A Seaman's Quest

One man's search for truth

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LOVE - Meaningful Relationships

Relationships are complex and often difficult. But connecting with others is perhaps the deepest and most rewarding task that we will be involved with. Fulfillment in life can only come when we have meaningful relationships with others.

Social health is a direct result of emotional health and cannot exist without it. Therefore, EQ (emotional intelligence) is a prerequisite for good relationships. Remaining immature will undermine our relationships and put a limit on the meaningful connections that we have with others.

What is Love?

Creating meaningful relationships can be tricky. But it is worth it. Humans crave interaction with others so much that without it you will wither and die. Solitary confinement is one of the worst of all punishments and threatens your mental health and sanity.

If you are an introvert or extrovert you must have meaningful relationships in order to thrive. The primary difference is the that interactions with people give extroverts additional energy while introverts must invest energy into the each interaction. Quality relationships are not easy and take work for all people.

There are several key factors that must be present in relationships to be meaningful. Having lots of acquaintances does not make you life better. It is the depth not breadth of relationship that bring happiness and fulfillment. Often it is better to fewer friends that you enjoy deeper interactions with.

Happiness is not only to the depth of relationship but also the frequency that you interact. We all have friends that we have lost touch with. It might be a good idea to renew those connections.

There are four factors that are key to every relationship:

Each of these factors is reciprocal. In other words your feelings to them are very likely to mirror their feeling toward you. For example, if you do not have compassion or trust for Bob then you cannot expect Bob to feel compassion or trust toward you.

Let's look at each of the four factors and do a relational inventory.

Trust

Trust is simplify the confidence that you have in another person. It also is the measure of the confidence that they have in you. Each interaction that you have affects this confidence. It is far easier to damage trust than it is to build it.

The circuitry in the amygdala (the part of the brain that controls emotions) is skewed toward pain and away from pleasure. You are biologically capable of signaling joy, anger, fear, sadness, and shame. These are automatically triggered involuntary responses.

Note that four of the five signals tell you of danger. It is no wonder that we find it so hard to trust. Our response to threat is far more sensitive than the joy response. This means that 4 of 5 interactions will be negative.

We said that trust is confidence in another person. But confidence in what exactly?

If one element is missing then you can seek to build confidence in that area. But if two or more are lacking then your job will be extremely difficult. If you can not trust someone then your relationship will be superficial at best. At worst you should actively seek to distance yourself from them.

Seek to build depth or cut your losses. Remember that only high-quality relationships will bring you happiness.

Compassion

Everyone is naturally inclined to meet their own needs. Self-interest is a powerful incentive for us humans. Some people never get beyond that. They always see the world through the lens of their own interests, desires, and needs.

A lack of compassion drives us to love things and use people, when we ought to love people and use things. Compassion is the ability to put another's need in front of our own. This allows us to look to the interests of others and not just please ourselves.

Without compassion we may seek to benefit others only when we receive all of the glory for the act. We have all known people that like to appear generous while only serving their own egos. If we are truly honest we all have a certain amount of this attitude. We must actively seek to replace this with true compassion.

A kind act done in secret more likely to be truly motivated by compassion. As compassion becomes our default attitude we become people of easy generosity and openness toward others.

Empathy

An essential aspect of any relationship is knowing what the other person is feeling. The requires an awareness of our own emotional state and the maturity to manage our feelings. Without this maturity it will be very difficult to ignore our own feeling long enough to appreciate those of another.

Empathy happens when we join into the emotional experience of another human being. It is what allows us to feel what they feel and see things from their unique perspective. Because we are emotional beings we make decisions primarily based on our emotions and then apply our rational logic to justify our actions.

We like to think that we are rational beings with emotions, but the truth is that we are emotional being who rationalize. Without being able to understand the feeling of someone you can never truly understand the choices that they make. Empathy is the key component of understanding.

There is circuitry in the brain that is highly attuned to facial expressions and tone of voice. A lot of neurons are dedicated to the task understanding the feelings of others. In some people this is underdeveloped. Autism is the term that people use to refer to a lack of ability to read the feelings of others.

This is an area where I struggle to get to a level that comes so naturally for others. My brain just not easily perceive the emotions of others. I often plow ahead when others would readily see the signs that a retreat is called for. This insensitivity is never intentional, I just don't see what other people do.

Over the years I have learned coping mechanisms that help me compensate for this clear weakness. But is takes self-awareness and a lot of mental energy. I believe that this is why social interactions are so taxing for me.

Influence

In great relationships people rub off on each other. Both parties are mutually influenced to be better people. In horrible relationships the opposite it true. Both people influence one another to move toward the dark side. Whether for good or ill people will influence one another.

This is a highly desirable outcome for all relationships. You should want to have influence with others for the purpose of making them better. We must be careful to recognize that we do not control others. We cannot control what anyone else thinks, feels, says, or does. Each person is responsible for their own decisions.

