Reflections, 7th November.

A native American “three sisters” garden where Maize, Squash and Corn provide each other with what they require to thrive.

On my mind this last week.

I’m finding weeks are fuller than they used to be. In addition to the things that typically occupy my attention, from family, friends, writing and client work, I find much of what I took for granted outside the boundaries of my day to day intruding for reasons far from welcome.

I’ve been thinking about relationships. When our lives are a web of relationships – with other people, the world we live in, with ideas, questions and many other things, these different relationships are the glue that keeps our society together. I found myself thinking about what relationships are made from. Clearly, we are all different, but I believe there are several common ingredients. 

Trust seems relatively apparent, as do commitment, intimacy, respect, understanding, equality, appreciation and gratitude. They all share qualities in that we cannot measure them – only sense them. They get signalled in the tiniest of ways – tone of voice, a look, a smile, a question, small acts of kindness. They are impervious to rank – only the self-serving develop relationships in the assumption of reward. 

It has therefore been an instructive week. We have seen the most depressing betrayals of relationships from the entirely cynical treatment of individuals in politics and business to the almost inevitable cavalier treatment of international obligations made in our name.

Whatever the rights, wrongs and facts of each case, the relationship people thought they had proved as permanent as a sweet wrapper. Owen Pattison thought he was being backed and only found out through the news that he wasn’t. Regardless of what he may, or may not have done, that is disgraceful. Yorkshire Cricket Club is being pulled apart at the seams as people who knew what they were part of, from Board members to financial backers, scramble over each other as they head for the door to distance themselves from a now problematic relationship. in the next week, it seems increasingly likely that article sixteen of the Brexit agreement will be triggered because a promise we made is deemed “too difficult” by those who made it.

Relationships carry responsibility and cannot be entered into lightly. When a relationship is formed – whether a bank with a customer, a fan with a sports team, or a politician with a community something new is created that was not there before. Relationships are living things with their own unique energy, and when they die, that energy disappears and leaves us diminished. To see relationships treated as commodities is depressing, and when a former Prime Minister is moved to an excoriating criticism of his own party’s leadership, it is more than worrying.

When concern about about our relationships, or those of people we rely on, creeps quietly into our consciousness it isn’t easy to focus on what needs to be done, and we all suffer.

It strikes me that we are actively eroding relationships at the very time we need them most. We are turning many over to algorithms simultaneously as the ones we have with humans become ever more distant and fragile. I cannot think of a relationship that I have with any large organisation that is anything other than tenuous, at best or cynical at worst.

It matters. Promises, explicit and implicit, are the currency of relationships. When we make or receive a promise, we get more emotional reward when that promise is made than when it is delivered, and failure to deliver is positively corrosive. When leaders make promises with the substance of cappuccino foam, we are trading a temporary short term emotional sugar rush for longer-lasting opprobrium. When we do it with treaties, alliances, or health care, we pull our communities apart, knowingly and cynically, for profit. Personally, I value my relationships with people I know in countries we are playing fast and loose with far more than I do corporations or politicians. That’s a damning indictment. 

Such is the place we find ourselves, and we have to deal with it as best we can. For my own part, I am doing a constant background “relationship audit.” I will not expose myself to any organisation whose goal is shareholder maximisation and ask myself “what is the impact on the planet, and my communities, if they succeed in growing their business in line with their goals?”

Climate Change is not the problem, nor is the lack of equality, or poverty. They are all symptoms of toxic, one-sided relationships. With each other and with the natural world of which we are part. They are not technical challenges; they are relationship issues.

If we focus on our relationships, the rest will follow. Communities matter, whether local or virtual. Places where promises made are kept, and people support each other when things go awry, as they very often do.

That, I suggest is where we start. Choosing our communities, becoming an active part of them, and developing the qualities that create the glue. We don’t need training, or incentives, or data. We just need to start.

Things that have inspired me.

What is Goodness made from? At a time when goodness seems increasingly absent from our institutions, a thought provoking article from Psyche magazine on what makes goodness.

Trustworthiness beats Skill. Research from Binghampton underlining that when it comes to making things work, relationships beat skill.

A relationship with materials. I wonder what might happen if we took our own relationships with what we use as seriously. Found via Alan Moore’s wonderful newsletter – always a source of inspration.

Just for smiles. One of my favourite guitar solos ever. George Benson with “Take Five”. A relationship with an instrument.

A Poem for the times

Taken from Sue Heatherington’s blog – a contant source of calm in troubled times. It deserves repetition.

“For Courage” by John O’Donohue

When the light around you lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark.
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
Will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

From Benedictus: A Book of Blessings. John O’Donoghue

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