On Captivity and Friendship

In 1999 I was held captive by a radical extremist group. I had to make up that story as it is the only logical explanation for a 28 year-old male to be watching ‘Live with Regis and Kathie Lee’ at nine o’clock in the morning…on a Thursday.  ‘Live with Regis and Kathie Lee’ was a staple of morning talk shows. The show continues today in a different form; Kathie Lee was eventually replaced by Kelly Ripa. Regis Philbin was eventually replaced by Michael Strahan who was subsequently replaced by Ryan Seacrest who may, in fact, be a Disney reanimated Regis Philbin. It just occurred to me that I have a stronger grasp of the ‘Live’ host genealogy than I do of my own family tree…

Anywho, on this occasion in 1999 (again, being held captive and made to watch ‘Live’) Regis and Kathie Lee were hosting legendary collegiate football coach Lou Holtz. Holtz has coached several collegiate programs but, at the time, was best known for having coached Notre Dame for a decade and leading them to a National Championship. I deeply admire Lou Holtz. He exudes quiet confidence, humility and compassion. There was a time in my own college career where I thought I might major in Nintendo and extended lunch. Sensing my imminent demise, a fraternity brother showed me the ‘Where There’s a Will There’s an A’ video (on VHS tape), which featured motivational anecdotes from Holtz (who, to that point I’d never heard of). That 90 minutes with Lou Holtz changed the trajectory of my collegiate experience and, subsequently, my life. So when I saw him on Live, I found myself waiting in anticipation for what he might say. Could this man go 2 for 2 in dispensing wisdom that would change my life? He could. He did.

On this day in 1999, Holtz was discussing what it takes to build a winning team. To him, he said, it’s all about relationships and relationships all boil down to an affirmative response to three questions. Also, the affirmative ‘yes’ needs to be reciprocal, meaning that I get yeses from you and you get yeses from me. The three questions, he went on to explain, were as follows:

  1. Can I trust you?
  2. Do you care about me?
  3. Do you strive for excellence?


That’s it! Pretty simple, right? I thought so too in the beginning. In fact, though, it’s pretty complex as each tenet is intricately linked to the other. I suspect that’s why there are three questions and not just one.

Trust is the foundation of all meaningful relationships. I’d say it’s even the foundation of many non-meaningful relationships. For example, when I go to get my oil changed in my car, I’m not looking for a meaningful relationship, per se, but I’m looking for trust. Do I really need a new air filter? Does a car even have an air filter? If I trust the employee, I’ll return with more business. So too it is with friends. If I trust you, I’ll be back. If I can’t, I won’t. Being honest with others is sometimes uncomfortable for both parties but is necessary when you care about the relationship. This dovetails nicely to question two.

Do you care about me? Can I trust that things you do and say are in my best interest? Do you demonstrate you care? Is this relationship transactional for you or are you seeking to make it transformational for the both of us? Again, in order for this relationship to work, this has to go both ways. Am I showing a genuine interest in your care and well-being? Am I striving for the best (most excellent) common good for both of us? This segues nicely to the final question.

Do you strive for excellence? People often confuse excellence for perfection. Excellence is a constant intrinsic striving and is measured in direct proportion to one’s ability. For example, my ‘excellence’ in project management is decent, but pathetic when compared to my wife’s ‘excellence’. She simply has a better skill set in this area. Excellence offers room for grace. Perfection is an, often, arbitrary standard meant to convince people they’re not good enough to be in a relationship with you when you had no intention of being in a relationship with them in the first place. Perfectionism is merciless. Regarding excellence, If I know you’re giving your best (because you have a track record of honesty and genuine care) then I can accept whatever your best/excellence is on that given day in relation to your skills.

Upon hearing Holtz’s wisdom, I started adopting these questions as a lens through which to view all of my relationships. It became apparent where and why I was succeeding in relationships and where and why I had failed. I still use the three-question metric today. If I’m not getting along with someone, I go back to the three questions and I start with my actions: Have I not been honest with someone? Have I not demonstrated my care for them? Have I not delivered excellence when I said I would do something? THEN I’ll apply the three questions to their behavior. If there is conflict, sure enough, somewhere between the two of us is a big ‘No’ to at least one of the questions.

A good friendship brings joy and adventure into one’s life. We are lucky to have friends to walk alongside us. In Fruits of Solitude, William Penn (founder of the state of Pennsylvania – bet you didn’t see that coming) writes on the Qualities of Friendship and what a relationship and friendship should look like. Penn Writes:

“A true friend unbosoms freely, advises justly, assists all readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and Continues a friend unchangeably.

These being the Qualities of a Friend, we are to find them before we choose one.

The covetous, the angry, the proud, the jealous, the talkative, cannot but make ill friends as well as the false.”


Trust. Care. Your excellence to the task. This is what it takes to have friends. More importantly, and perhaps first, this is what it takes to be a friend. Do these things and, who knows, maybe you’ll be friends like Regis and Kathie Lee, or Regis and Kelly, or Kelly and Michael….

1 Comment

  1. Love your writing! Great advice…I have work to do 🙂 I’m so glad that you were not actually held captive by a radical extremist group.


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