When should you tell a friend that you think their great idea isn't such a great idea, and when should you keep your mouth shut?
A few years ago, I was in a lot of turmoil about a relationship. I knew, in my gut, that the relationship was not healthy for me or for my marriage, but I was having a really hard time disentagling myself. Then, one day, I had (what I thought was) a brilliant idea. I decided I could form a group which included me and some other minister friends (and of course the person who I was entangled with) for the purpose of discussing our vision of ministry, providing support for each other, etc. I tested out my idea on a couple of friends who all seemed somewhat reserved in their support of my plan, and then barrelled on ahead.
The group turned out to be great. But it was really stupid to include the person who I had such a conflicted relationship with. It didn't "resolve" any of my conflicts--it only dragged them out for about another year. When I finally realized the stupidity of my actions, I again shared my feelings with a close friend. She looked at my with great sympathy and said, "Yea, I really thought that was a bad idea when you first told me about it."
I thought about my friend's comment for weeks afterwards. Why hadn't she said anything to me at the time? If she had, would I have listened? Or, would I have been resentful of her lack of support for my brilliant idea? Which made me wonder--when I told her about my plan, was I really looking for feedback and advice? Or was I just looking for support, whether or not my decision made sense to her?
This episode came strongly to mind yesterday because a very good friend of mine called me with a great idea. And while I know I don't necessarily have good insight into her situation, her idea didn't seem that great to me. I told her so, and now I'm seriously wondering if I did the right thing.
Our congregation has, as part of its history and structure, the expectation that people need "accountability" in order to grow spiritually. This is part of the reason why we meet in small groups, sharing our intention to keep a series of spiritual disciplines and giving each other permission to ask us how it's going. There can be an ugly side to accountability--a "holier than thou" attitude by those who are examining others' commitment and hostility or defensiveness from those who are being held accountable. But there is also a great deal to be gained when you give someone permission to say to you, "Are you staying true to your intentions?"
Is that permission implied in a deep friendship?