Confident Beginnings

Confidence is a tricky thing, isn’t it? Like Goldilocks people can have too little or too much. Either ends of the scale are limiting and not particularly attractive but getting it just right? That’s the hard bit.

Milk
Colin’s Fridge and The Three Milks by Alasdair courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/zCANY https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I recently watched a documentary where psychologists were monitoring young children in a play and school environment. Two children stood out and seemed to strike up what, on the face of it, was an unlikely friendship. One was overconfident, a thrill seeker who sought out danger and constantly pushed boundaries. The other was a boy who excelled at maths but who was generally frightened by life and shied away from anything he perceived as dangerous. These two boys, despite their obvious differences in personality, seemed to gel.

Friendship
Friendship by Tomvdh1 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6zvfWy https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

When the psychologists put up ‘Danger – Keep Out’ signs and taped off one of the children’s favourite pieces of play apparatus – a play house reached by a ladder – the thrill seeker immediately wanted to investigate and go into the play house to see what the danger was. The nervous child hung back. So upset at the prospect of his friend doing something that was forbidden, the nervous boy told him that two adults were coming his way, even though no adults were in the area. The thrill seeker reluctantly left the equipment alone and the nervous boy had, in his eyes, protected his friend from danger. One had regulated the other’s actions.

Yin and yang
Yin and Yang by Rolf Dietrich Brecher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/Xpv3X1 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Later, these same boys were confronted with a tarantula spider in a case. When the handler asked if the children would like to hold the spider, the thrill seeker was one of the first to put up his hand. The nervous boy, seated next to him, had already professed a fear of spiders. He hung back and moved away but was still fascinated enough to watch his friend handle the spider and allow her to walk over the back of his hand.

A few minutes later after another couple of children had handled the spider, the nervous boy asked if he too could have a go. At first, he was still too scared to hold his hands flat on the table to allow the spider to crawl over them and was seeking assurance from the handler that the spider would not bite or claw him. Once that assurance had been given, he had a go. Wonderfully, his thrill seeker buddy put his hand flat on the table first and the nervous boy put his on top of his friend’s and the spider then walked over both of their hands.

The nervous boy was delighted that he had faced and conquered a fear and the thrill seeker was pleased that he had coaxed his friend to try something new.

Though very different I could imagine this unlikely pair growing up to be firm friends for life. Operating at either extreme of the confidence scale, you could see how they could help to pull each other further into the middle ground of ‘just right’ thus enriching each other’s lives immensely.

friendship2
Friendship by Alex Isse Neutron courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain 1.0 https://flic.kr/p/CwP7Zz https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

For those of us who do not have a friend at the other end of the confidence scale to help push, guide or protect us, we have to learn the hard way by life’s experiences. That’s why older people are a lot less bothered what others think of them than their younger counterparts. They have learned that in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter all that much.

Confident beginnings are wonderful but for the rest of us it’s not where you start but where you finish that’s important.

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The art of listening

listen
Listen by Jim Linwood courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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I have a friend who came to me recently wanting my advice. We met up for a drink and she talked me through the situation she found herself in. I nodded as she spoke, asked questions were appropriate but mostly I just listened.

She gave me a potted history of what had led up to the latest drama, where she was at now, what the problem was and what the possible solutions were. I interjected very little letting her give full vent to her feelings. I got the distinct impression she had been putting a lid on her feelings until she met me and so, like a pressure cooker that has had the lid firmly clamped on for a little too long, once the pressure was released and she was in a safe environment where she could talk without being judged, she rattled away, letting off all that pent up emotion.

pressure-cooker
Pressure Cooker by David Reber courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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I have had a lot of experience of the ups and downs of life but I am no wiser or better informed than the next person. I am as capable of stuffing up as everyone else. I could offer no dazzling insight or straightforward solution just a dollop of common sense. But as it happened, I didn’t even need to give that because my friend, as her discourse was winding down, reached that conclusion herself without any prompting from me.

Looking far happier by the end of our time together than she had at the beginning, my friend gave me a hug. “I knew you’d be the right person to talk to about this. You always give good advice.”   I felt flattered by her comments but thoroughly undeserving of them. I had hardly offered any advice during our time together, good or otherwise. I’d barely got a word in.

Sometimes all you have to do is listen.

Gossip Girls
Gossip Girls by Nicola Romagna courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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