Archive for the ‘Relational dynamics’ Tag

12 Steps for Growing True Relationships   Leave a comment

  1. Establishing an environment of grace.  Unless someone feels safe to share and explore their own viewpoints with a non-judgmental and supportive listener, they cannot be honest even with themselves, and especially not with the other person.  This is quite tricky in close relationships because we get enmeshed in our own issues, are blind to our underlying assumptions, and confuse support with other problematic responses (such as the tendency to ‘fix’ or rescue or diagnose).  It can get messy–sometimes the focus must switch from the original topic to the current hurtful dynamic–but if we keep flailing towards the goal, we will learn a little through each encounter.
  2. Sharing vulnerably.  We can only share vulnerably in an environment made safe by grace, but unless we share the things that we guard most closely to our hearts, we cannot go very deep in relationship and mutual understanding.  It is our fear, often stoked by self-condemnation, that prevents us from sharing at the level that breaks through the surface to the core of ourselves.  Sometimes this fear leaks out as sarcasm, blame-shifting, or other ways of self-protection.  Vulnerability is especially hard if the listener incites these fears so that they react to our sharing in self-defense.  Sometimes a third-party can help in “translation.”
  3. Supporting ourselves.  We cannot make the other person responsible for our safety or support, which is a subtle form of co-dependence.  This means I must go at my own pace in self-revelation, not risking more than I can bear in vulnerability.  Of course I can be aided in this effort by the listener, by their gentleness, affirmation, and support, but ultimately I must stand up for myself by establishing healthy boundaries and a pace and level of vulnerable sharing that is sustainable.
  4. Sharing responsibility.  It is not possible to go deep in relationship with someone who is unwilling or unable to respond in kind.  Vulnerability must match vulnerability, depth match depth, grace match grace.  Of course any of these may come more easily to one party, so it is the effort or commitment of each that is matched, not the content. A person may value self-discovery enough to share in a one-sided way, but if it is not matched, it does not deepen real relationship.
  5. Giving mutual respect.  When one position is privileged over the other, it becomes very difficult to find any insight that does not simply support and expand that perception.  If one person is presumed to be “right” because of greater experience, insight, knowledge, etc. or because of accepted norms, the process will be undermined.  The experiences, feelings, and viewpoints of both parties must be accepted as equally valid–after all, the key does not lie in these perceptions, but in what underlies them, and we cannot reach these hidden roots unless we are sympathetic to what is shows above ground.  This is as true for ourselves as for the other–out of hand dismissal or critique will kill the process.  (We also have no basis for judging without understanding these foundations). This openness is not easy to do, especially if one is more assertive than the other, but real understanding depends on it.
  6. Discerning Subconscious systems.  The focus is always on deeper understanding, discovering the root system beliefs that establish our conscious behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.  This means working to understand the subconscious presuppositions from which our feelings and views flow, otherwise we are stuck on the surface, unable to grow personally and relationally in transformational ways.  The question “Why?” repeated (like two-year-olds!) at deeper and deeper levels is key to this process until a whole integrated system is revealed: values, priorities, fears, safety nets, and the like.
  7. Identifying family-of-origin values and dynamics.  This is a huge asset in self-discovery.  The most profound and opaque engine of our viewpoint is how we were raised, not the actual teaching of values (though that also counts), but the unspoken and unrecognized values out of which the relational dynamics were formed.
  8. Placing our role in the family.  After we begin to discover the overall picture, we begin to see how we fit into that schema–were we compliant or rebellious?  Over what issues?  Did we take more after our mother or father?  Regarding which values and with what impact on ourselves and our family relationships?  How did our siblings impact us and the family dynamics?  What did we hide from our families and why?  Who were we closest to (or fearful of) and why?
  9. Understanding our personalities.  Our families’ values are filtered into and out of us through our unique personalities.  We may be confident or doubtful, introverted or extroverted, pensive or active, cautious or adventurous, and each aspect causes us to respond to family values in different ways.  Our personality has a huge impact on our belief structures, self-perception, and relational patterns.
  10. Being patient with the process.  The more foreign to our minds or objectionable and threatening to our thoughts and feelings, the more the effort required and the longer the time frame to reach a new level of discernment.  All explanations are tentative until a system begins to form through repetitive confirming discoveries.  Our hearts can only go at a certain speed and to push them to go faster will undermine the process. It is the most difficult conflicts in our relationship that touch our most important beliefs, so these are key, but we may have to gradually work up to them.
  11. Using coping strategies in a healthy way.  Our coping mechanisms (people-pleasing, controlling, withdrawing, etc.) are crutches to help us heal.  They protect us from too much vulnerability that would set us back in our growth process.  But if we use them to avoid growth, our spiritual muscles atrophy, our personal and relational growth is stunted.  We need to push ourselves into what is uncomfortable, challenging, even scary, but not so far that we injure ourselves by pushing past our sustainable limits.  Most importantly we should recognize when we are using coping mechanisms and why–be conscious, deliberate, and strategic in their use rather than slipping into them by default without noticing.
  12. Finding support.  There are many sources of support and direction for this process: books, podcasts, friends, counselors, self-reflection, exercises, etc.  Support may come from the relationship in question, but often there is so much tension there when discussing conflicting feelings and views that outside support is needed. Pseudo-support is especially dangerous, posing as “for your good,” but ending up making us feel worse about ourselves (or feeling better like an opioid).  With less support, the process will take longer.

