We live in all sorts of relationships. These begin at birth, and unless we spend our last days alone on a desert island, they continue for our entire life. We choose several of these relationships, but many are the result of circumstances over which we have little or no control. There has been much study as well as much debate over just what effect these relationships have in forming the person we become, but we know that relationships can have a lifelong influence on each of us. The discussion is ongoing about the role of nature versus nurture in shaping and defining our personality. What is clear is that from the very beginning, the relationships we are part of are vital to who we are.
Some of our earliest relationships, such as family, neighborhood, social groupings such as our neighborhood and our school, although mainly beyond our control, play a significant role in shaping our development and determining the kind of adult we become.
Abuse, neglect, ridicule, and bullying at an early age have been shown to have a lasting effect on people. Care, affirmation, support, and encouragement early in life also have demonstrated that they leave their positive influence. None of these explains thoroughly why each of us becomes the person we develop into, but these and other factors present in the early relationships over which we often have little or no control seem to guide and inform the choices we make for the relationships we have some say in forming.
If our early relationships were by fear, mistrust, anger or other harmful or painful factors, we would likely base the relationships we choose to form at least in part on these things. It is difficult to establish relationships based on positive factors if all or most of what we have experienced are not positive. A crisis such as a loss or severe illness in the framework of some of our early relationships can be challenging to overcome as we form relationships on our own.
Even as adults, we often are part of relationships we do not choose. Our work may be a place where we find ourselves in relationships we do not or would not wish. To be successful in some of these relationships, you might find it helpful to think about some of the foundational ingredients that go into making healthy relationships. It would be wonderful if each of our relationships were with people we like and with whom we agree on everything. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Mutual recognition and acceptance of people we do not agree with can be a challenge. A fundamental willingness to agree to disagree can be the basis for a satisfying relationship with someone whose ideas are different than ours. One of the more difficult aspects of this type of relationship is to keep harsh judgment and the struggle to exert power out of the relationship. It is hard and painful to stay in a relationship built on conflict and the willingness to inflict hurt for the sake of maintaining power over someone.
It can take serious self-examination to determine if it makes sense to enter or remain in that type of relationship. It is fascinating to have relationships with people who differ in their ideas from us. Keeping conflict and hurt out leaves the possibility for learning from someone whose view of the world may be vastly different from yours.
It is sometimes difficult to realize that some relationships are only for a season. This fact can be both painful and comforting. It is occasionally possible to endure a challenging relationship if we know it will not last forever. Sadly, that can also happen in relationships we thoroughly enjoy. It might be helpful to think of the impact on our lives that each of our friendships had at this time.
I would invite you to think about three or four relationships in your life. What do/did you enjoy about each of them? What do/did you wish could be/have been different? If the relationship was in your past, what have you learned from it that helps you in current relationships? If the relationship is current, what can you do to make it better?
Barring that isolated desert island, we will be in relationships the rest of our lives. Let’s do all we can to make each one the best it can be from our perspective, and let’s choose relationships that have the most potential to bring fulfillment and satisfaction to us and those with whom we are in relationships.
–David C. Bloom,
CEO of IHS Services, Inc.
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