I’ve always had trouble approaching someone with a fragile ego, because I know if I say anything disagreeable or honest, they’ll defend themselves like crazy with a million excuses or throw insults or throw things off the desk or make ugly-cry-face and cut me off for a month.
I know this because it’s me too. It’s hard to hear the truth about yourself. It’s hard to confront the ugliness inside.
But confronting yourself is the only way to be truly liberated from the lies we believe. Without rebuke, we’re left sauntering in an unseen momentum of darkness that threatens to destroy us by a gradual downhill fade. The most dangerous way to die is slowly, unaware, in descent.
A few years ago, one of my best friends was messing up with something. No one else knew but me. It probably wasn’t a big deal, and no one would’ve been hurt if he continued, but as a friend I had to bring it up. I really didn’t want to, but I couldn’t just sit by.
My friend is the coolest guy in the world. I’ve never seen him rage out or say a harsh word in his life. He was the kind of guy who would walk away from a group the second they began to gossip, who wouldn’t hesitate to break up a street fight on his way home.
But even when I bring the truth to the coolest people: I’ve seen the worst come out of them. There’s always a mirror-defense where they decide to bring up your grievances, or a lot of casual dismissal, or loud angry hostility. Honestly, I was jaded to this sort of thing whenever I tried to confront someone, and I expected it to go bad just like with everyone else.
On a Friday, we were hanging out at my place and I sat him down and started with the ominous statement, “I have to talk to you about something.” My voice shook for that entire sentence. If I wasn’t sitting down, my knees probably would’ve been shaking too.
I told him everything. I said, “I don’t want anyone else to say something bad about you, that’s why I’m saying this. You’re my friend, you’re my brother, I want the best for you.”
After I was done, I braced myself. I physically reeled back, waiting for the shouting match.
My friend said, “Thank you”—and then he stood up without a word and went to the door, and he left.
For some reason, this was worse. I couldn’t sleep that night. I thought I had totally screwed this up. Friendship, ruined. Years of loyalty, over. I kept going over what I said in my brain, all the ways I should’ve worded it differently.
The next day, my friend came by. He sat me down, the same place, the same chairs. He said, “I thought about what you said. And you’re right. I’m going to stop immediately.”
My entire body unclenched. To be truthful, I almost wept. I hate to cry in front of people, but I was just so dang relieved. Some of it was because I was emotionally tightened up, and some of it was my anxiety that I was no longer his friend. But mostly I couldn’t believe that another human being actually considered what I said and thought it was the best course of action, so he changed his life over it. I was astonished.
It would’ve been OK if he cussed me out, or never spoke to me again, or kept living his life as before. I would’ve understood. I still would’ve loved him the same. No one owes me anything, and this is not about him “following me.” But the plot-twist is that he actually listened. Not to me, but to wisdom. I can’t remember a time when it happened so clean, so quickly, so graciously.
He stuck to his word. He stopped. He went out of his way to make sure it never happened again. And I never tried to play around about it, I never said “I told you so” or “It’s better now, right” or “Aren’t you glad you listened.” If anything, we grew closer and stronger. I was one of the groomsmen for his wedding.