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The Art of Friendships: Lessons from David and Goliath

the next part of the story that Malcolm Gladwell left out

If you didn't get a chance to read David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, you missed a retelling of this ancient biblical story. Here are two paragraphs of cliff notes.

The Philistines and Israelites gathered their armies for a battle that would decimate a large number of men from both sides. To minimize causalities, a common practice was for two men to fight, each representing an entire side, and the winner took the spoils. From the Philistine camp arose Goliath, a large man (somewhere between 7-9 feet tall if you believe the bible) carrying armor and weapons that weighed over 150 pounds (a bronze helmet on his head, a coat of mail, bronze armor on his legs, a bronze javelin on his shoulders, and an iron spearheaded staff). With a shield-bearing minion beside him, here stood a terrifying creature who bellowed, "Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me . . . I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together". For 40 days, in terror, not a single Israelite rose. And then a small shepherd boy named David ran down the mountain and agreed to fight with nothing but a sling shot. Since you probably know how the story ends, let me echo the words of Malcolm Gladwell who claims that nearly everything about the story as it is told, is wrong.

Goliath, the supposed favorite, is actually at a disadvantage. His height. The excessive weight of armor and weapons that kept him rooted in one place. His inability to reach the battlefield on his own (a shield-bearer stood beside him and he needed a staff in his hand to walk). His slow, awkward movements. Statements made suggest double vision and nearsightedness (he asks David, “Am I a dog, that you are coming after me with sticks?””, whereas it is likely that David carried only one stick such that it would be easier to reach for the sling). Taken together, these symptoms raise the issue of whether Goliath suffered from acromegaly, a tumor on the pituitary that leads to gigantism, a weak body, poor reflexes, and restrictive sight. What appeared to be an advantage, being 8 feet tall with physically imposing weapons, in reality hinted at a disadvantage. Goliath could not fight well unless David engaged in his only forte - close range, hand-to-hand combat. But David, a smart bloke, chose the artillery route instead, as he was extremely accurate shooting rock projectiles from his slingshot. As for David's skill set, his leather pouch and stones served as a dangerous weapon. Accumulate sufficient speed and the stone that crushed Goliath's head had the power equivalent to a bullet from a .45 caliber pistol. David was not the underdog. But he was treated as such, and his heroism in battle led him to eventually become king.

And this is what I am interested in discussing. When you become admired for great deeds, the need for the right type of friends intensifies. David could often be a selfish and cruel king. Strolling through his palace, he saw a beautiful woman bathing in the courtyard. When he asked his staff for intel, they reported back that this was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. David slept with Bathsheba, and ordered Uriah killed. Now, nobody challenged these acts. Nobody mentioned to David that he forgot his humble roots. Except for his friend Nathan.

But Nathan knew better than to confront him directly. Instead, he told him a story about a wealthy merchant and his poor neighbor, from another town. The rich man had a huge stable of animals to feed his family, whereas the poor man had a single lamb that served as the family pet, sleeping beside him, eating with him during meal times. One day, a visitor spent the night at the rich man's house. The rich man did not want to use his food supply for this visitor, so he stole the poor man's lamb and served it instead. Hearing Nathan's story, David was aghast, "I swear by the living lord that the man who did this deserves to die! And because he didn't have any pity on the poor man, he will have to pay four times what the lamb was worth." Nathan did not try to placate David. Nathan calmly told David "the rich man is you".

We do not need friends. We need the right friends. Friends that bring forth playfulness, with laughter and adventure. Friends who help us, just as we help them, to be more successful. Friends who share our life history, where we serve as each other's biographers. Each of these three categories are valuable and it would behoove us to remember that we need these friends in adulthood, just as we did in childhood. But to me, the essence of great friendships is when we can be effortlessly ourselves around them. When we can speak our peace. When we can challenge and be challenged, knowing that it is safe to do so.

Without Nathan, David could have become intoxicated by power and a lesser man. Surround yourself with sycophants, and you become frozen in knowledge, skills, and wisdom. Choose a life of continual growth. Nurture the friendships that will assist you on this life long journey.

I gave a workshop two weeks ago and spoke on this topic. I asked the crowd to think about their social world. There are emerging characers, that are safe, devoid of intimacy. There are casual characters, that we reveal little too, only low stakes opinions are offered. There are close friends, where deep personal disclosure are shared, and this is reciprocated because trust, intimacy, and a sense of commitment settles in. And then there is the inner circle or wise council, who you can be effortlessly yourself around (the deep vulnerabilities and questions are fodder for discussion). I asked a simple question to the audience - What will you commit to doing to push two people upward? One woman asked - what if you have enough friends? I'm done. And anyway, why would you need more friends or a larger inner circle?

It comes down to what you value.

It comes down to what currencies are important to you besides money. Time? Energy? The question asked during my workshop suggests that for some, friendships are not obvious.

Developing friendships, caring deeply for other people, being humble enough to realize you are not as powerful and wise as you might believe, and being strong enough to realize that other people possess knowledge, skills, perspectives, and wisdom that would be beautiful to bask in. I am always ready to add the right people as close friends and I am damn fortunate for any single person that can be added to the inner circle. What would I be willing to die for? The protection of these characters. My success in life is directly proportional to their presence. You know who you are....

******NOTE: here are two podcasts that I loved doing this month, The School of Greatness, and The Art of Manliness. Enjoy them when you're stuck in traffic.******

Dr. Todd B. Kashdan is a public speaker, psychologist, and professor of psychology and senior scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University. His new book, The upside of your dark side: Why being your whole self - not just your “good” self - drives success and fulfillment is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booksamillion, Powell's or Indie Bound. If you're interested in speaking engagements or workshops, go to:

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