originally published in THE PENN

Marching 7/4 written by Lori Ferguson
Issue date: 1/31/05 Section: Opinion

Was it you?Were you in Copies Now Thursday talking to a girl called T.J. about anime? Did you mention that you knew a Lori, who is married and has a kid, who also likes anime?I saw T.J. just a few minutes afterwards, and she desperately tried to recall your name — which you had told her twice.At more prodding, when I asked if you were someone I didn’t know who knew me, she said that you called me a “good friend” and that I was “cool.”While I’m ecstatic that I’m finally described as “cool” after being called “geek” and “loser” all through high school, I feel like a jerk that I can’t place someone who rates me that highly.I already knew I needed to learn how to be a better friend — now it is time for action.It’s so easy to become self-absorbed and caught up in the details of our own little world. Each of us is the star of it, after all, so it makes sense that we focus primarily on getting our own needs met.Like I’ve been advised many times, “Always look out for number one, for no one else will.”However, I have come to realize that sometimes in helping others — sharing their worlds with them — we find more balance in our own lives.In my narrow-minded quest to deal with my own life, I’ve found that I often monopolize conversations with friends. To work on this — with the echo of an old friend ringing in my ears lambasting me for ignoring her needs — when I’ve noticed myself falling into this trap, I start asking my companion questions about her life to shift the focus and establish a harmony in the relationship.This practice has led to some fascinating conversations — like one about the soap opera “Days of Our Lives,” and why John Black left the priesthood. I would never have expected to have been discussing that subject!It’s amazing what bits of information you can learn about your friends. Even the ones you thought you knew so well have qualities that will surprise you.Of course, asking questions of your friends — not out of nosiness, but true interest — is a pointless exercise unless you are prepared to actually listen to their answers.So often people ask, “How are you?” as a greeting and don’t wait for a reply.Being an attentive and active listener is something else that I seek to improve, despite how rushed I may be to complete my tasks.It’s also important to understand their perspective — where they are coming from and how they interpret the world. Learning more about your friends will help you understand them and enable you to be a better friend.And who knows?You may find out that you have stuff in common you never dreamed possible, helping you bond tighter than before.The friendships we make today may last us a lifetime.