Some Of Your Friends Won’t Approve — And That’s A Good Thing.
A story of self-respect, growth, and making room for new friends.
“Who are you to write this story?” she asked with contempt in her voice. “You, with your penthouse apartment overlooking the water and too many pairs of shoes in your closet.”
I felt a storm building up inside, my cheeks warm, and my chest and stomach tense. It was an evening in the fall of 2016, I had just moved back to my home country of Norway after twenty years abroad — and I took my Swiss husband and kids with me.
That night, my husband and I were hosting a dinner with some of my childhood friends.
While I was still living abroad, I had written a book called The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer about lone wolf killer Anders Behring Breivik and his attack on Norway’s government and political future, killing seventy-seven people and wounding hundreds more on July 22, 2011.
That book had been published in the United States and some — especially Norwegians — perceived it as too critical of my native country and its culture.
True enough, this wasn’t a book promoting Norway as the best place in the world to live. It wasn’t meant to make you feel good about yourself; it was meant to make you think. It was a quest to find out if and how our society had failed an individual and participated in a young man’s evolution to becoming a mass murderer.
“You don’t have to agree with what I write,” I said, “but you can still be supportive as a friend and proud of what I’ve accomplished.”
She couldn’t. “You are wrong,” she insisted. “What you write is false. You’re lying.”
I had written the truth the way I saw it and the way I had lived it growing up. This was my truth, my opinions. I never claimed it was the truth.
At first, my friends back home had ignored me and my book. No one talked about what I wrote or made any comments about my new career as a writer and speaker.
The physical distance between us made this act of indifference easy. Then I moved back to my country after two decades abroad.
That evening in 2016, my friend told me she had been dreading meeting me and having to talk about my book.
As I defended myself, I felt ashamed. Perhaps I was wrong. Who was I to tell my truth? Who was I to have an opinion in the first place? What credentials did I have to write this book? I should have just kept it to myself and kept on pretending everything was honky-dory.
Stay under the radar and be invisible, the voice of my childhood reminded me.
But I couldn’t. What I had written was real to me. It was time for someone to speak up about the things no one was talking about.
So, I wrote about rejection, loneliness, rage, shame, and about the ultimate, tragic consequences of human disconnection: Mass murder.
I also felt humiliated. What did our apartment or my shoes have to do with me as a writer? Nevertheless, her comment worked. I felt as if my comfortable lifestyle somehow discredited me as a writer and that I had no right to even observe society from where I was living.
Shame, humiliation, feeling like an outsider.
What I struggled with was the very same thing mass killer Anders Breivik had struggled with. I’ve often thought back at that incident from four years ago, being called a liar by my friend. Here’s what I’ve learned:
The relationship (or lack thereof) between people, even friends, reflects the deep state of crisis in which humanity now finds itself.
The disconnection from our true selves is the root to all pain and will result in our own extinction as a species if we don’t change course. We have stopped communicating from our hearts and, instead, we talk at each other. No one is really listening to what the other is saying because our attention is at trying to get our own point of view to the front-line of the conversation.
I’m as guilty of this as any. Being right is more important than getting it right.
That’s when we can know we’re in trouble. From the most ordinary disagreement between friends to bigger issues about immigration, racism, and global warming, the problem is the same.
We communicate from a place of fear, anger, and self-righteousness. Our egos, or false selves, make us judge, and condemn. We use humiliation to suppress and to demonstrate power.
What any one of us really want — all we really want — is to be accepted and loved. How do we get that? By starting to accept ourselves. By giving ourselves the recognition we really deserve.
I cannot make my friend accept me. I can, however, accept the situation as it is, and accept that she cannot see me or hear the real me through the pollution of her own prejudice.
It took me a while, but I chose to accept my friend the way she is. I made peace with her — without apologizing for my opinions or my work — and I made peace with myself.
Perhaps conflict is an opportunity, a blessing in disguise. Whenever someone brings out the worst in us, that situation also shines light on something deeper within us that we can now notice and choose to accept.
That acceptance can be the portal to transforming the energy of conflict. Where in my own life am I judging and condemning others? Where am I judging myself? In which situations do I show intolerance? How am I at war with myself?
Our relationships can be our teachers if we choose to accept the lessons we need to learn. Eckhart Tolle once wrote something that has given me solace:
Relationships are not here to make you happy or fulfilled. They are here to make you conscious.
Perhaps then we shouldn’t take it personally if our friends and partners don’t always make us feel comfortable and good about ourselves. Conflicts may be gifts and a chance to grow.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should surround yourself with judgmental people who do not support you. A healthy distance might be called for even if you don’t burn any bridges. What I’m saying is this:
By accepting the situation, any situation, you may discover a sensation of peace within. Acceptance is incompatible with conflict. Conflict can only exist when there’s resistance and an inability to forgive.
We can’t change other people and the way they see us, but by changing ourselves, we might inspire them. What we do know, and Martin Luther King, Jr. so wisely said,
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
When you accuse, defend, or attack, you are strengthening the unconscious, which is where hatred comes from.
By reacting to the other person’s attack, you’re drawn into the drama and trapped by your false self’s need to be heard and to be right — when really what the inner child, on both sides, is asking for is to be loved.
So next time, instead of reacting back at someone’s remark, anger, or attack — take a step back and pause. Don’t react back. Instead, stay — even if it’s just for a moment — in your own truth, breathe, and let the hurricane whirl around you. Remember that, often, someone’s remarks about you are not about you.
They are about them. If we chose to, a situation of conflict and irreconcilable differences can be the gateway to inner peace. For you.
And, by creating a healthy distance to someone who does not value you, you can make room for new people in your life who respect you the way you respect yourself.