“Friends” is a word that is overused today. Out of habit and inclusion, many people refer to almost anyone as “my friend,” when the vast majority of these people are acquaintances or just familiar strangers.
Perhaps you get coffee from the same barista every day, run into the same lady walking her dog at the park, and see the same gym rats when you work out. Maybe you sit next to the same people at every basketball game, have your oil changed by the same technicians at Jiffy Lube, and pass the same runners on the street. You chat about the weather, your kids, your workout, your car, your favorite teams…
Are these people your friends, or are they just being friendly? Are they good neighbors, or just being neighborly? If they show up at your door on a Saturday afternoon, will you open it? What if they show up in the middle of the night and ask for your help?
In reality, I have a few really close, true friends. I trust them implicitly. I have a lot more acquaintances, some great professional relationships, some fantastic students, some good running buddies…you get the picture.
Talk is cheap, and trust, if misplaced, it can be costly. When you interact with people outside your inner circle, whether in person or online, consider two things: how do you know them, and in what context? When they appear in your life out of context, that should raise a red flag. Be extra vigilant, consider their possible motivations, and act accordingly, based on that knowledge.