Posted June 8, 2017 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Death Has Many Faces   11 comments

Dad died a year ago last Friday.  His passing was not an emotional jolt for me since I had spent a decade grieving the loss of our relationship.  My father could not follow me on my journey of genuine self-discovery over the last twenty years.  He tried as best he could to understand me, but always on his own terms, trying to fit me into his mental constructs with slight alterations–a more melancholy and ardent version of himself perhaps.  He instinctively knew, I think, that really opening himself to see things from my perspective would require a complete re-orientation of his own perspective and that was too radical for his carefully organized worldview.

His is a common human problem.  The first year of marriage was a huge struggle for me for the same reason–that my worldview made sense and Kimberly’s did not.  I tried listening to her and incorporating aspects of her perspective–trying to be more gentle and supportive, less critical and angry, tweek my worldview with cosmetic changes without moving any load-bearing walls.  I kept listening to her explain her struggle in our relationship, and I kept trying to adapt my behavior and avoid or use certain words while hiding certain attitudes.  I was basically saying to myself, “My worldview needs no adjustments, but out of love I will accommodate her weaknesses.”  It didn’t work.

Relational accommodation, making room for someone else’s differences, is much more loving than rejecting them as somehow “wrong,”  but it is a truncated love. When I continue to see others from my own perspective rather than trying to see with their eyes and understand them from within their experience, I cannot understand them in any deep way.  The relationship cannot be fundamentally supportive or transformational, but only touches the surface.  Our interdependence “being members of one another” is so much more than sharing our spiritual gifts.  Our interdependence goes to the core of who we are.  We need the corrective of the other’s point of view.

Most of us are willing to tweak our life map, add a street or railroad that is missing.  “Oh, I didn’t know that,” we say.  It is the natural process of learning.  As long as no one fiddles with the major features of our map, we won’t feel too defensive when they suggest changes because we basically have the “right” orientation.  But if the differences in our maps are profound–mine shows a grid of city streets where yours shows winding country roads–then we have no easy solution.  My initial reaction, emotionally and intellectually, is to reject your map, to assume you are wrong, confused, or misguided. When my father first heard I was struggling with depression, he was concerned and sent me a book that stated in the introduction, “Depression comes from a lack of faith.”  Thankfully, he did not stick with that perspective.

