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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

The WhatsApp council of candid friends that keeps me grounded

It’s time to celebrate those mates who can tell us life as it is

Despite working in a newsroom for years - a place where ideas are exchanged furiously and shot down with brutal candour - Saeed is still not immune from the sting of criticism. Getty
Despite working in a newsroom for years - a place where ideas are exchanged furiously and shot down with brutal candour - Saeed is still not immune from the sting of criticism. Getty

This week, I came across a social media post from an old acquaintance. This man is renowned for his direct communication style, and I always enjoy reading his daily dose of street wisdom. True to form, the latest post from the American was sharp and succinct – he was praising the friends that tell him the raw, unvarnished truth, no matter how much it can hurt.

His post made me pause and reflect on the fact that we have a tendency to only celebrate friendship during the good times, and that we mainly pay tribute to the positivity the people around us provide.

The thing is, life puts us through the wringer, and our hardest times are often laced with turbulent conversations when those closest to us tell us to accept reality, as harsh as that can be.

When I recall times when friends have delivered me hard truths, I can feel the colour draining from my face – I have buried many of these conversations in my subconscious. It is the most painful moments that make us the most vulnerable.

As well as being the one who has been hurt, I have also had to deliver tough words to friends over the years – but just so we’re clear, I didn’t actively volunteer for the job.

Most of the time, it’s instinctive. Like the time I felt compelled to tell an old friend that his “achy-breaky heart” routine was getting tired, and he had to find the strength to get up and move on. This was three years after he’d been through a bitter relationship break-up.

For those who know me, this type of exchange is not in my character, but I dug in and drew strength and knew that my friend appreciated the truth, so I didn’t pull any punches and then metaphorically hit him right between the eyes.

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Read more from Saeed:

Chinese soaps on TV dubbed into Arabic? Bring it on

With the World Cup about to end, the UAE summer is really about to beg

Soundtrack your relationships through a playlist

The unique pleasure of watching the World Cup right here in the UAE

Advice for students now that school exams are looming

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Such doses of tough love usually require a shared history and a bond that’s strong enough that your advice can get through. But, despite working in a newsroom for years – a place where ideas are exchanged furiously and at times shot down with brutal candour – I am still not immune to the sting of criticism.

Two of my friends – an award-­winning comic and a financial analyst – alerted me to this fact once, and we have all since committed to keeping each other in check, without getting our noses bent out of shape in the process.

When we all lived in Australia, the three of us created what we came to call “the council”. We met fortnightly for breakfast – and it was then that we would share our personal grievances and issues.

Once I had said my piece, my adjudicators would then offer their unchecked advice in return. The next week, I would report back on how I was going. This honesty worked for us and proved to be helpful.

Our council meetings continue but, seven years down the track, and with me in the UAE, the sessions are now held via WhatsApp, and my mates back in Melbourne hear about, and comment on, my expatriate experience from afar.

So, I want to take a minute to salute those friends who tell it to us straight, all the more important in a world where social media has us craving self-praise and affirmation. The job may not always be pretty, but the value of honest friends cannot be measured – it’s priceless.