Such was the best piece of advice I ever received, although I didn’t realise it at the time. My friend Polski told me one day that he won’t make offers or promises to anybody. If a mate is moving house, he won’t offer to help. If someone needs assistance in his particular area of expertise, he won’t volunteer. If an old friend is flying into his city, he won’t promise to pick them up from the airport.
At first I was appalled. How cold! How heartless!
It didn’t take long, however, to recognise the intelligence of this seemingly cruel policy. Polski’s reasoning is faultless. It’s game theory.
If he doesn’t offer and doesn’t deliver, he has broken no promise and nobody gets hurt.
If he does offer and doesn’t deliver, he has broken his promise and let somebody down.
If he does offer and does deliver, he has merely met expectations and fulfilled what is already anticipated.
If he doesn’t offer and does deliver, he has pleasantly surprised somebody and exceeded their expectations.
Although the idea of never offering to visit a friend in hospital, babysit their kid when needed, help them with a problem or take them out for dinner sort of makes me cringe a little bit, an honest review of the many broken promises that litter my past has actually got me thinking. This policy isn’t about being cruel or uncaring. It’s not about letting yourself off the hook and never helping your friends, it’s about striving to be the kind of friend who is reliable and helpful, but not feeling like a total deadbeat if you don’t always deliver.
Polski, I apologise for calling you a selfish jerk. You might actually be a genius.