Question: Should I end my friendship with a persistent and devout Christian? I am an atheist who has been befriended by a very devout Christian (read: an ex-missionary). I often find that our philosophical differences prevent me from expressing myself the way I would like. However, this friend has been very devoted to pursuing a deeper friendship with me despite my attempts to keep the relationship very casual. She calls me her "best friend" to others and goes out of her way to forge a deeper bond by regularly telling me how "special" I am to her and reiterating how close to me she feels. She will often say that she regards me as a "sister." I am puzzled by her persistence, given that she has so many friendship options within her Church and the rest of the Christian community. I am also increasingly uncomfortable with our interactions, given their necessarily narrow breadth and depth: we tend to focus our discussions mainly on a shared hobby we enjoy that has nothing to do with religion or philosophy. I really value time spent engaging in philosophical discussions with my other friends, and this is simply not possible with her. The dilemma is that she has been admirably non-judgmental toward my lifestyle, at least outwardly. She does not proselytize or try to "convert" me. (I have made it clear to her that this is not possible.) Still, our friendship feels vacant to me. I have tried to express my concerns to her at various times but her response is always that she loves me and accepts me "no matter what." I think she is being sincere, but it feels like a manipulation or, at least, an evasion of our many differences. Still, I always end up feeling guilty for keeping her at a distance while she works so hard to be my friend. Should I end this friendship once and for all?
Question: Should people who merely like and respect each other ever marry? Imagine that a person doesn't think that he'll ever find true and deep love – perhaps for good reason. In that case, is it wrong to marry someone you enjoy, value, like, and respect – even if you don't love that person? What factors might make a decision reasonable, if any? Should the other person know about the lack of depth in your feelings?
Question: How can I stop obsessing over past conversations? After having a conversation with someone, I often obsess about what I said to them and the way that I said it. I think about they ways they could have misinterpreted what I meant, and I worry that they thought I was being rude or disrespectful. Most of the time, of course, whatever nuances I thought would offend them were either non-existent or just went straight over their head. How can I overcome this obsessiveness, while still maintaining a healthy level of concern for how what I say may be interpreted?
Question: How can I achieve greater psychological visibility? Recently, I realized that many of my emotional difficulties in life – such as in maintaining motivation or keeping serene – may be exacerbated by feelings of psychological invisibility. In other words, I feel uncared for and unnoticed, and the deep dissatisfaction stemming from that could be potentially affecting a lot of areas in my life. For instance, I recently spoke to my manager as to my problems at work, and it made me feel so uniquely good that I was able to finish my shift in peace and on-track, in contrast to the bitter, near seething prior hours. That unique feeling indicates that I may have a deep unfulfilled emotional need in this area, hurting other realms of performance. Thus, what is psychological visibility? What does it add to my life? How can I satisfy it?
Question: How can I overcome my fear of leading a value-less life? Ever since I was young, I've had an overwhelming fear of leading a valueless life. I saw my parent and other adult role models live this way. There was nothing in their life: they never strived for anything, never had dreams, and tended to discourage dreams from others. I always thought that I would be different. I always thought that I could live in a fulfilled way. But slowly I noticed that I was falling into their path. I didn't start college till 23 because of student aid issues. Until then I worked minimum wage, and I went without food some days. Now at 26, I have a 2 year degree. Even with my new job I still live in a drug and prostitution infested ghetto in Philadelphia because this is the only place I can afford. After calculating how long it will take me to get my career off the ground, I could graduate with a MS by 30 or 32. But noticing the patterns that I see in other people, I have this overwhelming fear that all attempts at achieving a value will slowly slip my grasp. I constantly needed to push values off till tomorrow until I get today straightened out. I am scared that tomorrow will never come. I have so many goals and dreams and values but I might never get to achieve them. I see it so clearly sometimes: 45, divorced, alone, with nothing to show for my hard work, debt, a giant mortgage or even worse perpetual renting, and my only outlet going to the pub with other Philly white trash middle-agers. How can rational philosophy help me gain perspective on this fear that I have had since a kid?
Question: Is there any validity to the concept of "the friend zone"? The "friend zone" is used to describe the situation of a man who is interested in a woman, but she's not interested in being more than friends with him. Then, he's "in the friend zone," and he can't get out except by her say-so. So "nice guys" in the friend zone often use the concept to describe the frustration of watching the women they desire date "bad boys" while they sit over to the side waiting for their chance to graduate from being just friends to being something more. Feminists suggest that this concept devalues a woman's right to determine the context and standard of their sexual and romantic interests, that it treats a woman's sexual acceptance as something that a man is entitled to by virtue of not being a jerk. Is that right? Or do women harm themselves by making bad choices about the types of men they date versus the types they put in the "friend zone?"
