A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of listening to other people’s opinions, especially those of people who are directly impacted by an issue like gun control, before speaking out instinctively. I wanted to draw on this a bit and talk about people who challenge you to be a better person. There are, obviously, many qualities that make someone a great friend, and lately I’ve been thinking that this is one of the most important qualities to me; someone who makes me a better person.

I consider myself fortunate that I have friends who not only support me, but who challenge me. There was a point this year where I was having trouble with an article I was working on. I told one of my best friends—who also happened to be my editor for the particular publication on campus—that I wanted to scrap the piece because I didn’t think I could do it justice. She didn’t let me give up; she pushed me to keep working on it.

I ended up doing several interviews with politicians over the course of a week, which was one of my first experiences directly interviewing politicians. The article became one of my favourite things I’ve written so far—and I wouldn’t have kept writing it, if my friend hadn’t challenged me to continue.

That’s a pretty “big” example, but I find that little instances of my friends encouraging me and challenging me to be better happen all the time—even if it’s not direct. In high school, I had a friend who always held the door open for me. Although the gesture was small, I always appreciated it.  

We paused at an open door, each of us encouraging the other to be the first to walk through. It was a funny moment, and one that sticks out in my memory. Now when I make an effort to hold doors open for other people, I think of that friend and the propensity for small, kind acts she instilled in me, simply by being herself.

This, the idea of being inspired by friends and learning from them, is something I love. It goes back to the idea that you shouldn’t be the smartest person in the room—if you are, then you’re not learning, growing or otherwise being challenged. One of my close friends is a graphic designer, so we talk a lot about projects we’re working on. I always learn so much from her because although we’re both creative, she has a completely different skill set and talent.

I think it’s also important to have friends who challenge you to think about the world in different ways. One of my friends and I were talking recently about a politician who blocked her on Twitter. We noted that we like to seek out new viewpoints on social media, and have discussions with friends who might see issues in a different way than we do. If you block those people—online, or in real life—then you keep yourself in a bubble where everyone agrees with you, which gives you a warped perception of the world.

Having realized that I love having friends who challenge me to be better, I’ve sought to do the same; support my friends and also encourage them to think outside the box and be better, just like they do for me.

There’s a poem by the poet Atticus that says, “Watch carefully, the magic that occurs, when you give a person, just enough comfort to be themselves.” I think that magic is even more prone to occur when you give a friend not only the space to be themselves, but the space to grow and be a better version of who they already are. 

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