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Musings

Can You Trust Your Friends to Give an Unbiased Opinion?

  • Event: I goofed
  • Time: Feb 22, 09:30

Who is the first group of people you’re advised to approach whenever you have a new idea/product/thing that you want to share with the world? Come and get your cookie if your answer is “friends and family”.

For us dreamers, friends and family shoulder the unenviable task of believing in and encouraging us in our madcap endeavors. We turn to them for a soft place to land. They are the safe space within which we lay our plans and dreams. In that space – this garden of optimism, if you will – our seeds are allowed to develop roots, before we gather the courage to take the plant into the big, scary world. What do we want from friends and family? An honest opinion. At least, that’s what we tell them.

I asked for an honest opinion from my father-in-law once about my first book (actually, he rather generously offered it without solicitation) and I spent the remainder of Christmas holiday in tears, balled up in a fetal position in the basement. I have always known the essentiality of not being a dream killer, but in that moment – two mornings after Boxing Day – I came to understand it more acutely. I vowed then that no matter what, if my loved ones took the risk to trust me with their labors of love, I would be a better person than I had previously been. I would only say kind things about their work, gently (and only in the most tinder tone I could conjure) offering suggestions on how they might improve. If I couldn’t do that, I would say nothing at all. My position was to be one of a critic, but never harsh. I would be the change I wanted to see in the world.

And I’ve been pretty successful in this quest…until today. I get articles, essays and bios thrown at me for editing or perusal all the time. Calls just before my bedtime with a breathless, “Can I read this to you really quick?” are not uncommon. I always relent. I sometimes fall asleep in the middle of the conversation. But hey, at least I’m there. It’s my duty as a friend always to be.

So because I’ve presented myself as a Safe Space ™, I am sometimes privy to work before it hits the street. Some of it is really great (in my opinion) and some of it is not (in my opinion). This morning, someone sent me an audio file of a song that has particular significance to me. The song in question was one they had covered, set to a different track, and changed the tempo to so drastically that it only barely shared resemblance to the original.  I shot back a terse response to the sender.

“They really could’ve left this alone,” I typed furiously.

“Oh. We are sorry.”

“Where is the angst? What is all this skatting? Blah, blah blah!!!”

I unleashed a series of rhetorical questions to convey my displeasure. When the sender had had enough, they vowed not send me any more of their covers.

Their covers?

Wait. What?

Oh.

My.

Ggggg….

I nearly choked on my embarrassment. I had said something mean about someone’s work, someone I care deeply for, and I hadn’t meant to. I had broken the first Cardinal Rule of the Friends & Family code: I’d reacted without bias, and worse, without a filter.

Of course, I can’t go back and apologize. I think that will only make the situation worse. What’s done is done. I now have to live with the consequences of my reflexive response. But then, that got me thinking: Am I doing an injustice to my friends by refusing to give them an unbiased review? Have I been victim to same injustices? Are we all just fooling ourselves because we like one another? Are any of us as brilliant as the other says?

These are questions that everyone ought to ask themselves occasionally. I believe it will not only help us improve, but also keep us accountable. Case in point: We have a Chrysler Town & Country (the ultimate dad vehicle) that’s been in the shop since October of 2018. Why? Because this particular mechanic is known amongst his peers as the guy to “go to if you have an American car” that needs work done. We’ve had to return the car in three times for faults that he/his team missed, however his reputation in town remains intact. This can only be because he’s a nice guy…because the truth is, he’s terrible at fixing American cars – or this model, at least. Could he be a better mechanic if he was less personable? I don’t know.

Maybe.

I do know that we all have an unconscious bias towards our friends that prevents us from seeing their weak spots until it’s too late. We all like to think that our friendships are built on complete, no holds barred honesty. There’s a good-natured savagery that guides our relationships, a honored code that we all live by. If I can’t be honest with my bros/my girls, with whom can I be?

I believe the opposite – sadly- is true.

Because we are all flawed, because we are all blemished, a friend with a mirror held firmly to one’s face can be devastating prospect. Think about it. When it comes time for a filial relationship to end, what’s the first thing to happen? You get told about yourself. You know it’s true, they know it’s true…everyone was just willing to overlook it for x,y,z reasons.

Can you really trust your friends to have an unbiased opinion about you/your work? Or is the nature of friendship in itself to nurture biases? That is, can true friendship function without prejudice?

NB: To my friend with the song – I went back to re-listen. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I made it out to be. It just shocked me. Like putting Bob Marley on a trap beat. I wasn’t ready. Love you!  

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