Relational Living (2): World Peace

CAMBRIDGE – By Simon Fowler –

“Social Networks are fundamentally connected to goodness, and what the world needs now is more connections.” – Nicholas Christakis

“I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we’ll project into the world, and the more peaceful our world will be.” – Jill Bolte Taylor

“When people of all different persuasions come together working side be side for a common goal, differences melt away and we learn amity and we learn to live together and to get to know one another.” – Karen Armstrong

I have a contrarian side to me, and whenever I see hyberbole like this my snarky side switches on. Besides, I’m wikid tired right now so I’m not in my usual upbeat and bright-side mood.

Relational Proximity® Dimension #5 is ‘Overlap’: Our sense of connectedness and relationship is greater to the degree we have things in common or share a common purpose or identity. A good relationship has a direction to it, something that is common between the members that holds it together.

There’s rarely been a TED ( talk I didn’t enjoy and which didn’t fascinate me. It’s a great platform, wonderfully presented, and the technology, the discovery or the personal experience is invariably gripping and exciting. And what they’ve done to spread the ideas and concept is excellent. It has been accused and defended of elitism. Personally, I think it’s a fantastic way to make use of rich people’s money and to spread great ideas. If anything, however, the problem is that the speakers just can’t seem to help overstating their point. With an audience paying six grand a pop, just 20 minutes to pour out your life’s work, the spotlights … I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same.

But I also think they and their audience actually might believe their overstatement. Unfortunately the overstatement takes the talks from being mostly excellent, scientifically grounded and true-to-life to, well, amazingly utopian wishful thinking. (I speak as an idealist myself).

Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing description of watching her own brain have a stroke (truly, jaw-droppingly amazing) ends with an apparent choice between left brain individualism or right-brain universal life-force. My emotional & violent right brain freaks me out sometimes. And what part of the brain is the ‘we’ that’s doing the choosing anyway? Nicholas Christakis asserts that connections will solve the world’s problems. Connections like the Stazi had? Like the world banking system had?

And Karen Armstrong’s talk seems grounded neither in anthropology nor anything like a robust theology. The ending actually I agree with (“get to know each other” would presumably comes first – I’m sure it wasn’t her best line, she looked exhausted). But the ‘common purpose’? It’s the “Compassion Charter” signed up to by 46,179 compassionate people so far. Sorry if you’re a fan but isn’t the problem uncompassionate people?? And I don’t want differences between me and others to go away, I want them transcended. I’m not saying we couldn’t do with more love, but not even the Ten Commandments prevented human ingenuity for evil. A group of people simply agreeing to be more compassion isn’t, I’m desperately sad to say, going to solve our deepest problems. I totally commit to be being more compassionate. Then another day happens. As Solzenitsyn said, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

I love and appreciate the longing for peace and goodness and love in these people and in their statements. The confirmation of relational proximity found in these social science, neuroscience and and humanistic statements I wholeheartedly welcome. But, firstly, mere ‘relational proximity’, socially networked togetherness, isn’t the whole answer; it just points the finger more acutely on the problem.

The five dimensions of Relational Proximity® (Touch, Time, Breadth, Overlap, and Balance) are nothing without love and commitment, and love and commitment can barely consist without them. That’s why Relational Proximity® I think is so powerful, and so much more powerful than nebulous ‘social networks’. If used to examine our lives, I think it reveals the reality of our choices and our relationships. Secondly, the understanding that these connections are FOR something is crucial. What is the common purpose or ‘overlap’? Christakis says in his video that our global human network is a super-organism, it has a life of its own. I think world peace and compassion are good goals, but I actually think they’re penultimate; they’re derivative of something bigger, something, perhaps Someone more creative and dynamic and Personal.

And that is way too much thinking for one night. Find some time to see all three videos mentioned in this blog and let me know what you think?

In the series Relational Living, Simon Fowler explores what Relational Thinking means in our day-to-day lives. The articles appeared earlier on his personal blog and are republished with his permission. The first in this series was published on 9 January.

