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Most people would describe themselves as good, caring friends. We like to think that we would be there for our loved ones whenever they need us, and that we make positive contributions to people’s  lives around us. The truth is that you cannot really certify yourself a good friend - this is something other people have to feel about you. Being a good friend is not just about doing or saying the right things, but mostly about the way we make people feel. Real friendship involves making ourselves vulnerable to hurt, criticism and betrayal, as well as opening our hearts to receive love, companionship and care. Friendships can be made or broken even within families. Shared genetics does not always guarantee that we will be friends. Being related does not always mean we like each other, so friendship is something that needs to be cultivated even among relatives. We invest time, love and care to reap good relationships. There is a saying that ‘friends are the family we choose for ourselves’. When we invest time, understanding and love into relationships, I have found that they can be even stronger than biological relations. It is also pleasant to see true friendship within families - such as spouses understanding each other, siblings choosing to spend time together or adult children enjoying the company of their parents. This involves compromise, time and effort from all parties involved. Whether we are thinking of friendships or good family relationships, having these three things in mind can help us build better, more satisfying relationships.

Trust - Good friendships thrive when people feel loved and trusted. It should not be about trying to gain approval or acceptance. When people know that you think well of them, they can be more relaxed and not have to keep up appearances around you. They can trust that you will speak the truth to them in love and your love for them will not cease just because your opinions or lifestyles differ. When someone knows you are on their side, they will be be more open and trusting too. It is important to use our words to reassure and compliment loved ones often, so they know how much we value them. There will be times when difficult conversations need to be had, but creating an atmosphere of trust, selfless love and understanding makes it easier to speak the truth without causing offence when things need to be said. I still remember a good friend calling me years ago to ask directly about a rumour she heard. I was impressed that she was not happy to just gossip behind me, make assumptions or snoop around me for information, but asked me directly when she suspected there was something going on. This definitely helped to build trust in our relationship, when I realised she was my friend no matter what. Trust takes time to build or regain, but is worth doing if we are to have good friendships.

Communication - Friendship is about connection. Even when we are busy, there will always be a way to maintain communication, if we really value a relationship. The frequency and mode of communication may determine the closeness of the relationship, but having no communication is the quickest way to end a friendship. A friendship may linger if just one person continues to make effort in this area, but it will eventually die if we continue to make excuses for not being able to meet up, do not reply messages or do not phone them back. Making time for communicating in ways our friends or family can respond to makes them feel valued and loved. There is no point in leaving fifty missed calls during the day on my friend’s phone if he has explained that he cannot answer his phone at work! A good friend will make compromises and adapt to ensure that communication continues. If I sometimes find time to call or visit friends, our relationship will grow if they also sometimes make effort to text or email instead of phoning at odd times. I have friends and family whose messages I appreciate so much more now, because I understand that typing messages is a big effort for them. If we want to build strong friendships, it is important to have quality conversations when we finally find time to talk, rather than having just surface chat or small talk. How many times have you left a meeting with friends and realised you never discussed important and current issues, after laughing about silly jokes? You do not have to talk everyday to someone be good friends - talking honestly about real issues makes us closer. We also cannot be close friends with everyone because time is limited, so let us choose the right friendships and make them work.

Growth - Friendship is not about being the same and liking the same things. A good friendship allows each person to grow and change for the better. Good friends can advise each other when needed, but the life of the friendship does not depend on whether the advice is followed. We all tend to like people who are similar to us anyway, but we will have different personalities and goals. Friends should be able to encourage each other to be the best they can be. Good friends see the strengths you do not see in yourself. We should aim to be friends that cheer others on and support progress in our friends’ lives, even if it means that we may see less of them because of it. Most people can sense selfishness, intimidation and jealousy. We should be aware of, regularly check and rid ourselves of these, if we want to build real friendships. I am always so happy to hear of my friends/family doing well in other countries and professions. It might be easier if they all stayed close to me and became doctors so we could see each other every week, but that will not be the best for their own lives, strengths and ambitions. I know that friends who have appreciated our differences, openly shared their own views (so I can learn and maybe reconsider mine), while supporting my sometimes crazy dreams are the ones that make me feel loved and accepted. Friendships may only last for seasons of our lives, so we should appreciate them while they last and try to make people feel loved. Although we cannot be responsible for other people’s happiness, we can find happiness in choosing to be a light in the lives of the people who choose us.

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