The next step in a positive direction is for me to stop rejecting your map as defective and simply assert that our views are incompatible and so we cannot understand one another.  The third step (with a smidgen of humility) is to see how I might learn from you, fit some features of the your map into mine, add a river here or a corner store there… but a river going through the center of a city, polluted and obstructing traffic, is very different from a river that is bordered by meadows.  When I squeeze this element into my map, the whole essence of it is changed.  I have distorted your view to fit my own, and though I may speak of a river, we see it so differently that we still cannot understand one another.  How you experience that river is completely shaped by your overall map, and until I can see that, I am blind to who you are.  “Okay,” I say to myself, “He likes pollution and traffic jams.  To each his own.”  Dad came this far with me on my journey, acknowledging that it was possible to be full of the Spirit and still suffer depression, though he could not conceive how that fit into his own theological framework, he at least allowed for it, a kind of exception to the rule.

But he was never able to get past this stage with me.  I spent years trying to explain to him my own experience and how I was coming to realize that his map of life did not work for me, but he always saw my experience as an aberration from the norm.  He was convinced that his theology and spirituality and values were spot-on and needed only slight tweaking to accommodate people like myself, maybe add a mission hospital to his map for that small segment of broken people like myself.  He instinctively knew that to open his worldview to my experience–using it to challenge his worldview instead of adding it as an addendum–would mean a complete revision of his thinking, a worldview that he had spent a lifetime perfecting and promoting through his preaching, teaching, and writing.  And thousands of testimonials proved that his worldview worked… at least for those who found it beneficial.

So I spent the last years of his life slowly accepting the painful reality that my own father would never know me, that our relationship would never get past the superficial.  In many ways it was like my mom’s slow decline into Alzheimer’s when she eventually did not know who I was or even that I was in the room.  Trapped inside her own mind, she could not relate to us.  That long grieving process seems to me more gentle on those left behind than a sudden death of an intimate.  Truly here “we see in a glass, darkly.”  We let them go with the joyful expectation that when we embrace them again all the obstacles to our relationships will be gone, and we will “know even as we are known.”

 

Postlude: Kimberly tells me no one will understand what I have said without an example.  So let me very briefly point out one serious difference in our maps.  Dad, being a choleric, grounded spiritual growth in behavioral choices and made God responsible for his subconscious mind–if he was not aware of it, he was not responsible for it.  As a result, he tended to see emotions as secondary to our spiritual lives.  This might work for people who are less self-reflective, but it is a scheme that is largely unworkable for us melancholics who are in touch with a great part of the tides of our hearts.  If dad had been able to fully accept this discrepancy, he would have had to rework his whole paradigm of spiritual growth, either suggesting different processes for different people or working out a new approach that fully incorporated the processes of those different from him.  This is a very tall order for anyone, especially in the latter part of our lives, so I do not mean to fault him for it.  He quite possibly did the best he could with what he had–and we cannot ask for more.  I only share this as an encouragement for us all to work at broadening our viewpoints.

Posted June 7, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

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To Know Others, I Must Know Myself   4 comments

I’ve been muddling over a question for several days: why did Dad’s inability to understand himself so significantly affect his own children and his relationship with them.  I finally settled on a typical childhood scenario to sort it out in my mind:  being late for church.  In stark contrast to Dad, Mom was a spontaneous, disorganized soul who was not very good at time management.  Sunday morning she was inevitably running late.  Dad would finally stump out to the Oldsmobile and sit fuming, eventually honking the horn to try to hurry things along.  He hated being late.  It made for an icy car ride which suddenly transmuted into a smiling hand-shake with church folk, because Dad took charge of all our emotional exchanges, and he’d decided it was time to move on.  Yes, he was very organized, even with his emotions, and very take-charge, even with our emotions.

