I have been lucky to experience healthy relationships, teams, and intentional communities. I’ve experienced them as enjoyable, rewarding and functional – as meaningful, supportive facets of my life and the lives of the others involved. I’ve also seen and been part of struggles in these groups, sometimes to the point where the dynamics become seriously disturbing, unhealthy, even toxic.
I’ve long reflected on what makes the difference. This morning a simple framework came to me that embraces most of the factors I sense being important in healthy relationships and groups. There’s nothing really new here, but the I found the simplicity of the whole to be clarifying. Perhaps it will be useful to you.I visualize these factors laid out in concentric circles (like a target) with the most fundamental factor in the center and the most powerful and embracive at the edge. Here they are, from center to edge: TRUST – This is the core safety factor. Can we trust each other’s behaviors and motivations to support our well-being or at least not hurt us. To the extent we can do this, we let down our guard and open ourselves so that information, feelings and life energy can flow through us and through our relationship or group. Vulnerability, generosity, authenticity, sharing our personal stories, and meeting shared expectations are powerful tools to help this along. TOLERANCE – This is the peace factor. Can we accept the presence of those things about each other – and ourselves – that we don’t like but can’t really change? To the extent we have this, we experience peace of mind and don’t add unnecessary negative energy to problematic situations. Patience, assuming the best intentions, and the Serenity Prayer* are powerful resources to help us with this and to make productive space for challenge. RESPECT – This is the uplifting factor. Do we notice, value, and take seriously what makes us each – including ourselves – special and what we each bring to our collective life and to the world? To the extent we do this, we become significant and connected to each other at a heart level, seeing and evoking each other’s gifts, feeling our worthiness, and enhancing our lives together. Gratitude, appreciation, strength, and integrity are powerful tools to encourage mutual respect. UNDERSTANDING / COMPASSION – This is the wisdom factor. Do we understand why we each – including ourselves – are the way we are and respond and act the way we do, even when we don’t like it? To the extent we have this, we can live into our life together with an appreciative acceptance that is rich with connection and delight. Attentive empathy, presence, and awareness of systems dynamics and wholeness are powerful tools to help this along. In every case, manners, consideration and civility are reliable places to start. Then, in every case, curiosity, communication, and self-awareness help us grow into these resonance factors and their gifts. Finally, our ongoing effort can be sustained by love; duty; obvious interdependence; shared purpose, vision or challenge; and other forms of commitment that hold us “in the container” when the going gets rough. There is much to know about each of these factors. There is much to practice, individually and collectively. And there are narratives, intentions and designs that can make it easier and more fruitful as we grow into greater enjoyment and capacity together. The Journey is rough. The Journey is rich. Blessings on the Journey.
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* The Serenity Prayer is “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”