Our influence comes from our life example. If we live life well then others will wish to emulate us, if not then they will seek the opposite. The only true power that we have over others is the ability to inspire and encourage.

There is no influence without trust, compassion, and empathy. To the extent that you master these you will have influence with others. Positional power has nothing to do with influence. Never mistake these two.

As you regularly inspire and encourage others it may grow into a formal mentoring relationship. This can never be forced because you cannot fake the requirements of trust, compassion, and empathy. They either occur or not and the other person will tell you when they are present.

When true influence is present there is a large amount of openness to new ideas and a desire to be vulnerable. Every human must have a least one of these relationships. This is the essence of meaningful relationship.

Deep Listening

Love cannot grow without increasing the skill of listening. Every conversation in which I am not fully present is a squandered opportunity for connection. Distractions often prevent us from truly listening because we are focused on what we will say rather than what is being said.

Deep listening is used to allow me to truly engage with others. 

When people feel heard they feel loved.  Many problems (70%) can be solved through active listening.  Connection happens when people listen.

When I judge people they are treated  as objects instead of unique image bearers of God.   I categorize people to diminish their humanity and make them unworthy of my love.  I make differences into virtues of moral superiority.

Only God has the right and wisdom to judge another person.  When I judge, I am usurping God's role.  This is turning my back on God's kingdom (to my own kingdom).

I harbor judgmental attitudes of many differing types.

Differences make me uncomfortable. I naturally believe that I am right and others are wrong. I judge the differences in others to assert my moral superiority. Others naturally see the world differently than I do, so I regularly judge almost everyone. Every person is unique in experience and understanding, which leads them to fundamentally differing views of the world.

I can learn from the views of others, especially when I disagree with them.  Every person has wisdom to teach that comes from the Spirit of God even though they may not know that their truth comes from God.  A person does not need to be whole and healthy to speak truth. Truly listening allows us to receive the treasures from each person we interact with.

Technology has impacted our lives and dramatically impacted our ability to connect emotionally. The tools that we use allow us to be in constant contact, yet avoid the true human connection required for meaningful relationship.

Modern communication trades connection for convenience.  We trade emojes and likes for real conversation.  We even convert words into acronyms to spend less effort on reusable phrases. All of these shortcuts are completely unnuanced and leave us feeling disconnected.

Who Do You Love?

Waves of Expanding Love

We all desire to have a need to love others. This is no accident since that desire was placed there by God. It is part of what brings joy into our lives. Helping others to have a better life gives us purpose and meaning. Love does not emerge all at once but builds over time. Let's explore how we can have an impact on others.

Start at Home

Love starts at home with Myself, My Family, My People. If I cannot love myself I can never truly love anyone else. As I experience the love of God personally I am able to improve in love for my family.

Within every family are some people that are hard to love. This is where we learn about unconditional love and forgiveness. These lessons teach us valuable truths about God's love. As we give love to others we are also able to receive love for ourselves.

As I understand love I begin to embrace others that I know well. These relationships add more opportunity to share God's love with others. Small selfless acts of kindness and forgiveness help teach us how to love better.

Say “YES” to God. It always leads to more of everything good. Saying “NO” to self, is actually less painful than it first appears. Learning to love is not a glorious or heroic endeavor. Instead it is an act of humility. Start small, start now.

Our community

Our journey of love begins at home but it soon spills outside of those bounds. We all live and work and shop in a community of people. We have interactions with lots of people every day.

Even though I don't know everyone I encounter there are many people that are much like me. They have a similar life, hopes and dreams, and fears of the future. This is a safe place for us to practice our growing love.

Every contact is an opportunity for encouragement. Find ways to express God's kindness to the people that you interact with. Stop and spend a minute with someone that you happen to meet in the grocery store or the soccer match.

Ask God how you can practice kindness and demonstrate his love. You will be surprised at what happens next. Listen to God as you interact with others and see amazing opportunities for meaningful connection open. It will totally change how you see others.

Those other people

Not everyone is like us. We often feel that those that are not like us do not really deserve love, but the truth is that none of us really deserve God's love. We are all in need of undeserved love.

We all have prejudices, but cannot see them. We each hold unquestioned opinions about the worth of others. We believe that some people are worthy and others are not. But these attitudes block God's love in our lives and make us unable to reach out to others.

These prejudices are bone-deep and carefully guarded. We hold them to be truths that are more sacred than the bible.

Prejudice gives us the excuse we are looking for to not love. It allows us to feel justified in not caring. Those other people are not worthy of God's love because they are part of a despised group. These attitudes are easy to see in others but almost impossible to see in ourselves.

I know that I need to love my neighbor. But who is my neighbor? How far does this go? I want to create a grouping lets me exclude certain groups of people. And I already have strong opinions justifying why those people do not qualify.