While Dad was in our driveway tapping his fingers against the steering wheel, Mom would be in the bathroom madly trying to finish fixing her hair and putting on her make-up.  Of course, traditional roles exacerbated this situation–Dad only had to get himself ready while Mom had to make breakfast, feed the clan, and make sure all us kids were presentable.  But she still would have accomplished all this punctually if she’d had the same personality and value system as Dad.  And since her promptness depended largely on certain unreliable munchkins, she would have had to heavily impose those time values on her children.  There would have been as much impatience, tension, and condemnation inside the home as in the station wagon outside.  Instead of a kind “where did you last see your shoes?” it would have been, “How many times have I told you…”  And we children, fearing that condemnation, would have worked very hard to conform.

When two people have similar values, perspectives, personalities and emotional responses, conflicts are drastically reduced, but when these vary in important relationships, such as with Dad and Mom, some sort of system must be worked out for negotiating the conflicts.  Those like my dad who have a behaviorist approach to life and relationship see growth as a process of adapting one’s behavior and language to avoid conflict rather than discovering a deeper understanding of oneself and the other. In other words, the underlying perceptions and dynamics remain the same, but one’s actions and words are tweaked to avoid offense–speaking more softly when angry or driving separate cars to church (my dad’s final solution).  Being late is clearly wrong, so either she fixes her behavior so he’s not mad, or he tries to be patient with her as the failing one.

At first glance it would seem that the first approach is somewhat legalistic and the second somewhat gracious… except in both cases the late person is in the wrong.  There is no option available for non-judgmentally trying to discover why this value is so important to one and not to the other–for instance that Mom put more value in accepting her kids than rushing them, that her immense creativity was enabled by not having a highly organized life, and so on.  Instead of differences leading to deeper self and mutual understanding, they lead to the slotting of behaviors (and individuals) into good and bad.

Clearly, if there is a disagreement and Dad was unwilling to reconsider his own position, then he could not in any meaningful way make room for the legitimacy of the other person’s perspective of herself.  If he was right, then she was wrong, and even if he is kind and sympathetic, that judgment sticks.   It is not possible for someone to come to a truly gracious acceptance and understanding of the other person without questioning his own underlying perspective about himself and his views.  In a remarkable way, lack of self-understanding prevents us from understanding others because we cannot shake free from our own blinders and so we distort our own perceptions.

Now, being over-zealous about lateness is a small issue that can be overlooked.  Everyone has their foibles and it is part of grace to overlook them.  The amazing thing I have discovered is that differences, even on small matters, can open the door into a huge cache of personal information that has never been discovered.  Our inner selves are well integrated, so that one concept enforces another in a web that makes up our worldview.  Punctuality is a small corner of the much bigger idea of efficiency, which is in turn a portion of the worldview that puts a premium on accomplishments.  I have struggled my whole life with a sense that my value as a person depends on what I accomplish, that God values me for what I do for him rather for me.  Most of my life I didn’t know this was at the root of my relationship with God–I thought all my zeal was out of my love for him.  Or I could follow punctuality down a different trail, one that leads to the importance of meeting a wide array of standards and how perhaps I am not loveable unless I pass a certain moral bar (while naturally holding others to that bar).  Or I could follow punctuality down a different path that connects it to respect, and what makes me feel respected or disrespected and how I respond to those feelings in my relationships.

Rubbing up against someone who experiences the world differently than I do is a great opportunity for that soul-searching.  But if I default to my unshakeable worldview, I not only fail to understand myself better, but fail to understand the other, having placed us both as characters in a world of my own assumptions.  Being blind to who I am inevitably makes me blind to who others are–their gifts, insights, and beauty.

 

 

My Dad Died a Hero to Many   16 comments

My father’s mind began to wane several years ago, and friends encouraged him to give up writing and preaching.  He acquiesced begrudgingly since losing his public ministry made him feel useless.  When visiting him, one of those friends  would ask, “How are you?” and dad would always say, “Terrible!”  “Why?”  “Because I’m still alive!”  He was ready to “go home” and last week he finally did.  I expect he was greeted with my mom’s loud, raucous laughter echoing through the halls of heaven.

