“Oh, that’s not controversial, Mark. I thought you were going to say something controversial, you know, something that put me up in arms, really got under my sking. Friendliness does seem like a pretty important quality.”
Wait, stop. It is controversial. Let me explain.
Have you ever asked a girl or boy what they look for in a spouse? How often do they respond “friendly”? Not very often in my experience.
I’m tempted to say that the most important quality in a person is faith in Christ, but I don’t think that’s a “quality” persay, because you can’t develop that quality by yourself. You can’t grow up on an island with fifteen people who have never heard of Jesus, and then be a good follower of Christ. But you can be friendly.
When I ask girls what they look for in a man, they often respond with a few of the following adjectives: funny, handsome, smart, tall, athletic, witty, kind, gentle, chivalrous, strong, Christian, black, polite, meek, or compassionate. Never have I heard friendly. Never. And you know why? Because friendliness is all too often an assumed quality. You assume that if he is “boyfriend material,” that he is friendly. Because why would you date an unfriendly person?
Saying friendliness is the most important quality in a person is controversial not because people disagree that it is important, but because not many would think of it as the most important quality in a person. I think it is the most important quality because it is often a precursor or combination of other qualities that people find desirable. Someone can be polite, but not friendly; they can be talkative, but not friendly; they can be a good listener, but not friendly; and they can be funny, but not friendly. These things often are aspects of friendliness, but friendliness is more than the sum of its parts. The reason I say that friendliness is more than a sum total is because people who are polar opposites can both be friendly. You can be quiet, attentive, kind, and a good listener–and be friendly, but you can also be loud, confident, encouraging, and be friendly. Friendliness is not always a combination of things though. Sometimes, friendliness can come just from someone being a good listener, or polite, or laughs at your bad jokes. Even if they are not funny, gregarious, interesting, or even compassionate, they can still be friendly. Friendliness is important because it’s something that people have to try to express, it’s not often accidental.
Friendliness is fluid in its composition, but concrete in its effect. People like friendly people. Even unfriendly people like friendly people. Friendliness is not a trait that people identify as friendliness–they often recognize its different manifestations. If I have lunch with someone whom I had not met beforehand, as I did this afternoon, I can tell you that he is kind, polite, nice, engaging, and funny, but I typically would not say friendly. Friendly could be all of those things, or just one. He could have been boring, stinky, accidentally rude, obscene, and impolite, but I could still find him friendly.Truckers can be friendly. Ballerinas can be friendly. Soldiers can be friendly. Politicians can be friendly. Murderers can be friendly.
That’s why I think friendliness is the most important quality in any person–because it is an effort to be nice to someone. How is that effort conveyed? Different ways. Some people buy gifts, some write cards, some give compliments, some hold doors, but friendliness is not accidental. I think friendliness is the most important quality in a person because a friendly person does something to express their accessibility, to let other people know that they are important, and that alone trumps any trait that reflects positively about the person themself. If someone is funny, then you can laugh at their jokes. But if someone is friendly, they make others feel better.
The motivation for this post comes from H.E.B., but it is a thought I have had for a long time. When I work as cashier at H.E.B., I try and make conversation with every customer if their order seems lengthy enough to substantially talk to them. I ask questions like “how’s your day so far,” or “have any plans this weekend?”. I ask them because I think they allow for a little bit more creative response than “how are you today, ma’am?” So when people respond with something that invites conversation, I pounce on that invitation like a fat lion on a lame gazelle. I ask how their vacation was, or what school their kid goes to, or what they’re cooking with bok choy–whatever their response allows. But when someone responds to “do you have any plans this weekend?” with a “nah,” then I quit. I could try and force my way a little, but I figure if they wanted to talk they would have said something conversation inducing.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am the king of moods. If I am not in a talkative mood, I will not be rude, but I will certainly respond with a curt “nah.” So I make it a priority not to judge people by how they act at a supermarket of all places. I understand that unlike the old folks who make a day out of grocery shopping, most people just want to get in and out quickly. But, it goes a long way in my book for me liking you if you give a friendly response. I am not saying that the customer has to blather on, because some people just aren’t talkers. If they ask me an insightful question, or ask my advice, or really just say anything to sustain the conversation, I appreciate that. Friendliness comes in different forms, but I appreciate it in whatever form I encounter it.