How important are the relationships in your personal growth? Well, truthfully, it’s all about the people. People who study relationships say repeatedly that you are the average of the five closest people to you.It’s important that you don’t simply surround yourself with people who are just like you. You cannot reach your full potential unless you are in relationships with people who are different than you; people who stretch you because their perspectives, abilities, gifts, leadership styles, problem solving, thinking, and so forth are different than yours.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We understand how that works with metal knives. When two iron blades are rubbed together, both edges become sharper, making the knives more efficient in their task to cut and slice. If a knife is blunt, it is still a knife, but it is less effective; less useful in service. Our monthly leadership talk is called “The Edge” for this reason. It’s our attempt to sharpen each other through our mutual connection.Proverbs 27:17 is an indication of our need for constant fellowship with one another. John Donne’s famous words are completely true: “No man is an island.” However, most people have not learned how to live successfully within relationships and still feel okay about themselves. We tend to stomp on the needs, desires, and opinions of others, or completely subjugate who we are and what we think to fit in with someone else.
Building relationships are among our most challenging tasks and opportunities because they involve two distinct individuals with varying needs, desires, and opinions. There are many opportunities for our needs and desires to come into conflict and lead to disappointments and disagreements. Sometimes it’s painful enough that we think it just might be easier and more productive to go it alone.However, relationships have the potential to be the elixir that heals and transforms our lives. If we choose the vulnerability to take responsibility for our own actions and reactions, allow ourselves to experience our feelings deeply, and then express them to another person while having respect, empathy, and value for them and their feelings as well, everyone will grow.
The challenging moments when we want to isolate and stay out of sight are the times when we most need relationships. Meaningful, healthy, and sharing relationships increase our likelihood of staying positive and rejecting depression, anxiety, and anger. Sharing your feelings, concerns, hopes, and challenges in relationships keeps you connected and provides other perspectives that can help you be more objective. Friends are essential to a healthy life.But what if that does not describe the current state of your relationships? How can we move toward heathy relationships that are mutually edifying and building?
First, we must let go of unhealthy relationships. You won’t have time or energy for good relationships if you are in toxic, unfulfilling relationships. That doesn’t mean you just walk away from someone because you are bored. But if you know deep in your heart that this relationship is harmful to your wellbeing, contrary to your values, detrimental to your spirit, you need to carefully consider what is the next right step. If you cannot find a way to develop it into an open and respectful relationship, you may need to let it go. Sometimes we stay in old, destructive relationships just because we don’t want to leave our comfort zone. If you feel you can’t end the relationship immediately or completely for one reason or another, limit the time you invest in it. Limit your time with the people who bring stress in your life. Use your energy and time in developing relationships that are positive.
Equally important, we must show respect for each other’s values and points of view. The first thing about building a healthy and fulfilling relationship is that you accept people for who they are. Everyone else is just like you. They have their own values, beliefs, opinions, and experiences just like you do. They don’t have to agree with you or be just like you. You don’t have to debate or persuade. Don’t try to change people; learn from them. Accept differences as healthy ingredients for your friendships and relationships. You’ll be amazed at how they can help you become a better, more well-developed person. Aila Accad is an author who writes on reducing stress. In her book, 34 Instant Stress-Busters, she states,“Agreement is not the basis for stress-free relationships. The basis for healthy relationships is respect, freedom, and value of each unique person for the other’s equal freedom and right to think, feel, make personal choices and take responsibility for them.”
What we CAN control is our own attitude. Other people’s actions, values, and beliefs are out of our control, and we only make ourselves miserable when we fantasize or try to make it different. But our reactions and actions, our attitudes that we develop and show toward others and the perspectives we develop from our experiences are totally under our own control. As far as relationships go, you are always in control of yourself. Mutual respect allows and applauds that. Instead of finding fault, you choose to look for the positive contributions they bring to you.
It IS all about the people. Building relationships where we thrive and grow takes work, discipline, perseverance, and dedication. When a leader focuses on becoming a relational leader, he grows an environment of communication, trust, and eventually vulnerability. It becomes a safe, productive, and happy place to relate and work.