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Kindness or cruelty?

My client felt regret after his friend died

My client told me he was feeling unsettled when learning that a friend Dan had just died. 

He had loved spending time with his friend, but over recent years Dan became more of an alcoholic and my client, finding himself often not enjoying his friend's company, began to avoid him. His friend's death brought a sense of guilt and regret to the surface.

"I wish I had known better how to handle it back then," my client told me.

The other way

Instead of withdrawing or tolerating a relationship, what can we do when we're having trouble taking care of ourselves in our relationship with someone we care about?

I asked my client how it might have been if he had initiated a special dialogue with his friend Dan when he first noticed his inclinations to withdraw from him. This is what I suggested:

"Dan, I've been fortunate to count you as a good friend over the years. And recently I've noticed an issue in my feelings toward you that I've become concerned about. I'd like to share it with you and get your thoughts on what we might do, okay?

"Seemingly related to your drinking more than you used to, the last few times we've been together, I had a hard time enjoying being around you compared to before when you weren't drinking. I found myself missing the other you I had gotten used to.

"I'm not sure what there is to do about this. If I imagine trying to be with you in the way you've been recently, I don't know how to do it without putting on a mask and waiting for our time together to be over with. I hate that feeling. At the same time, I haven't felt good about my recent inclinations to avoid you. You're important to me. 

"What are your thoughts and feelings about this, Dan? Do you have any ideas about what we could do? What you could do? What I could do?"

My client admitted that he would have been choosing courage to do something like this, but he could have done it. And whatever came out of the conversation, he could feel good about.

A separate issue of guilt

"Even though I now know what I can do in the future, I still feel a bit of guilt about Dan," my client shared. I remind him of Undoing guilt"Oh, yeah. Whenever I use that process, it works."

Don't tolerate or ignore. Don't make them owe you. Don't attack or criticize. Don't withdraw.

What if nobody has to be the bad guy? It's always up to you. I'll show you how.

Whenever there starts to become an issue with another, regardless of the type of relationship we have with them (friend, acquaintance, lover, child, parent, spouse, report, boss, or other), most of us only have four possible responses (of which we often favor one over the others).



1) Tolerate or ignore


This is where we don't want to be the bad buy or we're trying to prove we're a good guy. When a friend's lack of punctuality begins to bother you, you think to yourself, "They've been a good friend. I should just let it go. It seems impolite to speak up."

2) Believe they need to "pay you back later for you accepting their behavior now"  

This is where you believe in the idea of the fairness of equal suffering. When your friend is often not punctual, you think to yourself (without getting an explicit agreement with them), "I can be okay with their lack of punctuality now in exchange for them accepting some of my possible 'bad behavior' in the future."

Then, in the future, when they get upset with you for not being punctual (or something else) with them, you're furious with them for not paying back the debt they owe you by not calling you on your bad behavior.

3) Attack or criticize

"Why do you keep showing up late?! That's so insensitive of you!" All of us know this is not likely to go anywhere or end well for anyone.

4) Withdraw

This is what many of us "nice guys" do. After we've tolerated for a while and it gets too much for us, and we don't want to confront the other person, we just start disappearing, step by step or even quickly, often leaving the other person hurt and clueless.



The fifth way

Our defaults to using one or more of the four approaches above to dealing with an issue that arises in our relationship with another person are born out of the beliefs associated with living inside the HOGAB. The ones at play here are "To be a good person, I must put the other person's interests and desires above my own" and "If there is an issue between two people, someone has to be the bad guy." There is an exception to the first precept, "If the other person is the bad guy, then it's okay to put my interests above theirs and it doesn't matter if it hurts them."

Outside the HOGAB, standing in the place of Integrity, our new life guidelines are "My #1 job in life is to take care of myself" and often the best way to "take care of myself" is to create an attitude of partnership with another to find ways for your self-interests and their self-interests to be synergistic. 


The conversation that I suggested that my client consider was expression of this attitude of partnership to create a win-win. See the Partnership Conversation. Also see the Four cornerstones for choosing courage.

There can even be a sixth way sometimes: let me illustrate with a story

It's 1989 and my trusty 17-year-old Oldsmobile was no stranger to breakdowns. Luckily, I had a secret weapon—a freelance car mechanic named Joe. He was like a superhero in overalls, swooping in to save the day with his wrench and screwdriver. His prices were fair and his work was top-notch. If my car could talk, it would probably thank me for having a friend like Joe.​

Joe was a pleaser and over promiser

Let's just say, Joe had a talent for overpromising and underdelivering when it came to fixing my car. It was like a game of "when will my car be ready?" where Joe always seemed to win by pushing back the deadline. But, in all fairness, he did a good job on my car and charged me a fair price, so I kept going back to him despite his unreliable timelines.

What could I do?!

When it came to my car troubles, I had a decision to make. Should I try to change Joe's chronic over-promising habits? Or should I roll the dice and find a new mechanic who wouldn't leave me hanging? On one hand, Joe had some starling qualities—he did excellent work and didn't charge me an arm and a leg. But on the other hand, his promises of when he would return it were about as reliable as a weather forecast in spring. After careful consideration, I decided to try out a game with Joe (that I never told him about).

Balancing costs and benefits, Joe was worth it

As a little trick to cope with Joe's over-promising tendencies, I would mentally add an extra week to his initial promise of when he would return my car. Then, every time he gave me a new promise, I would call him on the exact day and say, "Joe, where's my car?!" When he inevitably re-promised, I would act a little disappointed but understanding, secretly knowing that I had already adjusted my expectations to avoid disappointment. Of course, I couldn't let him know that or he might take advantage and turn a one-week delay into a two-week delay!

Feeling good and keeping a good relationship with Joe

Whenever I handed my car over to Joe for repairs, I never believed his initial promises of when he'd return it. Instead, I just trusted that he'd do his best and probably deliver it about a week later than originally promised. I mean, let's face it, Joe was Joe, and we all knew he was a bit of a people pleaser. So, I chose to focus on the end result and the big picture rather than his unreliable promises. And you know what? It worked out just fine. Joe always did a great job, and I never held a grudge against him. After all, it's not like I could do any better under the hood!

What were the underlying principles that guided my actions and attitude?

Looking at the big picture


Everything has benefits and costs, possibilities and risks, short-term and long-term. We often forget this and indulge in a myopic viewpoint with petty reactions, paying a dollar in order to save a nickel.​

Undoing shoulds

If I started playing the blame game with Joe or tried to reform him, it would have just added more expenses for both of us.

Undoing expectations

Expecting something to be different than it is or likely to be is a formula for suffering, as well as being less effective. When you fight with reality, you lose.


Don't tolerate or ignore. Don't make them owe you. Don't attack or criticize. Don't withdraw.

Instead use the partnership approach and look at the the bigger picture.

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