Question: Does egoism suffer from "one thought too many"? Bernard Williams argues that utilitarianism suffers from a problem of inappropriate motivation in which a person has "one thought too many" before acting morally. So, for example, a good utilitarian must calculate whether the general welfare is served by saving a drowning child before jumping into the water. A truly good person, in contrast, simply jumps into the water to save the child without that calculation. Wouldn't this same objection apply to even rational, benevolent egoism? Or are those extra thoughts between situation and action actually rational?
Question: How can I maintain my sense of self when surrounded by people I don't relate to deeply? At places like work I have trouble relating to my coworkers on a significantly deep level. For the most part, we just don't share the deepest or most important aspects of life, such as a genuine interests in ideas, various nuances of the culinary arts, and so on. However, I enjoy interacting with these people, but I'm not likely to engage in frequent outings and whatnot. Yet, in other aspects of life – for the time – I don't have the ability to deal with people I share a "like soul" with, to use Aristotelian terms. Thus, how can I truthfully express my personality and values while maintaining, or even deepening, my friendship with these people? I feel like I'm "faking" myself too often.
Question: Does a person owe others an explanation for unfriending them on Facebook? I'm "friends" with many people on Facebook who I can't stand and with whom I would never willingly spend time in real life. I've purged many Facebook friends I didn't really know and/or who've contributed nothing of value to my life, all for the better. Now I am considering whether to unfriend former lovers and one-time real life friends from my youth for a host of insurmountable reasons – for example, our politics don't jive, I'm annoyed by seeing endless photos of their pets, and so on. Odds are I will never have any dealings with these people again, mostly because I don't want to. Do I owe them an explanation for the unfriending?
Question: How forthcoming should I be with new people I meet about my checkered past? My past is not a source of pride for me. Over four years ago, I read "Atlas Shrugged." That book altered the radical change I was already bringing into my life for the better. I've recently begun meeting other fans of Ayn Rand in real life, and I dislike discussing my white-trash, moocher-esque history with these new acquaintances. (At the time, I was between 17 and 20 years old.) If I shared my past with these people, I think they might judge me harshly and cut ties with me, given that they don't know me well. However, given my past, I have a clearer understanding of the irrational, twisted, cruel, and nasty nature of people who choose to live like leeches off of other human beings. I think that sharing these experiences with others can be a source of strength to them. (I don't want others to stumble into these poor decisions when they could do better!) So how much of my past should I share with other people, and how should I share it?
Question: How can I better identify dangerous or immoral people in my life? I don't like to be morally judgmental about personality and other optional differences. In fact, I like being friends with a variety of kinds of people: that expands my own horizon. Yet I've been prey to some really awful people in my life. Looking back, I'd have to say that I ignored some signs of trouble – dismissing them as mere optional matters, as opposed to moral failures. How can I better differentiate "interesting" and "quirky" from "crazy" and "dangerous" in people I know? How can I see "red flags" more clearly?
Question: Does mental illness excuse wrong behavior? Recently, a friend of mine apologized for making hurtful and unfair comments to me. (It's not the first time she's done that.) She said that she's been struggling with depression, and she's now on anti-depressants and in therapy. I'm not sure how to take that. I feel for her, yet I also feel like I'm being manipulated into overlooking her bad behavior because she's "sick." How should struggles with mental illness figure into explanations and apologies for wrong behavior – if at all?
Question: Was Francisco's lack of jealousy in Atlas Shrugged rational or realistic? In Part 3, Chapter 2 of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Francisco tells Dagny, "...No matter what you feel for [Hank Rearden], it will not change what you feel for me, and it won't be treason to either, because it comes from the same root, it's the same payment in answer to the same values..." Is that a rational and realistic response? Given their love for Dagny, shouldn't Francisco and Hank have been more disappointed in their loss of Dagny to John Galt, and perhaps even jealous of him? Is a person wrong to feel bitter disappointment or jealousy over a lost love?
Question: When is a relationship broken beyond repair? Relationships can be severely strained, fraught with anger and frustration, and perhaps put on ice for weeks or months or years. Yet in the end, the two people can often reconcile in some way, so that they can enjoy a genuine (even if not deep) relationship again. In some cases, however, that's not possible. Why not? In such cases, must the problem be that one person (or both people) continue to behave badly? Or might reconciliation be impossible between two good people? If so, why?