New blog series about Relational Living: Love my neighbor

CAMBRIDGE – We all know that relationships are important: in our individual lives, in our work place and in society at large. But how do we know how well we are doing in our friendships, work-relationships, etc? Over the years Relational Thinking developed a tool (Relational Proximity® Framework) that can help people, organizations and businesses to measure the closeness and health of their relationships. For this it looks at five factors or dimensions of a relationship:

1. Touch: How much face-to-face? The degree to which the relationship is unmediated and truthful.

2. Time: How much time and continuity? The degree to which it has a history, the parties meet regularly, and it has an expected future.

3. Breadt:  How much variety of context? The degree to which the parties know each other through different contexts.

4. Overlap: How much shared purpose? The degree to which parties share a sense of common purpose or identity.

5. Balance: How much matching of power? The degree to which there is a symmetry in power.

Simon Fowler of the  The rWorld, one of our Member organisations, decided to blog for 30 days about  each of these factors, exploring them through experiences and narratives of every day life. In the next couple of weeks we will publish some of them here. Today part 1:

Love my neighbor (about ‘Breadt’)

One reason my wife and I continue to rent and have failed to buy somewhere else is because we love our street so much it drains our enthusiasm for moving. We just love the way the pavement looks. And the lamp-posts are just fabulous!

The multi-neighbor yard sale we held today is one reason. This was our fourth and it was our most successful, financially: over $700 between five families! It was also the most gorgeous day for it, and we were all present, and all in great spirits! Even my guitar playing, as poor as it is, added a little something (I only know House of the Rising Sun, some 12-bar blues (E/A/B7) and I’m learning Walk the Line).

I know some of my neighbors better than others. [I’m going to use fake names here, just because.] Adrienne and Keith over the road have two children similar ages to ours so we’ve gotten to them best over the last 6 years. Below them in the two-family house are Susan & Derek. Directly opposite are Gavin and Andrew, and their lodger Sarah. Below them are Maureen and her mom Margaret. These were all involved in the yard sale. Then next door and a few doors down are Rich, Andrea, John, Bill, Doreen.

Dimension #3 of measuring Relational Distance is “Breadt”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier if I interact with them in two or three different contexts than if we only interact in one. This is, essentially, about my knowledge of the other person.

Arguably, I have the same directness with the latter group (Rich etc.) as with the former (Adrienne etc.); we encounter one another face to face and are on very friendly terms. And with them all we’ve talked about weather, jobs, backgrounds, the Red Sox, local history, family etc. But because we organized and ran a yard sale, my relationship with the individuals in the former group increased incomparably.

Imagine the richness of knowledge (savoir and connaître) added to our relationships by doing this one thing? Susan buys individual colored stickers for each family, sends copies of yard sale posters to us all, gets a cash till and a book to manage transactions. She’s also a master seller! Derek and I pretty much follow orders, but make wise-cracks while doing so! Gavin & Andrew provide coffee & muffins for everyone when we start at 6.30am; then burgers & hot-dogs at lunch. I provide cream-cheese on toast half way through the morning; then beers later. Gavin puts balloons up in the streets around. Keith charms the buyers with his smile and warmth and conversation. Derek gives us a kids bike that he was going to sell. Keith also fixes up his old, but meaningful, mountain-bike and wrestles over whether to sell it and for how much. I break out in a Johnny Cash. I could go on. And it did, until about 4pm.

That’s it. Just one more context of interaction I’m bursting with the fullness of the relationships. It’s highly unlikely I would have ‘known’ all of that just be talking over the fence or even having dinner together. And now, the “g’morning!”, the “how’s work?”, even if that’s all we do in passing for months, somehow means more and is treasured more because of this May 1st yard sale.

[This is also an example of Dimension #4: Overlap. That we engaged in a common and agreed task – and all the trust that goes into accomplishing that, as evidenced above – probably better explains the enormous sense of fulfillment we had at the end, over and above simply getting to know each other better.]

This article was republished with permission of its author, Simon Fowler.