Life is all about relationships.
Unfortunately, as easily as I write that, is also how easily I forget it when I am in the midst of living my life. But when I stop to really think about it, I can see how true this is in my own life. I, like everyone else on this planet, have two parents, four grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on. The statuses of these relationships vary on a spectrum of well-developed to scarcely recognizable and are the way they are for any number of reasons. I also, like most people on the planet, have friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and other relationships that fit within whatever category I decide to place them in. The statuses of these relationships also vary on the same spectrum.
Now, I’m not an expert in understanding the social science behind relationships, but neither do I need to, or does anyone else for that matter in order to understand the vital importance relationships play in our lives. How can I understand something as complex as human relationships? Well, to be honest, I don’t most of the time. But on the simplest level, I can understand when I think seriously about it, and I think we can all identify those moments in our lives when we witness how relationships truly form the fabric of society and give our lives purpose and meaning.
I see it when a mother carefully watches over her children while they run ragged all over the place. I see it when someone says “thank you” to another person intentionally holding a door open for them. I see it when tragedy strikes and I see it when triumphs occur. I see it at church, at work, and at school. I see it and, yet too often, I don’t see it all. I often take for granted the good relationships I have and I often feel like giving up on those relationships I feel are just too difficult to build or establish. I often forget that if it wasn’t for the relationships in my life, I would just be an empty shell of myself, with very little of an identity.
Again, I’m not an expert on the philosophy of human relationships, but I sometimes think: what else gives our lives the meaning, comfort, and joy that we are all capable of having? I think that the answer is found in our relationships with not only our family and friends, but also our neighbors, coworkers, and other people we see and interact with every day.
We may feel like we don’t have great relationships with certain people in our family or extended social network. We may feel like we don’t have enough friends or social support. We may even feel like things are going great and become complacent in maintaining or strengthening our relationships. Again, I’m not an expert relationship counselor, but I think there is something we can keep in mind if we want to change something about the kind of relationships we are in.
I have learned a lot about relationships through being a member of the University of Minnesota Marching Band. One of the assistant directors of the band once told a group of us that if we wanted something to change about the relationships we had, it was up to us to do something about it. I liken that attitude to part of Pres. John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech in which he said,
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”In the same way, it is up to us to understand what we can do for our relationships and not to leave it to the other person to figure out. Mutual relationships in which both participants actively work to selflessly serve the other person can only result in a better relationship for both people.
Of course, understanding this about relationships is much easier than applying the actual methods in our lives that can better our relationships. I will spend my entire life trying to more fully comprehend the importance of my relationships and in seeking to better them, and I will never completely succeed. However, that does not devalue the effort I put in today and tomorrow, and I hope that you who are reading this won’t devalue your efforts as well. After all, if we seriously reflect upon this, what else is as valuable as the relationships we have with each other?
This post was originally published as a column for the Bluff Country Newspaper Group in the Feb. 4 issue of the Bluff Country Reader.