Question: Am I obliged to help a friend in trouble due to her own poor choices? I have a friend who is emotionally draining to me, and she is especially "down on her luck" this month. However, her situation is a direct result of especially poor personal choices over the last year, and there is no good path to get her out of the hole of poverty and depression. We don't have much in common other than similar-aged kids, and active participation in a local moms' group, but because I have come to her aid in the past, I feel an unspoken obligation to continue. (Maybe it's guilt, or pity, or empathy?) What are my obligations in a friendship that has recently become more taxing than beneficial? I don't dislike her, and we have many mutual friends, but I just don't think I can muster the time, financial resources, or energy this time to help bail her out of the latest fiasco. Is it morally acceptable to refuse to help? Should I talk to her about why now – or wait until she's less vulnerable?
Question: What's the proper response to the dissolution of a friendship within a social group? I loved your your May 6th, 2012 discussion of "unforgivable acts," and I have a follow-up question. Now – after cutting my losses with a best friend, after years of giving second chances, talking with him repeatedly, and determining that there's no more basis for a friendship – how do I judge mutual friends of ours? Some of them think that my actions weren't justified. Some resent me for breaking up a group of friends. Many want me to either make up with this person or tolerate him at gatherings. Is this reaction by these mutual friends fair? How should I respond to them?
Question: How can a person deal with overzealous ideologues? Suppose that an overzealous follower of a particular belief system constantly monitors and polices the behavior of other followers. When he sees what he believes to be a failure by someone to live up to their ideals, he attacks that person publicly, trying to shame him into proper behavior. What is the proper response if I am attacked by this overzealous follower in public? What if the attacks are private? Should I respond if my friends and acquaintances are attacked?
Question: How can I say no to a friend's request to become a business partner? Over the past several years, I developed a home craft business. Now that it is successful, one of my friends wants to be involved. She sends messages asking to get together to discuss ideas for new products and expanding the business. However, I am not interested in having a partner. How can I let her know that I don't want a partner – without coming across as mean or hurting her feelings? Also, since I want to support and encourage my friends' interests, I'm struggling with guilt for saying "no." How can I overcome that?
Question: What are "spiritual" values? In your recent discussion of "Materialism in Marriage," you talked about the importance of "spiritual values." However, I found that confusing, since I've always associated "spirituality" with religion, often of the woozy variety. So what are spiritual values? How are they different from material values? Why are they important?
Question: Should you care whether other people find you attractive? I’ve heard some people say they don't care what other people think of their physical appearance: they only care about their own judgment. To care, they say, is second-handed. Is that right? It is wrong to be pleased when someone compliments you on your clothes or hair?
Question: How can I politely tell my co-workers that I'm not interested in socializing? I have always struggled with the pressure to form friendships at work. Personally, I don't want to hang out with my coworkers after work. I don't want to chit chat during work. I won't want to celebrate birthdays or other personal events. This is always interpreted as me being snobbish, aloof, and worst of all "not a team player." It's so annoying. I just want to do a good job and then leave, not join a social club. How can I communicate that without being offensive?
Question: When does humor work against my values? Sometimes, I wonder whether my jokes undermine what I value. Is it wrong to poke fun at my friends or myself? Is it wrong to joke about principles that I hold dear? How do I draw the line?
Question: Should friends initiate contact with each other roughly equally? Some of my friends never initiate contact with me. They are friendly, loyal, and otherwise great friends. But for any interaction or get-togethers, I must initiate conversation, suggest activities, and so on. Sometimes, I feel as if I value the friendship much, much more than the other person does. Is that an accurate assessment or is something else going on? Should I just seek other friends? Should I talk to these friends about this issue? (If so, what should I say?)
Question: Should I spend time with a friend and her husband if I can't stand him? A friend of mine is married to a man with the same views of love and marriage as Jim Taggart. He is of no value to me, and I hate being in his presence. My friend invites me to spend time with the two of them and other friends of hers. Should I decline the invitations so that I do not grant her husband any undeserved attention or friendliness? Or should I accept so that I can see my friend? To do the latter feels like insulting my friend and betraying my own values.
Question: Am I responsible for the actions of my friends? Suppose that a friend of mine does something that others find objectionable. Am I obliged to state my opinion of what my friend did? If I refuse to state an opinion, should others assume that I endorse my friend's actions?
Question: Is it wrong to be friends with subordinates at work? Work is a place where you have a certain contractual and moral obligation to the company you work for to put the company's interests ahead. With workplace friendships, particularly with subordinates, this can lead to problematic situations, particularly in maintaining a sense of objectivity both to yourself and among your peers and subordinates. There are also problems with the friendship itself; items that you are not supposed to share with subordinates and big events in your friend's life (looking for another job, for example) that either put you in a rough situation or have to be left out of the friendship entirely. Is being friends with someone who is subordinate to you at work practical or moral?