Family, friends, and colleagues remembered him with admiration at his funeral.  He was a good man and a gifted leader, a hero to many.  Years ago he asked me if I had any heroes, anyone I admired and sought to emulate.  He expected me to point to him and was sad when I didn’t.  Though I respect him, I cannot emulate him any more than an ostrich can emulate an eagle.  An ostrich hatched by an eagle would simply be lost and confused and self-condemning as long as he tried to imitate the eagle, and all the eagle’s encouragement, advice, and example on how to be a better eagle would only make matters worse.

To his credit, dad eventually made room for my way of being, though he couldn’t understand it.  He tried to understand, but he was stuck in his own framework of thinking, as though the eagle saw his ostrich son running and interpreted it to be “low flying” or “slow take-off.”  His efforts to accommodate my way of being were inspired by love.  Instead of treating me like a deformed eagle, he accepted me as a mystery (because he was unable to grasp the idea of an ostrich).  I’m forever grateful that he did not condemn me for who I am and how I live.  For that reason, although our viewpoints were so contrary, we were never estranged.

And yet we drifted apart.  As I slowly discovered my true self and tried to share it with him, I could not make it comprehensible to him.  He could not see outside his own box, and so our relationship devolved into general, disconnected niceties because real relationship requires mutual understanding.  Over the years, I have grieved the loss of that relationship as I think he did, and so his home-going was only the final step in that loss.  It is sad, but the tears have long since run their course.  When I see him again, he will see me for who I am, and that is cause for rejoicing.

In the meantime I will give him his well-deserved honor.  God made him an eagle and he was determined to be the best eagle he could be and raise up a huge flock of eagles to follow in his flight.  He was admirably successful.  For that he will be remembered for a generation.  I am glad for those he blessed.

 

 

How Families Clash over Worldviews   3 comments

The world we each inhabit is a menagerie of differing perspectives without a guide to help us sort through the issues. If one is a feeler and the other a fixer or if one is an optimist and the other a pessimist, conflicts arise. One may push for action while the other pushes for patience; one inclines to critique and the other to acceptance; one wants to plan and the other likes spontaneity.  Instead of welcoming and finding a place for alternative views, we often react out of fear or pride.  We lack the imagination or guidance to show us how to make room for ideas that don’t fit our outlook, yet how we respond to conflicting perspectives makes a huge difference in our personal development and relationships (as you can see in my previous post), and the family is most formative in this process.

Cholerics like my dad are the engines of the world.  Far less would be accomplished here without their initiative, decisiveness, can-do spirits, diligence and strong-willed personalities, and as with other temperaments, the various elements of their personality are mutually strengthening, consolidating their outlook.  Dad addresses a problem or issue by acting decisively to resolve it. This initiative is grounded in his confidence about his own diagnosis, solution, planning, and ability to control the outcome. His self-confidence not only motivates him to act, but also brings results because others, inspired by his confidence, buy into his plan (cholerics are natural leaders). If there is resistance, his confidence prompts him to vigorously argue his case, become more firm in his position, and inspire others to action.  And so his goals are met, which is especially validating of his outlook, not only pragmatically in seeing the results but especially emotionally because a choleric gets the most sense of satisfaction from a job well done.  These are all good, valuable traits, and rightly admired in our society with its can-do attitude.

Melancholics like myself do not receive the same accolades or appreciation by American society.  We often find ourselves overlooked and our contributions devalued.  We are “a voice in the wilderness.”  Interestingly enough, this also meshes with and validates our worldview.  We expect the world to be this way because we tend to be more aware of the dark side of life–the suffering, antagonism, fear, despair, and brokenness–and we need space to slowly find our equilibrium among these crashing cross-currents.  When a choleric is faced with brokenness, his first response is to fix it, while the melancholic’s first response is to sit with it, understand it, and grow by it. To the choleric, this response is wrong-headed or weak-willed, it looks like giving up and acquiescing to the dark.  Of course, there is a danger that we melancholics may slide into despair, but there is also beauty of soul that comes from listening to sadness and an ability to empathize with and comfort the broken-hearted.  Sitting with those who cannot be fixed but can only weep and sigh may demoralize a choleric but profoundly encourages the melancholic.  We feel that we are finally being real and truly connecting at a deep heart level, and that soul-bonding is what we value most in life.

