“You are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with” – Jim Rohn
Distant but not disconnected
All over the world social distancing is being emphasized and practiced. With nations on lockdown, travel suspended, major sporting events postponed or canceled, the global economy nosediving, schools closed and employees working from home, life, as we know, has come to a screeching halt. As much as we are being encouraged to distance ourselves, there are many ways to remain connected. This ability to connect is what ensures our relationships will continue even after this pandemic is over. Our relationships cannot be canceled even in this log jam of worry and fear caused by the global crisis at hand. They are part of God’s gift to humanity. The company we keep has a long-lasting influence on our lives. The right relationships can set us on the trajectory for a higher quality of living. I met my wife largely in part to the company I was around when I first moved to Maryland. But the opposite rings true as well. The wrong relationships have a way of taking us down a destructive path. I can pinpoint some bad decisions I made and trace them to negative influences I had in my life at the time. In such instances, I advise to not only distance yourself but disconnect as well.
The Value of Relationships
There is research to support that the strength of our relationships has a direct impact on our overall health. And in the context of relationships, a crisis should create an opportunity for caring not fearing. On one hand, caring releases stress-reducing hormones while fear releases stress-enhancing hormones. At times, our relationships can prove to be a place of healing from the hurts and hardships of life. But not any relationship will do; bad relationships can negatively impact our health. The good news is that everyone can have successful relationships by applying three simple keys:
One way we show a caring attitude in our relationships is to celebrate each other. It does not to be noteworthy to be celebrated. There are causes to celebrate people all around us. Just put on your celebration glasses! Let’s not just celebrate achievements. Let’s also celebrate good attitudes and good choices. We also celebrate others when we express our appreciation. Find time to tell someone, “I appreciate you because/for _______.”
Celebrating others has a way of changing the atmosphere in a relationship. It can inject much-needed life especially for a relationship that is languishing in the depths of despair. Robert Ingersoll said it well, “We rise by lifting others.” This is the essence of celebrating others. Comparison is the thief of celebration. It will pickpocket the appreciation we should give others because it creates insecurities within us. As a rule of thumb, I recommend that you celebrate what you want to see more of in others. Using this method will challenge those you celebrate to become better people because what’s rewarded gets repeated.
There is a difference between being challenged and being criticized. The difference is the intention. No relationship can weather a constant barrage of criticism. Distance and eventually disconnection will become the result. While criticism makes us shrink, challenges stretch us intending to bring out the best in us. Challenges are often the platform where our full potential is really discovered. I compare criticism in a relationship to drilling holes at the bottom of a boat that is in the middle of the ocean. At first, the effect is not seen but over time the boat as well as the relationship sink. Each time I am tempted to criticize I pause and ask myself three questions:
- Am I critical because of what I don’t understand?
- Am I critical because I am getting criticized?
- Am I critical because I am jealous?
But challenges are part of the value package of any healthy relationship. The people you are with should either with their words or their example, preferably both, be challenging you to become a better person. As I grow older and a little wiser the company I keep has challenged me to:
- Live up to my responsibilities, which has made me a better man, husband, and father.
- Make better decisions, keeping the bigger picture in view, and being grateful for what God has given me.
- Become a C.E.O (Chief Encouragement Officer) to others, cheering them on as they navigate the ups and downs of life.
In being challenged to become better at life, my relationships have given me a portal through which compassion can be expressed.
Acrobats and trapeze artists do dangerous acts to wow crowds consistently. One of the unnoticeable but most important parts of these acts is a safety net. The reason the acrobats are confident to jump as high as they do, triple somersault, or balance on a thin wire while juggling is because they know the safety net will catch them in the event of a fall. The net may never come into use but knowing it is there makes a world of difference in their performance.
Compassion is a safety net in relationships. We are more confident to express ourselves where we know we have a safe place that is free from criticism, judgment, and even ridicule. Compassion and the safety net perform the same function. Risk mitigation. Because compassion comes from a place of love it is a relationship strengthener. It is not a luxury but a necessity for relationships to thrive. This was an indelible trait of Jesus Christ. His compassion was a quality that drew many to Him while He walked on this earth. I believe the late theologian and doctor Albert Schweitzer had Him in mind when he said, “The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.” A listening ear, random acts of kindness, and being there for people in their lowest places are some ways to grow your compassion and become a safety net for people you are in a relationship with.
Final thought: Look back at the three keys above. Which relationships check all three boxes? Are you giving all three to the people you are with? If not, start to apply what you lack with intentionality. In short, give what you seek. Don’t wait for the other person to do it first. Be proactive and take the first step. Remember, who you are with greatly influences how you live.
Keep on Keeping on!