There’s a perfectly manicured lawn in Southeastern Ohio. It runs flat and green toward the rolling hills of Appalachia.
There are no flowers or bushes on this lawn. No trees or toys. Nothing to distract you from the lone sign planted at its middle. The sign stands three feet tall, is white with black letters and reads:
Center Of The Universe
I burst out laughing and look around for someone, anyone to share this magnificent joke with.
The next day I’m sitting at my desk in the back of a small classroom. It’s the start of my second year of graduate school. One of my classmates, who I consider a best friend, sits down next to me. I ask her for help on my latest project, as I always do. She helps, as she always does. When we’re done I tell her my story about the sign and… silence.
She doesn’t laugh.
Instead she stares at me stone faced with the contempt of a righteous executioner and says, “That’s funny. I thought you considered yourself the center of the universe. You know the world doesn’t revolve around you Morris.”
I tried to argue, but the facts were in her favor. She was right. I was a self absorbed prick, readily taking from others rather than giving of myself.
I look back on that moment and think how unbelievably lucky I was to have a friend willing to speak her truth and set me straight. That one poignant observation forced me to reevaluate how I related to the world.
When I got home later that night I took out a blank flash card and wrote a single question on it:
Who Do You Want To Be?
I tacked that card up on my wall next to my bed and stared at it morning and night. When I moved, it moved with me. It became my principal guiding question, one which I continue to build my life around.
One essential lesson I took from that exchange is this: Just because you have lots of friends, doesn’t mean they respect you.
While being witty, talented, athletic, cool or entertaining will win you a popularity contest, it won’t win you any best friends.
To be considered a best friend you need to demonstrate a willingness to put the interests of others before your own. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has a best friend they consider selfish.
Just because a best friend of yours bails you out of jail, is there for you through your worst tragedy, speaks at your wedding or babysits your children, doesn’t mean they consider you a best friend of theirs.
I was wrong all those years ago to arrogantly assume Laura Jo DeCapua considered me a best friend – and today I thank her for teaching me that the only way to become someone’s best friend is to place them ahead of yourself and at the center of your universe.
Who knows, without her I might still be living obliviously, wondering why my best friends are always so slow to return my calls.