficult and painful to let go.

The final time that I saw the Greiners was at SUNY Day in Albany in 1999.  SUNY Day is a day that is arranged for student delegates of State University of New York system to go Albany, New York – the state capitol – to meet and speak with state government representatives, receive tours of their offices, and hear lectures.  At the time, I was taking undergraduate courses at Buffalo State College to complete my social studies teacher certification, and I was a student government representative to the event.

It was at SUNY Day that I met former Assembly Member Sam Hoyt from Buffalo; he invited me to intern in his Buffalo office, and I later did, having an outstanding experience.  It was also on this occasion that I only saw Bill and Carol from a distance in a conference room as I was already seating in the back with my group when they entered with several UB student athletes.  It was good to see them again, if only from a distance, and to know that ‘Team Greiner’ was still hard at work for UB.

I lost touch with the Greiners many years ago.  They were people with whom I had hoped to maintain a connection, and to share about the traumatic crime that I had experienced.  There was one occasion more than four years after I was victimized that I got the courage to go to the Greiners’ home.  At the time, I worked just down the street from them at Key Bank.

This time, I had resolved that I would tell them about it, and had hoped and prayed that they would welcome me, but they were not at home.  They had the power and influence to make change at UB to help other students who were survivors of traumatic crimes that occurred on campus, as well as to help see that such crimes were prevented and students were educated about them.  I never got the chance to share my ideas with them.

Around that time, and due to being unable to speak with the Greiners about my concerns, I decided to take my concerns to their son, Terry, at his office in Buffalo.  I am an individual who likes to get things accomplished, and to do so personally, and therefore, my aim was to personally-share information with him about what I experienced and request that there could be some way that improvements related to it could be made for other students at UB who had the same or similar experiences.  It took so much courage and initiative for me to go to Terry’s office, but he turned me away, did not speak with me, and did not accept me into his office.  I was devastated, and felt re-victimized all over again.

I do, however, fondly remember the many events and interactions that I shared with Carol and Bill; and I prefer to remember those.  At the time of my writing of this article, it will have been nearly four years since Bill’s death.  When I read the news about his passing in the UB alumni magazine, it was unexpected and saddening.  To Carol, I mailed a sympathy card, expressing my condolences.  I am sure that such a great man is missed by those who knew him, especially his family, who took priority in his life, much as family should.

So, I would like to think – at this time of the holidays – that Bill is looking down over us and helping us to spread holiday cheer to each other.  I would like to think and remember that he would have been right in the mix of all that, and would not have missed it for anything.  Thanks, ‘Team Greiner,’ for all you have done for me, and for all of your unfathomable support to UB.  You are UB’s unsurpassed champions! 🙂

References:

“Bill Greiner.”  Wikipedia, 2013.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Greiner

DellaContrada, J. (2009).  William R. Greiner Dies.  Buffalo, NY: UB – University at Buffalo: News Releases.

State University of New York at Buffalo Graduation, May 1993.  Buffalo, NY.

Special Note:

This article was also published by both the UB Alumni Association on LinkedIn (December 2013).  Mountain View, CA: LinkedIn; and by the State University of New York at Buffalo business group on LinkedIn (December 2013).  Mountain View, CA: LinkedIn.

“Sexual Harassment: Men Behaving Badly” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Recently, I experienced a situation of sexual harassment.  The man who harassed me is an older Caucasian, perhaps about 60 years old, and is a professional at an educational institution.  I came to know him through a presentation he made in a class, and he subsequently offered me a part-time writing education position.  Desiring to continue to professionally network with this man, sometime later, I stopped by to see him at his office.  We made small talk for a couple of minutes, and when I was about to leave, I extended my hand for him to shake it.  He took my hand and kissed it.  That’s not all, but I leave it at that for my purposes here.

This is not the first experience of sexual harassment that I have experienced or reported throughout my life.  In fact, it is one of many.  😦  The first experience of sexual harassment that I remember was as a five-year-old girl, being sexually harassed by a wealthy entrepreneur in my community while my family was at one of his businesses.  This man got away with it then, and continued it. 

Thinking back through each experience of sexual harassment that I have encountered, it has always been a married man, 90% of whom are Caucasian.  Men have deliberately and provocatively grabbed their privates in front of me, breathed heavily and suggestively while standing behind me, suggestively said that they “have something special” for me, and have just used alot of inappropriate sexual innuendo, lewd sexual jokes, or other sexually suggestive and/or sexually aggressive words or actions.  It is extremely offensive and creates a hostile environment, whether at work, school, church, or any other place.

So many experiences of sexual harassment prompt me to ask, “What is wrong with men that they believe they must sexually harass girls and women?”  All of the men who have sexually harassed me have been married men.  Don’t they get their “fill” from their wives at home?  Are they so insecure that it empowers them to sexually harass girls and women?  Or, are they too confident or cocky that they think it is acceptable and that they will get away with it?  Perhaps it is amusing or entertaining for them, and they get their thrills out of sexually harassing girls and women.  Whatever the reason, it is wrong, dehumanizing, objectifying, immoral, offensive, and disgusting.

Too many men have the wrong idea about girls and women.  Men ought to be more protective of girls and women.  The men who have sexually harassed me have wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and/or neices.  Do they behave in the same manner toward them?  Do they believe that their actions are any less serious if they sexually harass someone outside of their families?  😦  Many of these men who have sexually harassed me have daughters and even granddaughters who are my age!  That men sexually harass girls and women diminishes all men.  That so many resort to acting on their sexual desires when it is inappropriate creates situations that are intolerable and unacceptable.

My philosophy is that real men respect and appreciate girls and women.  Real men stand up for girls and women, and take a stand against those men who harass or otherwise harm them.  Real men do not believe, promote, encourage, or accept so many of society’s lies about girls and women.  Real men care about girls and women because they understand how challenging and difficult it is for them to achieve and be successful.

When men sexually harass women – particularly me – it completely changes my perspective of them.  There are always those men who believe they can sexually harass women, or worse.  There are always those men who escalate their actions because they have gotten away with it.  It seems to empower them and give them even more confidence for the next time that they sexually harass a female. 

Sadly, in situations in which the girl or woman stands up to the man who is sexually harassing her, I have found that, typically, the female is the one who is blamed.  Too often, both men and women believe the man who is the sexual harasser.  A man could sexually harass a girl or woman for years, but when the female attempts to stop it in whatever ways, it is she who is incorrectly blamed and revictimized.  😦  This has been my experience and the experience that I have observed in other girls and women, as well.  That so many refuse to see and understand this further diminishes people as a humanity.  So, even though girls and women are blamed and revictimized by these situations, we must not remain silent about them.  Silence does not imply acceptance, however that is what it means to many people.  We must make our voices be heard in order to effect positive change for the good of everyone.

Men and women must do more to stand up for girls and women who are sexually harassed and worse.  Men must change their attitudes toward girls and women so that they are viewed in human terms, not being dehumanized or objectified by men.  And, the women who believe and support men who sexually harm girls and women in any way must also change their perspectives and realize how far down they have fallen.  More positive change and support are definitely needed for girls and women who experience sexual harassment and other types of sexual misconduct.

“What is a True Friend?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

What is a true friend?  What makes a person be a true friend to another?  There are many qualities of a friend that people may categorize as causing someone to be a true friend, and some people’s characteristics of a true friend may differ from others.  There are many qualities of what makes a true friend for me that I would like to share.

Firstly, a true friend likes, respects, and appreciates you for who you are.  A true friend is supportive, understanding, encouraging, and honest, and is not unnecessarily led or influenced by others in their opinions, decisions, and judgments about you.  A true friend sees the whole picture, not just what’s on the surface.  A true friend seeks to know and understand you, to be sensitive to you.  A true friend is there for you, encouraging you to be true to yourself, to help and protect yourself, to be your best, to improve yourself – your inner self.  A true friend knows you, seeks to know you, and appreciates what they know about you.  A true friend is always a friend, regardless of the issue or situation.

Next, true friends are those who can listen to and hear you out on any subject.  Sometimes, in providing others with certain information about ourselves, we are seeking to know whether or not we can fully trust and confide in another person.  Most people are uncomfortable with information with which they cannot cope, whether it is information about a topic that causes discomfort to them, or whether it is just plain a topic that they cannot handle or put up a wall against.  A true friend can take in all information and remain supportive and understanding because such information may lead to something better, a deeper relationship and more trusting relationship, a confidence in the other person that one can share anything with them, any issue, any detail, without them shutting you out or turning you away.

Sometimes, just when you believe you have found a true friend, someone on whom you can count, confide, and trust, you discover completely the opposite about that person.  It is particularly painful in those for whom one cares or loves, such as family members, close friends, or those others with whom one has a close emotional and/or spiritual connection to discover that they are not a true friend.  One may discover that they are led or blinded by their own discomforts, biases, judgments, beliefs, and/or the pressures of others and even the institutions that they may represent.  They are incapable of being a true friend when they have sight, but cannot see; when they have eyes, but no vision; when they are bound to their own discomforts, and are unable and unwilling to see the bigger picture; when they are a puppet to the rules and policies of the institutions that they represent, yet they don’t realize it, and are being led astray.

At other times, however, one may discover that they indeed, have found and maintained a true friend.  There are at least a half-dozen people throughout my life whom I would consider as true friends, those with whom I can share anything, and time and time again, they have responded to me positively, supportively, and encouragingly.  They appreciate and support me for who I am.  They reflect the care about me that I would like to think that I similarly do for them.  They help me to realize and be myself.  They open doors for me rather than shut them.  They break down walls and barriers for me rather than create them.  They are those whose actions have continually and regularly surpassed those of others in wanting, doing, and assisting in the best for others.  They are true friends.

I am so appreciative of those people in my life who are true friends!  It seems that those people, similarly to myself, who are true friends and whom I consider to be true friends, have the same characteristics.  We are warm, kind, understanding, sensitive, honest, supportive, encouraging, intelligent, confident, and assertive.  We want the best for ourselves and others, and to bring out the best in ourselves and others.  We are people who are helpful, rather than harmful or destructive.  

True friends also bring and seek to bring important issues to others’ attention and awareness in order to effect positive change, improvement, and enhancement in our lives and those of others.  We are concerned for the welfare and well-being of ourselves and others, and we always seek and strive to achieve and accomplish that with our honesty, sincerity, and genuineness.  Leaders and public figures such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mahatma Gandhi are those whom I would consider to be a true friend to others on an even greater level than a close, personal true friend.

Sadly, too often, however, many people feel threatened by those positive qualities and characteristics that I previously described.  They may feel threatened due to their own insecurities and/or discomforts, shut us out, and refuse to listen to or hear us.  There may be something much greater at stake for the good of many others, yet when we are shut out, overlooked, denied, disrespected, discredited, or worse, it is they who have shown themselves of being untrustworthy and perhaps lacking in character. 

In those situations, one cannot count on that person to be a true friend, and must either seek the support and consult of someone else or rely on oneself.  I think this reflects that many people see only what they want to see, and not necessarily what is reality.  Too often, people are content to see only what is on the surface, and not ask questions, not dig deeper, and thus, they miss out on enjoying more meaningful and satisfying relationships with each other.

By being followers, such people are also not being leaders.  Leaders must be open to all information, all sides of an issue, all sides of a situation that they may not have even considered.  They must ask questions and seek to discover, not necessarily believing all that they see on the surface as deeper issues may be discovered that end up being for everyone’s benefit.  It is so sad to me that so many shut themselves out to the deeper issues, close themselves off due to their own discomforts and insecurities, fall short of potentially making situations, policies, and understandings of issues better for others rather than potentially worse. 

It is especially sad and disappointing to me when individuals who represent organizations or institutions shut out others, particularly when it is part of their job to be open to others.  One cannot speak with others who will not listen.  One cannot convince others of a different perspective when they have already made a decision to shut you out.  If you cannot trust a person to be open about hearing or considering one serious issue, there is no sense in presenting other important issues.  They think they are right and you are wrong; they think their way is perfect and your way is flawed.  This situation is potentially damaging and diminishing for everyone, and they may not even realize it. 

For how many years, decades, and lifetimes do people maintain sensitive or personal information all due to the fact that someone shut them out and would not listen to them due to the discomforts and/or insecurities of the other?  This is a perfect example of how individuals such as Jerry Sandusky are able to continue their damage and destruction upon others, when people don’t ask enough questions, when too many people don’t listen, when people shut each other out, when people choose to be blind rather than use their vision, regardless of the consequences. 

There are other situations in which red flags appeared prior to particular tragedies, yet those individuals who may have potentially stopped the situations from occurring either did not act or did not behave in a way that protected and saved others from harm.  Regarding the recent tragedy of senseless killings and injuries at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by James Holmes, here is another situation when potential blindness of others failed to protect and save lives.  And, further, in situations in which child sexual abuse – or similar abuses of power – by Catholic clergy is covered up by male church leaders such as Msgr. William Lynn of Philadelphia, one wonders what male leaders, if any, within the Catholic Church can be trusted?

A true friend, therefore, is also someone in whom one can confide their most sensitive issues (of course, as long as those issues are all legal, moral, and ethical), and will find that the friend keeps their confidence.  One finds that another is not a true friend in confiding their most sensitive and painful issues to another when that person shares those issues with others, especially to those who thereby unnecessarily misunderstand, misconstrue, and misjudge them because of it.

Someone is definitely your enemy if they do not have your best interests at heart.  Someone who incorrectly shares sensitive or confidential information without knowing the whole picture or all the facts, thereby damaging you, is definitely not a friend, but an enemy.  Those who are very direct about it are easy to identify, however there are also those whom I characterize as wolves in sheep’s clothing who take in sensitive information, twist it around, and use it to harm you.  We must all be especially cautious and aware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Throughout my life, there have been many of those, from whom I still feel and experience some of the damaging effects today.

There are few people in one’s life, therefore, whom they may consider to be a true friend.  A true friend, after all, is extremely hard to find.  A true friend is even harder to maintain.  Even more difficult to experience is the friend who turns into an enemy, a friend who by their own discomforts, insecurities, or feelings of being threatened by information that they don’t want to hear – or which information may be biased or incorrect to begin with – puts up a wall against you and shuts you out.  I feel sympathy and pray for those people who are missing out on developing a richer and more full relationship with others, simply by refusing to be more open to and honest with others. 

Importantly therefore, one must be very thankful for those people in their lives who have truly shown themselves to be true friends.  It is also important to remember to show one’s appreciation for their true friends.  Don’t take them for granted as they may be few and far between.  Are you a true friend?  And, how have you behaved as a true friend toward someone lately?