I have a friend, for seven years now. We play music together and sing together with others at music sessions. We are not professional, but we play at nursing homes, apartment complexes, and high-rises.

     We are good friends, but he has a habit of trying to start a discussion over something that is mildly contentious.

     I don’t know how to describe it, but years ago I remember older people in South Florida, especially those from New York and New Jersey, do the same type thing. They think it’s conversation or challenging. Or maybe it’s cultural.

     I’m not sure if what he says is hypothetical or attention seeking, but I find it very annoying and a waste of time. How do I stop the discussion and go on to something else. Or do I simply say, “Talk to you later.”

     I don’t want to be rude to him. I just don’t want to pursue this back-and-forth nonsense.

     Mary Ann

     Mary Ann, in the past, perhaps you thought of this man’s conversation as the price of admission.

     Your girlfriend loves to shop; you don’t. If you want to hang out with her and talk, you have to do it while she is shopping. It may be the same with him. You enjoy making music. Putting up with his irritating conversation was simply the price of your ticket.

     But now it’s starting to wear on you. You don’t tell us what your “friend” says, so we’ll put words in his mouth. Let’s imagine he says, with a straight face, something like, “Do fish get thirsty?” “Why are women so illogical?” “The pyramids were built by aliens.”

     Each statement is annoying and pointless in its own way.

     But why is he like this? It could be a habit, or what you excuse as cultural. Or it could be he wants to exert power over you. He likes calling the tune, even though it’s a tune he knows you or others won’t like.

     The ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch said, “I don’t need a friend who changes when I change or nods when I nod. My shadow will do that better. I need a friend that will speak the truth and help me with his judgment.”

     If you agree with Plutarch, then your course of action is clear.

     You are entitled to your own feelings. That’s a given. Are you willing to tell him your feelings about his methods? If you are, you may find he is a true friend, someone with whom you share a bond of affection. Someone you can talk to. Or perhaps raising this issue will break the musical bond. If that’s the case, you may need to start over with different people.

     But you won’t know which until you, as a friend, challenge him.

     You call what he says “contentious.” It would not be contentious if you agreed with him, and that raises a deeper question. Does he violate your own sense of right and wrong? If he does, then you must follow your own ethics, even at the cost of the relationship. You can’t be the vegetarian owner of a slaughterhouse.

     Some things allow for workarounds and others do not. If what he says violates your deepest beliefs, you cannot remain silent. If what you want isn’t worth standing up for, then you will get whatever someone else forces on you. That’s how life works. Don’t alter your good nature by stuffing down your standards.

     So which is it? Are you putting up with foibles, listening to fingernails on a chalkboard, or being challenged in your ethics. And most importantly, is he your friend?

     Being direct is not the same as being rude. Often it’s the price of peace of mind. Plutarch might tell you that neither he nor you need a friend who is but a shadow of yourselves.

     Wayne & Tamara