This week I was confronted with a situation that made me think about what it is that I stand for with respect to friendships. A relatively new friend of mine – let’s call him “The Greek” – sent me a last-minute cancellation message for a get-together that we had arranged several days before that. He did so because he had gotten really drunk the night before. It wasn’t “the best day” to quote him. Your first thought might be that this can happen. Most people are quite forgiving when it comes to these things. Knowing what it feels like to drink too much and have a hangover the next day. I was wondering if there is another side to this. So I thought about it in the perspective of the five Yamas (Universal Morality) as defined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. If you look at it from the perspective of Asteya, which means Non-Stealing, you might argue that a last-minute cancellation almost always implies a form of stealing someone else’s time. Of course there are situations that you don’t control, which are the obvious exceptions to the rule. But is not feeling well from drinking too much such an exception? I would like to argue that it isn’t. Because whenever you drink too much you consciously choose to do so and therefore you will have to face the consequences at a later point in time. One such consequence might be going for a prearranged lunch with your friend even though you’ve experienced better days in the past.
But it wasn’t the first time…
Now let’s go back to “The Greek”. As a matter of fact, this wasn’t the first time that he had cancelled one of our get-togethers in a short time-frame of about two weeks. The first time was when we talked about meeting up a certain night but he had forgotten about it and then made other arrangements that he didn’t want to cancel. The second time was when he had expressed the wish to join me for an event, but then decided not to because he would go to the office instead (we are talking Sunday morning/afternoon). And the drunken night out was the third time. He asked me if we could postpone and proposed the day after where he would probably (was that room for another escape?) not stay in the office too late. Given his previous behavior and my gut feeling, I wasn’t quite sure that he wouldn’t cancel again, so I responded by asking him how many times he expected me to be okay with postponing/cancelling? I also told him that I had the feeling that next time there would be something else. His response to that was that we didn’t have a contract, it is also normal, and he cannot make plans with me because I stick too much with them. Where I actually expected something like: I’m sorry, I won’t cancel next time (yes, expectations!). Therefore, my first reaction was to become quite upset and this showed in what I wrote to him, namely, that we did have a deal and that in my perception he wasn’t a man of his word (where did my Ahimsa* (Non-Violence) go when I needed it?).
Was it a case of cultural misunderstanding? And what do I stand for?
But later on it crossed my mind that our misunderstanding was perhaps due to cultural differences. Most Southern European cultures have a certain “go with the flow” type of element, being on time is relatively less important and meetings often happen quite spontaneous. Besides, “The Greek” sees himself as a hippie. So add some more “go with the flow” and there you have our problem. When I looked back at what he had written me each time I thought we had an arrangement, it was actually quite loosely defined. At least the first and the second time. As an example: “I think Wednesday would be an option, for you too?” (…) “Let’s look for Wednesday.” So what I had seen as an arrangement to meet up, actually provided some room for interpretation. Was that intentional? It does make life quite easy if you can just decide last-minute which plan suits you best. And the other person has no right to be upset because there was no real arrangement, right? But now I’m filling it in.
So how does the concept of cultural differences relate to my previous argument that a last-minute cancellation almost always implies a form of stealing someone else’s time? Seen from a Southern European (yes, I’m generalizing) point of view it perhaps isn’t such a big deal. Especially when meetings happen in groups, one person cancelling doesn’t chance much for the group. In one-on-one meetings, however, the dynamics are different. Though some people might argue that even in that case you should be flexible. Just take it easy Michelle, as “The Greek” would say. Then again, we all get to choose what we stand for. So in this case I choose to stand for that I would like my friends to deal with my time in a respectful way, just as I try to deal with their time in a respectful way. Where I define respectful as not stealing each other’s time and being true to your word. Mistakes happen, and it is okay to cancel every now and then, but it shouldn’t happen too often. Let me put it differently: three strikes and you’re out! Just to be a bit bold and use a baseball metaphor. What does “out” mean for “The Greek” in this case? That we won’t meet up again, I guess. I wrote him that I don’t want to be around him if he doesn’t take my time seriously. No response… Maybe I should just take it easy. 😉
*Ahimsa (Non-Violence) is another Yama and is characterized, among others, by compassion, love, understanding, respect, and patience. It means that you cultivate awareness in all of your actions, thoughts and in speech. So it for instance implies not having any negative thoughts or causing verbal injury.
Photo credit: Morguefile – thelesleyshow