So the choleric is good at fixing, the melancholic at comforting; the choleric is good at action, the melancholic at contemplating; the choleric has good solutions, the melancholic has good questions; the choleric sees neat and clean distinctions, simple blacks and whites, while the melancholic sees a vast spectrum of slightly differing detail, complex grey-scale; the choleric sees opportunities, the melancholic sees concerns.  In a hundred other ways my father and I fundamentally differ from one another and it has a very big impact on what we feel, how we act, what solutions work for us, what we identify as problems, how we approach relationships, and basically each thread that makes up our fabric of life.  We see and interact with the world in very different ways, even in how we relate to God himself, even in how we understand who God is.  So these differences go to the roots of who we are and what we believe and how we relate to each other.  How profoundly important, then, to ponder these things and seek for self and other understanding.

The Power and Pitfalls of Well-Integrated Personalities   4 comments

Personality is a major organizing force in the development of our worldview, our personal way of making sense of the world and shaping our approach to it.  Our natural outlook is not inherently right or wrong as though there is a perfect personality to attain. Rather, God has made us each with our own abilities, roles, emphases, and perspectives so as to offer unique contributions to each other. Every personality comes with its strengths and weaknesses—we offer our strengths as gifts and receive the strengths of others to help with our weaknesses.  Like the interlocking hollows and loops in jigsaw puzzle pieces, we come together as a whole.  In this way our differences can be a great  bond for relationship and a source of insight and growth when handled with mutual respect and validation.

But alternative views are often at odds with our own perspective and so appear meaningless, confusing, or threatening–not understanding how to inter-connect, we knock against each other.  I discovered this to be a huge part of the conflicts Kimberly and I had early in marriage. It is not simply that Berly and I disagreed about our boxes of morals, relational expectations, and the like… but that she had no boxes.  I was trying to discuss box dimensions and what fit where, and she said, “What boxes?”  Without boxes, even “outside the box” thinking doesn’t exist.  I am analytical and she is intuitive, I need categories and she needs space, I want clarity and she wants connection.  It was the tower of Babel in miniature and without a translator.  I didn’t disagree with her individual points, but with her whole system.

The more cohesive my worldview, the stronger and more stable it is, like the many separate strands a spider weaves into a web, and in a well-integrated system, when one strand is touched, everything is set jangling, so trying to incorporate a perspective at odds with one element threatens the whole.  For instance, Kimberly said she was hurt by my words, but was not blaming me.  That made no sense in my world where pain was proof of fault–either she was too sensitive or misunderstood me or I was too insensitive.  We had to establish responsibility so we could figure out how to fix it.  She wanted to share, I wanted to fix.

I can see the benefit of her view: sharing puts us both on the same side of the issue, blaming sets us up against each other.  But that one idea threatened my whole system.  Is no one responsible for anything?  That would be chaos.  Or do we let everyone determine their own standards?  That would be war.  Trying to integrate her one idea raised a hundred questions about good and evil, spirituality, relationships, God… the whole enchilada.  I was tempted to find a slot to squeeze her idea into, validate her perspective by twisting it to fit my worldview.  In this case, between my boxes of “hurt blamed on speaker” and “hurt blamed on listener” I could add a box of special cases, “no-fault pain.”  The threat is quelled and my system holds together, but at what price? I fail to truly understand my wife or to stretch and grow in any substantial way.  My system is fundamentally challenged, but I shunt the new idea onto a side-railing where I can occasionally access it for special use with my wife.  But getting savvy about word choice to avoid conflict is hardly the same as real understanding, acceptance, and validation.

