This weekend I had the amazing opportunity to travel with a group of young people to visit a training center for the mentally disabled. Most of the patients living there have been there since they were born and now range in age from 40-65. They all suffer from different mental disabilities. Some are able to communicate, some just stare blankly into space. Some are limited to wheelchairs, others can get up and move around. Just about all of them have the mental development of a child between the ages of 3-7.
We spent the morning talking with them, singing children’s songs, and interacting in any way we could. What impressed me most was the unconditional acceptance and love that these wonderful patients had for anyone who would come near them. They were so innocent and loving as they would come across the room to hug you, hold your hand, or sometimes sneak up and poke you in the ribs.
One patient in particular was named Pilar. Pilar speaks and acts about like a 3 year old. She is one of the more mobile residents and you can often hear her calling out to a complete stranger as she runs across the room to hug them. While singing songs, she would look around her for someone standing by themselves and motion for them to come closer to her. If they didn’t come right away, she would walk over and grab them by the hand and bring them over to her group so they could sing together.
I was deeply touched at how much importance Pilar and the other residents placed on making sure that we felt included and knew that we were their friends. They were actually doing a service for us.
As I watched the teenagers interact with these wonderful people, I started thinking a lot about friendship and what we could learn from Pilar about having more quality friendships in our life. Here’s what she taught me:
Lesson #1 – Look at everybody you encounter as a potential friend.
Every day you probably encounter at least 2-3 people who you have a lot in common with and would be very good friends with. However, because they are co-workers, clients, or even complete strangers, we never open the door to any kind of friendship. As if it is taboo. Think back about how you met your best friends. At some point they were just strangers. There are amazing people out there, don’t miss an opportunity to get to know one of them better.
Lesson #2 – Flock together!
We all know the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Most of us have our deepest and longest lasting friendships with people in a similar age, culture, ideological, or socioeconomic range as ourselves. This is because you are able to give advice, uplift, or commiserate with each other about the same things. Whether it is work, kids, sports teams, or other hobbies, you will feel connected to people you have a lot in common with. If you want to find some deep and lasting friendships, find people you naturally “flock” with.
Lesson #3 – Let love direct your actions
One of my favorite books is, “The Greatest Salesman in the World”. It is a fascinating story of how a young man becomes a great salesman by learning the principles of success through some ancient scrolls. One of the scrolls teaches the boy that with each person he comes across in the marketplace, he will first think to himself “I love this person” before he approaches or speaks with them. This automatically changes the way he interacts with a complete stranger. I have tried this myself and it is amazing the way it changes your day. You speak kinder, your face looks more friendly, and you become genuinely interested in what they are saying. This results in stronger connections with people and they leave the conversation feeling that you really cared about them. It won’t be long before many of these people will be seeking your friendship. Pilar and her friends demonstrated this over and over to me. They just loved us unconditionally.
Lesson #4 – Don’t be afraid to be nice
We all have our natural defenses. It is a part of our brains to be a little cautious of strangers and in some cases this can keep us out of trouble. But for the most part, you will not be coming across anybody that means you harm on a daily basis. Nobody is going to hurt you if you open a door for them or compliment them on their hair. The worst that can happen is that they will ignore you or not acknowledge the compliment. So maybe it is our own fear of rejection that keeps us from being openly nice to others. It is definitely a hard habit to form but once you start, you will be amazed at how many smiles you will receive in response. Don’t be afraid to be like Pilar and call out to someone across the room to help them feel good about themselves.
Lesson #5 – Go and get them!
Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from Pilar was that you have to go and bring friends into your circle. When Pilar saw me standing by myself she didn’t just smile at me or wave across the room, she walked over, grabbed my hand and led me over to sing with her group of people. In most cases people won’t come over to you and initiate a friendship because they are afraid of rejection. If you want to make more friends, you need to go out and get them and bring them into your group. It isn’t enough to wave at them or just say “hi” when you pass by. Go and get them and bring them in. When you do, they will appreciate it and you will instantly form strong bonds of friendship that can last a long time.
Your friendships will be some of the greatest assets you will ever develop in your life. Nobody on their death bed wishes they had spent more time at work but many have wished they had spent time making more friends. Don’t let this happen to you. Be like Pilar: look to be a friend, approach people with love, and then bring them into your circle. You will never regret the time you spend developing stronger friendships. I leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
“When I went out to find a friend, a friend could not be found. When I went out to be a friend I found them all around.”
May you be a friend to all!
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