Summary: What are the best ways to seek out promising prospects for friendship or romance? What can you do to make yourself a better prospect to others?
Question: Can an ordinary person do something unforgivable? Could a friend act in a way that would make rational forgiveness impossible? Might a person do something so hurtful or unfair that you couldn't ever trust them again? In such cases, how should the person wronged acted towards the unforgivable person?
Question: How can I encourage my friends to be more purposeful and passionate? I have been certain about my life's purpose – in terms of what career and personal creative works I'd like to pursue – from a young age. I've had friends who are above-average in their academic and career work, and who explore various hobbies, but they do not pursue those activities with eager passion. They say that they "do not know what they want out of life" and have not "found their calling." What is at the root of uncertainty about one's purpose? Is there a moral breach involved? How can I motivate, encourage, and inspire my friends?
Question: Why are disputes so belligerent in online communities? I've noticed that people get into very loud and heated disputes online, whereas that doesn't seem to happen in local communities. Disputes in local communities tend to be less frequent, less belligerent, and last for a shorter time - even when some people end up hating each other and refusing to have anything to do with each other in the end. Why is that? Also, why do people who are closest with each other (whether close friends, dating, or married) seem to agree more on hot-button issues? Are people more willing to reject a stranger's arguments than those of a friend? Is that an error?
Question: What should I do when other people offer to pray for me? Sometimes my friends and family members offer to pray for me – whether because I've got some problem in my life or because they know that I'm an atheist. How should I respond?
Question: What is the proper response of an atheist to requests for prayers? A relative of mine recently had surgery to have his appendix removed. I was asked by another relative to pray for the first relative, even though everyone in my family knows that I don't believe in God or the power of prayer. I tried to let it slide during the conversation, but she was insistent. How should I respond to such requests for prayers, particularly when I don't want to offend anyone or seem unconcerned?
Question: What's the proper threshold for cutting off a digital versus in-person acquaintance? Morally, when it is wrong to end your friendly interactions with an in-person acquaintance? And when is it wrong not to do so? Does the answer differ for a digital acquaintance – meaning, for example, someone that you know only via Facebook?
Question: Am I obliged to tell a friend that I've developed romantic feelings towards her? Recently, I've developed romantic feelings for a platonic friend. Is it dishonest to withhold this information from her and just continue our friendship? What should I do if she asks me a direct question about my feelings? When would it be wrong to withhold this information from her, if ever?
Question: Should you just keep quiet when a friend's bad philosophy works for him? If someone you know pretty well believes in something mystical, such as "The Law of Attraction" (from "The Secret"), or "The Power of Prayer," and this has helped them move their outlook on life toward a benevolent universe premise, and they are more productive and happier, is it better to leave them with their faulty metaphysics and avoid the topic, or should you try to show them the error? What do you say when they start trying to convince you of the truth of their view?
Question: Are "friends with benefits" relationships a mistake? It is moral and/or wise to pursue sexual relationships with friends, even though you're not in a romantic relationship? What are some of the benefits and/or pitfalls? If it's a mistake, what should a person do to avoid such entanglements?
Question: How can I politely decline outings with friends that I cannot afford? Recently, a friend proposed an outing that was far too costly for my limited budget. In such cases, how do you recommend telling the person that it's too pricey? If the person then offers to pay my way, is it wrong to accept that? I don't want to be an object of charity, nor pressure my friends into paying for me in any way.
Question: Should I terminate friendships with people who steal music and other intellectual property from the internet? I don't know a single person who doesn't steal something off the internet. I used to do this myself, but stopped when I realized it was wrong and why. Normally, I would cut off contact with anyone who violates rights, because that's worse than just holding wrong ideas, but the activity is so prevalent now that doing so would end my social life. Even now, my clear moral position strains my friendships. So what should I do?
Question: How can I maintain my integrity in friendships with people of opposite philosophic views? I struggle to keep good relations with family and friends who support our current political system in which some people are helped at the expense of others, which I regard as slavery. They support ObamaCare, EPA restrictions, and welfare programs. Through years of caring discussions, I realize that they do not hold the individual as sacred but instead focus on what's best for "the group." At this point, I often feel more pain than pleasure being with them, even though we have many other values in common, yet I hate to cut them off. How can I maintain good relationships with them – or should I stop trying?
