Written by Chelsea Nyirenda
Image by @leomieanderson
“An ally is any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole.” Sheree Atcheson for Forbes, 2018.
Have you ever felt like your girlfriend was actually turning into your girlfriend? She has your location, sends you good morning texts, and freaks out when you don’t answer your phone? She may be requesting more from you because you’ve proved that you can be trusted, or she may be a Scorpio. All jokes aside, platonic friendships can sometimes start to feel just as much of a partnership as our romantic relationships do, and in that we’re required to be committed to loving, listening, and most importantly supporting these special people in our lives.
Today I serve you a challenge. I want you to ask yourself “Am I a good friend?” and if so, further that question with “Am I also an ally to my friends?”. In 2022 everything is everything, humans as a collective has for once experienced something together, that no one person can feel excluded from. Mental Health is becoming a Mainstream priority and that has created so much space for necessary communication across the board. But aside from what we experienced together we also all witnessed different countries, groups and people experience very isolating hardships. This challenged a lot of friendships because empathy and sympathy aren’t the same things, and listening doesn’t always translate to understanding.
It’s funny to think about but being stuck at home with family for two years actually forced families to talk to each other, and somehow broke down those emotional barriers some of us hold on to, and there was so much release. Through that same experience, friendships were challenged in ways that have forced us to be vocal on things we need from each other. The word boundaries should be trending on Twitter every day, it’s such a keystone word to these conversations, and I feel like it’s in every self-care Instagram reel. But all of this is good, we are growing to understand that friendships have revolutions and in those transitions, we have to dig a lot deeper, we are now being held responsible to show up and be creative with showing that we care and that we will be there, even when we have to stay 6 feet or 3,000 miles apart, even when it’s uncomfortable, and the most difficult, even when we don’t align.
We have to ask ourselves,
“Do I understand their perspective and experience or did I just listen?”
“Why didn’t I ask questions if I didn’t understand? Was that fear or ego?”
“How can I be better the next time this person comes to confide in me?”
And sometimes this is hard.
So many of us see friendships and romantic relationships as completely separate things, but in reality, we have to treat them quite similarly. Intimacy in these relationships looks different, of course, but the intention is the keyword that is so important in both relationships. Being an ally is a lifelong learning process, as the world changes, life changes and so do relationships. Commitment looks different, the talks get longer or shorter and sometimes you’re just tired — but there are ways to reassure your friend that you see them and that you are there for them, even in your absence. Here are some tips on how to show up in ways that translate to support for your friends.
- Ask questions: The only way to learn is to ask, break down your ego and admit that there are somethings you just don’t know, it’s much more respectable than pretending to relate or understand
- Listen with no intention to build a response: sometimes you have to create space for your friend and commit to not taking up any of it, your silence is commitment to learning.
- Educate yourself: it is not your friend’s job to educate you on your privilege, but it’s also not their job to over explain to you their disadvantages and history of their struggles. You doing research and investing in their story or reality means a great deal, and is a solid foundation to active support
- Show up and take action when necessary: if you see/hear it, address it. Practice what you learn, once you are aware you are now being held accountable to participate in being the change.
Life can get really hard, but we all know that a friend can make a hell of a lot of a difference. Allyship is an intentional effort to support the well-being of your friends and the communities we build. Allyship changes the world, through empathy, we place ourselves in each other’s shoes and commit to understanding the journey and sacrifice. We make compromises, we admit our wrongs, we shy away from our ego and lead with love.
I hope this encourages you today.