One of the things I find myself talking about with clients is remaining connected. Connected with their family and friends and with their communities. This feels like such an important part of our human experience; to care about people and let them care about us. As I’ve worked on this in my own life there are times where I find it difficult to feel that connection, even though I want it. As I tune into news and/or social media and learn about the pain that we unnecessarily cause one other, I find that it makes me to want to pull back.
As we head into the holiday season, we also face the possibility of interactions with people we care about that can be difficult. Just because we are close to people doesn’t mean that we will agree with them on important topics. So, is it worth it to stay connected? And not just superficially or out of obligation. Can we really be present with them? Feel and express our care, and take the risk of being vulnerable? I think about this question on a couple of levels.
First, is it a healthy relationship? Is it abusive or manipulative in ways that do harm? If you have a personal relationship that falls into the category of abuse or manipulation, I would encourage you to seek professional help to navigate those complexities and dangers. But if the relationship doesn’t fall into this category, and it is healthy, I think about it in terms of boundaries and connection. Which may at first seem like they are opposing ideas, but in practice I believe that strong healthy boundaries can lead to deep interpersonal connection.
Here are a couple of ideas to keep in mind as we spend more time with family and friends this holiday season.
We are all a product of our histories and experiences. The people and situations in our life have shaped us and molded us along the way. We are biologically different from one another and have different strengths and limitations. We have spirits and personalities that add difference and flavor to who we are. Doesn’t it make sense then, to assume that our values and how we choose to express those will also be different? Wouldn’t it be odd if we all agreed? Not to mention a bit bland. When I think about people in this way it allows me to appreciate those differences instead of seeing them as a threat.
Value in Nuance
Another important aspect to explore is why it’s so natural to want others to agree with us. If I’m honest, given my life experiences and thoughtfulness about life issues I tend to think that I’m right. And I think you do to. I don’t believe that we’re arguing just for sport. But I do think that we often over simplify the other person to the point where we don’t see value in their perspective. When we do this we miss out on the richness of what the other person has to offer. Through our discomfort of hearing opposing ideas, we dumb each other down and gloss over the nuance that we have to offer each other.
Think about a topic that is important to you. And think about a person who you care about who disagrees with you on this topic. For a moment, Imagine the difference perspectives as circles that overlap. How much of the underlying values of this topic are actually similar to each other? Do the different perspective take into account the health and well being of people? Do they also contain fears and hopes for the future? Is there doubt in there, where we have ideas about how to approach the topic, but not all the details?
When I think about disagreement in this way those circles overlap, A LOT. The other person starts to seem human again, and I can see that they are just as sure and unsure as me about important life issues.
This brings me to my last point which is that people matter. I have this motto, “If we’re at war, I don’t want to win.” This isn’t the simplistic idea that I let other people make decisions for me. If you know me you know that’s not the case! The idea, instead, is that I’m not willing to “kill you” in the process of being right. You matter more than an idea.
There are times that I am better and worse at this. But the times when I can see the other person as someone with a unique context, with value, insight and nuance to offer, I am much better off. I feel a deeper connection and love for them and I learn a whole lot about them, and myself, and the world that we both care so much about.
Happy holidays, may you feel the connection you deserve with the people you love!