Question: Are there times when you shouldn't help a friend? If you see a friend taking some action which may be ultimately self-defeating or self-destructive, but you are pretty sure they don't have the knowledge or experience to understand the future consequences of their actions, should you allow them to learn on their own or stop them from making a mistake that you know will be disastrous?
Question: When a person adopts a life-changing set of beliefs, how should he present that to family and friends? The point would not be to try to convince them to follow, but to say "look... this is what I believe, these are the principles by which I now live my life now, and please respect my choice to do so."
Question: What do you think of long-distance relationships? Do you see any dangers in long-distance relationships? Hasn't the internet made such relationships nearly as good as living in the same city?
Question: What are the benefits of attending Objectivist conferences in person? I know that there are several regional Objectivist conferences this year in addition to the Ayn Rand Institute's OCON. What are the benefits of attending these in person, rather than just listening to the lectures via a webcast or buying the lectures afterwards?
Question: How does one best deal with unrequited love? I am most interested in this from the perspective of someone who harbors feelings for a friend. In particular, how do you "move on"? When I have been in this situation, I have found it difficult to be interested in others I'm trying to date when so "hung up". Is it necessary to distance oneself from the object of one's affection, even if it means to some extent giving up a life-enhancing friendship? What if one would rather remain single than diminish the friendship? Can that be a rational choice? If so, for how long? Does the answer change if the initial rejection was not unequivocal, but based on some possibly temporary circumstances (like a current relationship)?
Question: What is love? How would you distinguish between romantic love and the love of close friendship? What is the difference between infatuation and love? How can a rational person know when he or she is "in love"?
Question: Should you tell someone else's secret to a spouse? I know a lot of times when I share personal information with my best friend, I assume that she will (and am okay with) her sharing some or all of that information with her significant other. I think she makes the same assumption, that I will share some of what she tells me with my husband. If (hypothetically) there was something I didn't want her significant other to know about, would I be right in asking that she keep a secret from him? On one hand, the information I'm sharing is personal and I might like to keep it between us. On the other, is it right to ask her to keep something from him?
Question: What is the best way to cut someone out of one's life? When ending a friendship with someone is one obliged to give them reasons or is a simple "I no longer want to have a friendship with you" sufficient? What if the person would not accept the reasons or maybe even be driven to revenge or depression by such an action?
Question: What's the difference between a close friendship and an "emotional affair"? Where do you draw the line between them? What's the essential wrong of emotional affairs, if any?
Question: Can men and women be "just friends"? (This is a follow-up to the discussion on infidelity from January 23rd.) Where is the line crossed from friendship to something more intimate that would be a threat to a committed relationship? Is it fair for me to expect a romantic partner to keep his female friends at a distance?
Question: How can I judge people more efficiently? It would be helpful to be more efficient in judging whether certain individuals are appropriate for a friendship. Sometimes it takes me a long time to decide whether I would like to be friends with someone or not. It takes me even longer to decide whether I would like to be in a romantic relationship with someone. How can I speed this process up? What are some key factors that might help me make these types of decisions more efficiently?
Question: How do you judge people of mixed premises? Many people are of "mixed" premises. How does one develop close and personal friendships or pursue long-term, serious, romantic relationships when many people are not consistently rational or moral? How does one judge such people objectively as to their worthiness for friendship or as a potential romantic interest?
Question: I have a friend who is pretty hardcore paleo and is often very critical of other people's diets. Food is really important to her and I don't think she means to sound so disparaging. How do I kindly tell her to butt out of mine and my friends' eating habits?
Question: If you have a dear friend with depression that is honestly struggling, what can you do to help? I've listened. I've recommended a book Mind Over Mood. I've sent a picture each day of a memory and what is says about her i.e. focus on the positive.
Question: A friend (we were once close, but have grown apart in recent years) confides that she is cheating on her husband and has no plans to tell him. I have no idea what to do – I neither wanted this secret nor want to help keep it from the husband. I'm angry.
Summary: Many people lament the difficulty of finding good prospects for a lasting, deep, and happy romance. Others have trouble finding worthwhile friends. Yet most people who bemoan the lack of prospects could be doing much more than they are to increase their odds of success. Too many people don't adopt a purposeful approach but instead wait passively... and complain.
This 90-minute podcast discusses how to make yourself a good prospect – and how to find good prospects – for romance and friendship.
This 90-minute podcast discusses how to make yourself a good prospect – and how to find good prospects – for romance and friendship.
Summary: I answer three questions on romantic relationships concerning (1) friendship after a failed romance, (2) romance between people of very different philosophies, and (3) managing finances in marriage.