February 01, 2008

How honest should you be with your friends?*

I’VE always been a picky person when it comes to friends.

Right now, I can count on my 10 fingers just who I consider as real friends…people who I can see spending my twilight years with while we continue gabbing about ugly people we know, having regular pot luck dinners with, traveling to really fabulous places, or still lusting after the young men. (You know who you are bitches!)

A number of these close friendships have been built up through the years. For some people, they meet someone new, they click at once. Well that’s not me. I find that these quick friendships are the ones that peter out soon enough.

Some of my closest friendships have undergone the most trying of circumstances, peppered by shouting matches, with a few silent treatments thrown in, but thankfully, no hair-pulling incidents…yet. I mean what’s a friendship without a bit of high drama right?

Friends are part of one’s extended family and most often, they can be closer to you than even your own siblings or parents. You can tell your friends anything without getting the third degree unlike family members who can be very judgemental. Friends are very accepting of each of our faults and frailties, so even if you do joke about each other’s quirky habits (even behind each other’s backs), they often do so out of love and understanding.

So it can be really depressing when someone you’ve trusted for the longest time, does something to hurt you, knowingly and without remorse. You are stunned and unable to believe that here was this person you’ve probably shared your innermost fears and secrets with, just stabs you in the back. Et tu, Brutus?

In the last few months, I’ve known some people who’ve been virtually kicked from behind by people they considered their friends.

Like I know one lady who was unceremoniously given her walking papers and the next thing she knew, someone who thought she was her friend was already taking over. Incredulous, I asked her over an accidental lunch one day, “But Tita, I thought she was your friend?!” All she could manage was, “I thought so too.”

Despite how disappointed she must have been feeling, kudos to her, she didn’t sound bitter at all. Perhaps all the years she’s spent in her crazy business, she was no longer surprised by the turn of events. Power can just be too attractive (and addicting) that one can be drunk enough with it to sacrifice a friendship.

Pangs and I had a running discussion about this since we’ve heard the gossip about these two ladies in the business who were so-called friends. Pangs is my food and travel buddy whom I’ve known for close to 20 years. We’ve had our differences but I guess we’re already quite used to each other’s weirdness that any misunderstanding between us doesn’t last very long. So yes, we can call each other family.

According to him, he would be happy to have a friend take over his job since he isn’t the type who’d hang on when he’s not wanted. Dispassionately he said his friend doesn’t have any obligation at all to tell him about both of their fates. Geez, was this just a guy thing?

Because to me, more than the generosity, kindness, or esprit de corps friendships bring, what I value above all, is honesty. I told Pangs that if I were being asked to take over his job, I would tell him so. In fact, I would even think twice about replacing him because it just feels weird and treacherous. It just leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, you know? My conscience would bother me if I don’t say anything. (But then I’m the type whose insides get torn up when I don’t call my mother.)

I mean, there are just certain hard and fast rules in friendship. And foremost of these rules is that you don’t betray those close to you.

Yes, it can be difficult to remain honest in a friendship. Do we tell our friend she looks gawdawful in her new dress? Do we tell her that she looks fat and looks like she’s been locked overnight in the ice cream factory? Do we tell our friend her husband’s sleeping around with another woman? Do we tell her we’re even friends with that woman? Do we tell our friend that she’s losing her job tomorrow?

I heard someone say once that one of the most overrated virtues is honesty. Why unduly hurt someone with the truth? That just doesn’t sit well with me. If I know by keeping my mouth shut my friend will end up looking like a fool, humiliated before the entire world, then I have to speak up. It’s a no brainer. In any relationship, we all have the responsibility to look out for each other. That’s just what being a friend is all about.

* * * *

Since last week, I have been receiving a barrage of text messages and phone calls from numerous public relations practitioners and media relations specialists who read my column on the “Media-PR relationship” (Something Like Life, Jan. 25, 2008).

A few congratulated me for hitting spot on what was wrong in their industry. (Laziness!) One incredulously asked me why I was mad at PRs. A couple of them joked by calling me “Estella.” Then another asked if it was too late at night for her to text me. One thought my column was great for pointing out his colleagues’ foibles, and then proceeded to violate every rule in the PR handbook himself.

One close PR friend, only one of the very, very few allowed to call me on a Sunday even late at night, joshed that he had already suggested that I be invited to their group for a tete-a-tete/lecture, because God knows just how many “idiots” were now polluting their industry.

I didn’t think the column would create such a storm, but I just thought it was about time someone said something. I’ve noticed that over the years, more and more of us in the media have been sharing horror stories about PR practitioners. I remember starting out in the media profession, I had very few, if none at all, complaints about any PRs. (But like one reporter friend recently wrote on my blog, she had encountered a PR guy who demanded that they use his press release as is. Verbatim. Kapal.)

I should point out though that there are still a number of PR practitioners who are really tops in their field. They know how to serve their clients well by coming up with really creative ideas, and treat the media with the utmost respect. It’s just that they are becoming too far and in between. Sad.

* (This should've been column 106 in BusinessMirror. Photo from allposters.com)

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