Topic

Relationships

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

Humor and Difficulty

Adding humor, when appropriate, can make difficult conversations easier to have. And depending on the topic and environment, some topics can only be brought up in a joking way.

Great comedians understand this. Comedy helps us navigate challenging topics, and a skilled humorist can serve as a sort of secular truth-teller – a guide through the areas we're not comfortable addressing directly on our own.

We laugh for a lot of reasons – to connect with others, enforce social norms, let off steam, and more. Critically, laughing provides an outlet for stress.

And when we're less stressed, we're able to face social challenges with more grace.

Duct Tape

When something breaks, duct taping it back together is the easy way out. The end result is worse than it was originally, though at least it's functional again.

But if you duct tape and patch over everything that breaks, you'll be left with a world of half-fixes that are liable to come apart.

Alternatively, you can find the right kind of glue (or thread, or screw...) and mend the object in a way that attempts to restore it to its original condition, hiding the damage as best you can. This approach sets you up for the long term, if you can put in the effort today.

And then there's Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is the Japanese concept of making pottery better in the process of repairing it.

By letting the history of the item's damage and repair shine through – literally, by mixing valuable metal into your adhesive – you're left with an object that has a beautiful story to tell:

A blue pottery bowl with gold flowers and gold seams where it was repaired
Ruthann Hurwitz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You've probably guessed the metaphor by now: This concept applies to much more than just physical goods.

Every time something cracks – a mug, a plan, a relationship – we have an opportunity to make it better.

See also: Wrong Notes

Public vs. Private Selves

We tend to talk about our public or online selves as something separate from our private selves. The latter, we often suggest, is somehow the most genuine version of us.

But many people spend more time each day acting as their public selves than they do as their private self. Perhaps your outer and inner life are equally authentic extensions of you.

When we bring our full selves to our work, and encourage others to do the same, the result is better, and we are richer and more fulfilled for having done so.

Reality is an Illusion

Drew Coffman shares a mindbending optical illusion:

In the video, a distorted window frame appears to oscillate back and forth, even though it's turning in circles. When a pen is inserted through the middle of it, the object does appear to rotate, but that causes you to perceive the pen passing through the center of the window.

We tend to act as if our perception of the world is the objective truth. But the reality is that we are merely piecing together predictions of our environment based on a range of stimuli.

Truth is subjective. And other people's experiences are completely valid even though they may be in direct opposition to ours.

We can understand that fact on a conceptual level, but illusions like this humble us by throwing it into sharp relief.

They remind us that we are flawed, which in turn keeps our mind open.

The Relationship With Yourself

We tend to focus on our relationships with others, but we also have a relationship with ourselves.

That relationship is informed by your personal successes and failures. Consciously or not, you keep score with yourself over time.

But problems arise when we start to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others. Once you realize you’re doing this, you can start to change the narrative.

Ask yourself: Would I talk to someone else this way? How quickly would I forgive them? And how would I navigate this inner tension if its source was external?

Because if you’re in conflict with yourself, you’ll lose every time.

Not Yet

"Yet" is one of the most powerful words. There is a huge difference, for example, between:

"I don't know how to do that."

And:

"I don't know how to do that yet."

"Yet" is about optimism. About how the status quo doesn't have to be this way. And when we add it to the end of our observations about the world, we open ourselves to untold opportunities.

If you have the privilege of getting to choose who you spend your time with, pick the people who see the boundless possibility in that word.

Gifts

Gifts are a medium for expressing our appreciation or love.

They're a powerful way to convert that affection into surprise, delight, and joy for the other person.

For nearly all of human history, gift giving has been a universal language exclusively dedicated to saying "you matter."

Not all gifts come in boxes.

Recipe for Friendship

Research has long shown that three conditions are essential for forming strong friendships:

  1. Close proximity
  2. Regular, unplanned interactions
  3. An environment that allows for vulnerability

This is why so many friendships form in school – it's a recipe for each of these ingredients. It's also why our social lives were thrown into such disarray by the pandemic. Zoom doesn't exactly encourage any of these elements.

The third condition is the most intangible and perhaps the most important. When we give ourselves grace and the freedom to be imperfect, we're able to be authentic with others.

The strongest relationships form through increasing levels of reciprocated vulnerability. This means someone has to go first and confide in the other, without knowing if their gesture will be returned.

But the reward for that courage can be a genuine connection: someone who is thrilled to see you for who you are, and equally comfortable letting you cherish them.

Measuring Life

Our lives are increasingly quantified. From the amount in your bank account, to the average speed of your most recent run, to the grades on your annual performance review, it can feel like there's a number assigned to everything.

So the question becomes: Which of these numbers do you spend most of your time trying to change? Are those numbers the most important ones?

And how do you really measure a life?

Maya Angelou had a clear answer to that question: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

Perhaps the most vital things in life can't be quantified at all.

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.

See also: Reality is an Illusion

Subscribe

Weekly thoughts on creating systems to sustainably grow your impact on the world.
Email address
Subscribe