If you surveyed one hundred people on what they believe is the most important quality in a friendship, you'd likely get about a hundred different answers. Actually, if someone had asked me that just a few months ago, I'd probably waver back and forth between that many myself!
But that was before I joined Character.org back in October of this year. Now, I can give you one trait that I think matters most (or at least matters a lot) — trust. Here’s how I realized that.
Every Wednesday, the entire staff at Character.org gets together to talk about character and anything else that is important in life. The meetings usually have a theme, but we aren't afraid to flip the script; wherever the conversation leads, we follow.
Let me tell you about the meeting we had last week. The topic was "fairness", and my friend and colleague Freda and I came to the table with a few questions that we were hoping to answer; what is fairness? What is a healthy way to view fairness? If we've been treated unfair, how do we decide so?
Like every conversation we've had thus far, the meeting was lively. We found a lot of similarities in how we interpret fairness, but also some differences. Someone even asked, "Does fairness actually exist?" None of us were really sure! And towards the end of meeting, as we reflected on the times we had been treated unfairly, we looked back not with anger, but with a deeper understanding and forgiveness — all in each other's presence.
This is what friendships and relationships are all about — trusting people enough to say how you really feel without judgment or ill-natured criticism. When you're able to look someone in the eyes and peacefully disagree but still hold them in honor and respect, then you've made a connection that cannot easily be broken.
The weekly discussions have brought us all closer together, and they've become a highlight for all of us. But the positive results we've had aren't an anomaly. You can achieve these results in your circle as well — all it takes is trust.
Whether you're a teacher, a coach, an employer or a parent, take some time to get your group together and talk. Start with a question that naturally stimulates conversation. If your group is hesitant to share what they think, you can get the ball rolling by contributing an answer. When you're the first one to break the ice, not only will others feel less wary, they'll start to view you as someone they can confide in.
The meeting can go in many different directions, and there are countless topics to cover, so don't be concerned about whether you're doing it right. But you must do one thing in order for it to be a success — listen. You need to reflect what the individual is feeling, ask them follow-up questions that truly peak your curiosity, and take what they are saying and compare it to your own viewpoint.
As long as the conversation is open and respectful, lasting connections will be made. Here at the office, our discussions have ranged from topics like integrity to identity. There are many ways you can go about it, but ultimately these gatherings are in your hands. You can lead them how you please. If you are a parent, bring your family together and talk about vulnerability. If you are an employer, engage your employees in discussing honesty. If you’re a coach, consider bringing your team together to talk about the benefits of respect. Our discussions here at Character.org have helped us gain much understanding not only about each other, but the world around us. So take some time to plan and implement a meeting, then sit back and watch the culture change.
Parker Pillsbury is the Digital Communications Coordinator at Character.org.