To truly understand Berly, I had to understand her from within her own worldview, not as addenda to mine.  To validate her, I had to find a way to also appreciate her worldview.  To benefit from her view, I had to find a way to make her ideas meaningful and important, to make room in my system for who she is and how she sees the world… in other words to change my worldview by valuing and incorporating her perspective.  It took years and was not smooth sailing, but love finds a way, and it changed me for the better in a hundred ways.

Posted August 20, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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When Family Personalities Clash   2 comments

As I unpack the baggage from my travels through life, I see that some of it came pre-packed, some I added by choice or accident, and some was dropped into my suitcases by other hands. I’m regularly surprised by what I find–why is this here and where did it come from?  I look for the answers by reflecting back on the interplay of family values, personalities, coping strategies, roles, relational dynamics, and assorted other influences in my growing-up years.  This is a large part of my blog posts since I started, but I’m narrowing down the focus just now to the greatest influence, my dad.

Dad and I are similar in some aspects and dissimilar in others, and that discrepancy and how we have each responded to it is a huge part of our story.  Perhaps most fundamental to our differences is our personalities–I am a typical melancholic and he is a typical choleric.  Generally speaking, life is straightforward for him and complex for me; he is an actor and I am a ruminator; he is confident, clear, decisive and I am uncertain, questioning, hesitant.  In his conscious thinking and acting in the world, his emotions are peripheral, and life seems to work best for him when he keeps them in their place.  He is largely unaware of his subconscience and the role it plays in his life and has little ability or interest in investigating that realm.  In contrast, my emotions speak to me loudly and constantly, alerting me to many aspects of my subconscious world and how it affects me, my perspective, my work, and my relationships.  He enjoys life most when he is doing something worthwhile and succeeding at it; I enjoy life most when I am gaining personal insight and growing.  In an open conversation, he likes to discuss plans, projects, accomplishments, what is happening in the world, and I like to talk about our internal worlds, what is happening in my heart and yours.

We can only see the world from where we stand, it only makes sense to us from our own perspective, which is heavily colored by our experiences, values, and, yes, personalities.  We can expand our viewpoint by trying to hear deeply and appreciatively another’s perspective, but it still remains our own particular perspective.  I experience certain things as comforting, stimulating, painful, supportive, frightening, encouraging, and I assume others experience them as I do.  It is hard to see all of this as particular to me because they feel like universal norms.  When the reactions of others differ from mine, I ascribe their fears to cowardice, their pleasures to immaturity, their anger to an irascible nature.  In short, if they see the world differently, they are wrong.  This myopia is especially hard to escape when it dovetails with our culture and significant others whose views are constantly reinforcing our own.

In a father-son relationship, the father is in the driver’s seat, so it is his personality which becomes key to the relationship, and to the extent his boy’s personality differs, the dad struggles to comprehend the world from that perspective. The more the father sees his own view as the correct universal one, the less he can understand, appreciate, and validate his children in the ways they differ from him.  It is always difficult to appreciate a point of view that clashes with our own, but it’s  especially hard for parents, who carry the heavy responsibility of guiding their kids, especially for those of my father’s generation, especially for those with less reflective personalities.

All in all my dad did the best he could, which is all we can ask of any father, all that even God himself asks.  But don’t suppose that all goes well when everyone does their best.  This broken world is filled with jagged edges, including our own shards.  If we are to relate at all, we must relate as fractured people, cutting and bruising each other unintentionally and even against our best efforts to be careful and kind.  Good, healthy relationships are profoundly healing, but even between best friends muck gets kicked loose.  In the end it will all work out for the best if we can stumble through the slough to a better place, a place of greater maturity and deeper, truer connection.  It is often in digging through the muck that we strike the truth that was buried beneath.

“There is a crack in everything.  That is how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen