Conscious spiritual friendship is a careful practice because the guidelines the Buddha gave on correcting another person stipulate that you have to be based on compassion rather than irritation, and that you have to find the right time and place – and not be fearful of meeting the defensiveness or the hurt feelings of the other.
Hence we train to willingly open ourselves to feedback. When there is this openness I’ve found that the response is generally gentle and maybe refers to some scenario in which one is a little insensitive – nothing much at all.
And one thinks, ‘Was that all?’ Because we’re often very critical of ourselves: my mind can come up with an entire list of things that people could find fault with me about! So opening up also helps to clear that inner critic.
On the other hand, if you don’t open up and make the invitation, you’re left with the sense that people are really getting offended or annoyed, but are just too polite to mention it.
Some people are very skilful at offering admonishment. For instance, someone once put it to me like this: ‘Because you’re a person of integrity, I see there are things you’re doing that are not worthy of you and that you’d want to know about.’ When someone says that to you, you know you have a real friend! It’s not: ‘Why don’t you get your act together, you idiot!’ Or: ‘You should be ashamed of yourself, after all these years!’
The deep friend is someone who has deepened themselves and understands how even well-intentioned people don’t always see how their actions affect others.
This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the article, “The Good Friend,” (pdf) panels 5-6.