Several years ago I traveled to Haiti for the first time. It was truly life-changing. Since that first trip, I have been back so many times I have lost count. There are many ways that Haiti has changed me, but most significant is that I have gained family members — Odines, Amy and Dyno (my favorite three-year old). You see, this country where I originally thought I had so much to offer has instead given me the invaluable gift of meaningful relationships. In January, I had the distinct honor of serving as Odines’ best man when he married Amy. I will continue to return, following the lead of my best friend as he works to make a difference for those on the margins, but my primary purpose for travelling to Haiti now rests in the relationships I have formed. I go because of my friends.
I’m not sure that relationships are always undervalued in our society, but I’m also not sure they are given the attention they deserve.
Building strong relationships must be considered a foundational skill. We should teach it, model it, and practice it. It is that important. Relationships are the pivot point for all meaningful change and difference making in our schools, our communities, and our world.
In the spirit of my “10 Things” posts, here is a list of ten reasons that I believe relationships make all of the difference.
- We all have something to offer. Positive relationships give all parties the opportunity to recognize and understand that they have value.
- You can’t really understand others unless you take the time to get to know them. Deep empathy requires a relationship.
- From time to time, other people need help. Relationships are a means to that end — a vehicle for making help happen.
- Sometimes we need help. It’s not easy, or healthy, to go it alone in this world. Relationships allow us to share our burdens and humbly accept the help of others.
- Strong relationships result in authentic dialogue — people who are willing to “speak the truth, even when their voice shakes.”
- Relationships require trust and trust facilitates learning. We typically don’t learn, or take risks, with people we don’t trust.
- You don’t change organizations, schools, businesses, or people without taking the time to build relationships. Change requires positive relationships.
- While genuine relationships are selfless, people in a positive relationship will sacrifice for one another.
- Effective organizations (like schools) are effective teams. Effective teams foster positive relationships.
- We have a responsibility to model positive relationship building for our young people. If you haven’t noticed, our society doesn’t do such a great job at this, and building relationships is a skill that everyone needs.
In some cases, building and maintaining relationships seems to happen naturally (like my relationship with Odines). In other cases, it requires more work. The rude colleague. The disrespectful and defiant student. The angry patron, or upset parent. In those cases, I think we should head the words of Father Greg Boyle.
You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.
Relationships (kinship) are not always easy. But they are always worth it.