Topic

Relationships

Navigating the challenges and joys that arise in our relationships with others.

Truth

In my middle school mediation class, our instructor used a rock to illustrate an important idea.

It wasn't an ordinary rock. Shaped roughly like a half sphere, one side of it was boring (grey and unremarkable), and the other side of it revealed the interior, which was stunningly beautiful, full of purple crystals that reflected light.

The exercise was simple: We all sat in a circle around the rock, which was covered in a cloth so that when it was revealed, we could only see it from one angle.

Each of us took a turn describing what we saw. Roughly a quarter of the room saw something extraordinary, a quarter saw something dull, and about half could see that this rock had two very different sides.

You've probably guessed the metaphor: Our perspective of others is unique. From our individual vantage points, everything looks different.

When we have the humility to recognize that our truth is not the only Truth, we can embrace others with eyes open and hearts wide.

Going Far, Together

An old proverb I love: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

The quote's provenance is unclear, though it's been attributed to a wide range of people. It's a timeless insight: You can often accomplish something quickly on your own. But by working with others, you can dramatically increase your impact, provided you're willing to wait.

If you've ever led a group of people, you've likely felt the urge to just do something yourself – either because you trust yourself more to do it well, or because you want it done quickly.

The problem with that approach is that it undermines your efficacy as a leader. Your role is to establish the group's direction, assign tasks, and remove obstacles to your team's success.

When we cultivate the patience and trust to delegate and collaborate, we extend how far our efforts can take us.

The Power of Language

Words matter. They dictate the governing structure of our society, help us navigate the relationships in our lives, and even provide critical medical treatments.

And those treatments go beyond just behavioral talk therapy. Here's neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi writing in his beautifully titled memoir When Breath Becomes Air:

One of my patients, upon being diagnosed with brain cancer, fell suddenly into a coma. I ordered a battery of labs, scans, and EEGS, searching for a cause, without result. The definitive test was the simplest: I raised the patient's arm above his face and let go. A patient in a psychogenic coma retains just enough volition to avoid hitting himself. The treatment consists of speaking reassuringly, until your words connect and the patient awakens.

If that's not magic, I don't know what is.

Imagine witnessing the above interaction as someone who didn't understand English. You would think Kalanithi was a wizard uttering a spell.

Never underestimate the power of words.

Death Will Tremble

Most hotels don't have a graveyard on their front lawn.

But if you visit the Oceanic Hotel on the rock off the coast of New Hampshire known as Star Island, you'll find one there.

Originally established as a small fishing village, the island eventually became a conference and retreat center in 1915. Today, it's jointly owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.

The place is haunted. Its history is filled with ghost stories, the most famous of which is a tale about the Lady in White walking the shoreline waiting for her pirate lover Blackbeard to come back from his exploits.

On my first night there, our conference gathered on the far east side of the island for evening worship. Phosporescent plankton shimmered in the ocean, mirroring the starry sky. It was an almost otherworldly sight.

Our minister talked to us about the spirits that call the island home. The souls that wander there have unfinished business. They are tied to it, like the barnacles on a rock, still trying to follow Walden's imperative to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life," even after leaving this world's earthly constraints.

Just like the spirits are one with the island, we were tasked with becoming one with each other that week. To get to know one another so deeply, we'd create something larger than ourselves.

Are the ghosts real? That's the wrong question to ask. If your experience there leaves you feeling haunted – so in awe of the beauty of the sunsets you feel a little bit dizzy, your senses so heightened that the impending night reignites your childlike fear of the dark – then aren't they real enough?

Recalling my experience that night reminds me of a line from this quote from Charles Bukowski: "We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us."

Let's haunt each other today.

Asking for Help

Asking for help is hard sometimes, particularly in a culture as individualistic as the one I live in. It can be tempting to only tell yourself a story about the importance of self-reliance – of finding strength in the face of adversity.

There is certainly value in being able to rise to meet a challenge on your own. But knowing when and who to ask for help is just as important. The goal is balance: Rely on others too much and you risk becoming overly dependent. But constantly refuse assistance and you'll find yourself in a fragile position.

Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. It's a sign that you have the strength to lean into the vulnerability of that moment and say, "I need you."

Random Acts of Coffee

Tiny gestures can have a big impact on others.

On my worst days, having a cashier genuinely ask me how I’m doing is sometimes a highlight of it. After a stressful day of work, a brief moment of connection can be enough to take the edge off.

If you’re reading this, you probably carry a magical internet device in your pocket everywhere you go. This means you have the capacity to provide random acts of kindness at all times!

Let’s normalize creating spontaneous moments of joy for others without being prompted or expecting anything in return.

So here’s my modest proposal: Every once in a while, Venmo someone you care about $3 for a coffee or pastry as a way of saying, “Hey, I’m thinking of you, and you deserve a treat on me.”

If you feel like you need an explanation, you can send them a link to this post.

It might just make their day.

Not the Answer You Were Hoping For

I received a great customer service response the other day that concluded with the line, "I’m sorry that this may not be the answer you were hoping for."

She could have ended with just "I'm sorry" or "I wish there was more I could do." But this particular person didn't need to apologize for doing something wrong, nor was there a reason for her to make up a story about wanting to do more.

In the context of the email, the sentence set a clear boundary that made it clear there was no room for me to negotiate. And yet, it did so while fully empathizing with my disappointment.

Clear boundaries and empathy – two qualities worth leaning into wherever we can.

Your Full Self

One of the joys of getting older is finding more places where you can be your full self. You discover that you no longer have to conform to separate versions of yourself based on who you're with.

Over time, there are fewer places in your life where you need to self censor. This creates a positive cycle: As you open up, those around you do too, which gives you the courage to be imperfect and open up further. And around it goes.

The goal isn’t to always have your full self on display, though. If you’re a politician, for example, you’d probably prefer most of your romantic self to be hidden from your professional sphere. Rather, the goal is to find spaces where you can show all the aspects of yourself you want to show without fear or judgment.

Once you become aware of this, you can apply it as a useful litmus test when exploring new relationships and environments by asking yourself, “How much of me can I bring to the table here?”

Understanding this frees you from the trap of wanting everyone to like you, which isn't possible, of course. Only then can you begin the real work of finding the people who are happy to see you for who you already are.

In doing so, we can bring a greater sense of confidence, strength, and grace to our everyday lives.

Thanks to Matthew Barram for this insight.

Relationship Stories

A useful communication tool for navigating challenging conversations:

“When you do X, I tell myself a story that Y.”

“When you leave your socks and shoes all over the living room, I tell myself a story that you expect me to clean up after you.”

"When you don't respond to my emails, I tell myself a story that you don't care about this project."

This framework allows us to distance ourselves slightly from the situation, which opens up the opportunity to look at it more objectively. It helps the irrational sides of our mind feel heard without making the other person feel attacked.

By stepping outside of the narrative, we’re empowered to discuss what’s happening more rationally, without fear or judgment. Only then can the story we tell ourselves start to change.

We can even invert this strategy to lean into what's working:

"When you take the trash out without me asking, I tell myself a story that I am loved and cherished."

Via Tim Ferriss' podcast

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