Sunday 30 August 2015

Tell me who your friends are and I'll...?

We have probably all heard the full quote that is the subject of this post before but I'll say it in full for the benefit of those who have not:

"Tell me who your friends are and I'll tell you who you are."

It's a pretty bold proposition isn't it.

But what does it mean? Isn't it just a matter of interpretation?

The other thing is, don't we have many different types of friends with different attributes? If that is the case, what does that mean?

A fictional example

For example, let's use a simple example and isolate friendships based on these two related attributes:

  • Outgoing/Extroverted friends and;
  • Introverted friends.

When I refer to these two categories of "Outgoing/Extroverted" and "Introverted", what I mean by that is, out of all the attributes those friends have, their dominant attribute is that they are either Outgoing or Introverted. Thus, their relevant category is not the only attribute they possess, but it is the attribute that stands out the most for all to see.

If all my friends were Outgoing friends, perhaps the conventional conclusion is this: we can say with some degree of certainty that I am likely to be an Outgoing person.

You could say the same for the opposite situation - in the scenario where all my friends were Introverted friends.


However, what if exactly 50% of my friends were Introverted, and the other 50% were Outgoing?

Does that make me half and half?


But, in my view, a very plausible alternate explanation is this: I might belong to one category outright, but I simply happen to be tolerant of the other category of people because I highly value their other attributes.

Friends can have many joint dominant attributes - a Rude person can also be Charitable; an Outgoing person can also be Family-Oriented (just to name a couple of examples).

That is to say, if someone was seen to be amongst many Introverted friends, that does not automatically make them Introverted - there are a multitude of reasons why people pursue certain friendships, and without knowing more about why that person was associating themselves with these Introverted friends, it would be far too early to assume that they were Introverted.

That person who was seen with the Introverts could very well be Extroverted but they just happen to enjoy the other attributes shared by their Introverted group of friends.

Similarly, it should not (necessarily) come as a surprise to find a "Polite" person huddled in a group of "Rude" people.

Degree of friendship

Of course, this discussion says nothing about the degree of friendship with those friends - for example, perhaps the Extroverted/Outgoing person I talked about before might highly value "Extrovertedness", and thus, there is a limit to how close their friendship with the Introverted people can be.

Similarly, a "Polite" person might place "Politeness" as their #1 attribute. 

If that is the case, then of course, no matter how much they enjoy the company of a group of "Rude" people (due to the other attributes they possess), there can only ever be a ceiling on the strength of their friendship with those "Rude" people.

The reality of the matter

I can only speak for myself here, but perhaps this is true for a lot of people:

The reality of the matter is that we are likely to make friends from all walks of life, with all kinds of personalities, backgrounds etc that are shaped by their past, family or other circumstances.

I might for example have an assortment of Rude, Polite, Cunning, Shy, Passionate, Quirky, Outspoken and (**Insert other attributes**) friends.

Rather than assuming that I am all of those types of people in one go, perhaps the better answer is that I enjoy their company for different reasons that have no relationship to their predominant attributes or personality types (until this is disproved of course!).

So while the quote at the beginning of this post can be used as a rule of thumb, I am not so sure it applies to all circumstances.


Andre Lim

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