Being Vulnerable with Friends

One of the more pernicious side effects of our mediagenic age is how one dimensionally perfect the lives of individuals appear to those on the other side of the screen, prompting feelings of fear and self-loathing from onlookers at how few fabulous parties they attend, scenic landscapes they visit, and beautiful people they are surrounded by.

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Echoing Zygmunt Bauman’s sentiment that in our consumer culture, we are both ‘the commodity and the travelling salesperson’, in the fleeting quest for ever more likes, ‘friends’, and followers, individuals strain to appear supremely popular, beautiful and fun, if only for the validation of invisible others whose thumb movement on a screen carries the eschatological weight of the Roman emperor in the Coliseum.

At its core, this behaviour is an expression of a deep seated social belief: others will like us only if we are the funniest, coolest, or prettiest (or any other superlative one can conjure) person. Our relentless tidying up when company is over, our changing out of tracksuit pants and thongs when going out, and our putting on a false smile when friends are around all bear a striking similarity to Instagram influencers and Tinder users: they are examples of hiding our less-marketable qualities in the understandable but sorely mistaken belief that people will only like us for our accomplishments and despise us for our flaws.

We are all guilty of a paradoxical and hence, conflicting mentality: we believe that others like us only for our gifts and talents, and would turn away at the first sight of the muck beneath. Yet, at the same time, we long to have the worst parts of ourselves cherished, not because we think that our flaws are great in of themselves, but because they are part of what makes us human, and we do not want to pretend to be something we are not.

What allows people to get close to each other is the extent to which they drop the façade and reveal themselves in their gloriously flawed nature. Of course there is danger in this. We could be mocked, taunted and rejected for showing an unflattering part of ourselves; but the reverse holds true, we could also be praised, encouraged, and embraced for opening up and sharing some fundamental truths about ourselves. To be vulnerable is not to necessarily provide any useful information about oneself, or to expose one’s deepest secrets. It is, instead, to give something away, something precious and more valuable than anything to be found on the stock market: the key to one’s dignity and self-respect.

With proper handling, it is this key which opens the door to others and creates meaningful relationships, more than a clean house of a beautiful photo ever would. What makes friendship (unlike Facebook friends or Instagram followers) rich and rewarding, is not that our friends are perfect, but rather, that they trust us enough to share the parts of themselves that, in the wrong hands, would lead to emotional devastation, yet in the caring hands of a friend, makes one feel loved and accepted.

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