Any small differences can be used as a reason to not love others. While it is hard to love others that are like us, it is almost impossible to love those that are not like us. In fact, it is impossible unless God is changing our hearts.

The same issue applies to every type of difference: Race, Religion, Poverty, Wealth, Hard working/Lazy, Underweight/Overweight, Aggressive/Shy, Sports Teams, Greeley/Ft Collins, Education, Status, Addiction, Politics. Any excuse is good enough if we don't want to love in the first place.

When we feel ourselves reacting in this way the only reasonable response is repentance. We must confront our prejudice rather that justify it. It is a sin that is blocking the purpose of God in our lives and keeping us from having any influence with others.

Our World

We cannot love the people we will never meet unless we first learn to love those we interact with regularly. It is impossible to feel compassion for those around the world until I am moved by a desire to help the people I interact with daily.

World peace begins at home and grows ultimately to include everyone I am in contact with. Only then am I ready to play a role on a greater stage. When I see the suffering of those around me and act in compassion, I am compelled to do even more regularly and consistently.

Love builds from loving people I know to people everywhere that also suffer from the same things. Politics is never the answer for the world's problems. The practices of politics help groups make decisions that our good for the most people. While better leaders are a good thing they really have very limited impact over all.

So where does our hope come from? Do we put our hope in politicians or national security? Without God's love there is no hope for the world. We have been placed here by God with a mission of being influence in this world (salt & light).

Effective influence is always motivated by love. Our home, Our Community, Those Other People, and the World. We are called to have a maximum impact everywhere we are. This must be rooted in receiving God's love and spreading it to others.

Our Task

When the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” -- Acts 1:7-8

Being a witness means sharing truths that others need to know so that they can make effective decisions about life. This is the process of influence. It needs to begin at home but it eventually needs to go everywhere. The good news of God's redemption is the focus of the message that we share.

It is interesting to note that the disciples were expecting a political revolution against the Roman occupiers and Jesus never even addressed the politics of the situation. Instead he told them to go be influencers throughout the world completely ignoring their question.

Without receiving spiritual power from God we will never be able to accomplish the goals that we are called to. This process is slow and can often be hard. The most difficult part of the whole thing is coming to grips with our own selfishness and prejudice that blocks God's love.

This is the only path to true influence. God has given us no other option. Ultimate fulfillment and true purpose of life will only be found by saying "YES" to this call.

Relating to People

Social Anxiety

One of my most troubling personal attributes is my desire to gain approval from others. I want everyone to think that I am awesome, especially in those areas where I am least awesome. I have a true desire to share my life honestly with others, but this is frequently at odds with the desire to look good.

Some people process their thoughts by talking them out with others. This does not really work for me. Social interactions are generally difficult for me. When I am talking with someone about an important topic, 80% of my brain is occupied with assessing reactions and critiquing the conversation. Most of my energy is devoted to monitoring the interaction itself, leaving little room for the actual topic.

As an introvert, sharing weakness or vulnerability requires a large amount of courage. When I am involved in a discussion I am usually guarded about what I share. I spend a great deal of time analyzing conversations later and often regret how open I was, and usually give myself a rather harsh critique. These regrets make it difficult for me to feel comfortable sharing my feelings.

But I have many close relationships that do not have this problem. Once I know and trust someone it is easy for me to be open and honest. The lingering impulse still exists to cover up my faults and try to impress. It takes courage to be vulnerable and it is usually worth the effort.

Cost of Connection

Social interactions leave me drained and exhausted. Every exchange of ideas and opinions requires the pre-game preparation, the half-time adjustments, and the post-game analysis with my internal commentators. The total analysis requires about three times longer than the interaction itself, making the typical cost of connecting far larger than the emotional benefit.

The more intense discussions carry an even bigger emotional burden. The net result is that connecting with people requires a great deal of energy for me. At the same time, it is a huge part of what makes life worthwhile, so I dare not neglect it.

Low quality relationships require the same energy level for me as the great ones. Those are the people that I will probably never be close friends with. Making new acquaintances is very difficult for me since those new relationships will probably never get to a level that feels worth the cost.

I already have existing close connections with people that I love and that love me. It is difficult for me to imagine that the new acquaintances offer the same opportunity. Overall, I tend to evaluate relationships through the lens of "return on investment". The people that I am most connected with are the ones that I want to continue to invest in.

Is it worth the effort to connect? For my closest friends the answer is clearly a resounding "yes", but for casual relationships I would rather not spend the effort. I prefer to devote all my relational energy building lasting trust with the twenty-five people that I already know and trust.

Ambiguous Relationships

Studies have shown that relationships are vital to our well-being. Negative, critical, and controlling people can seriously harm our motivation and cause us to give up and disengage from our work or life in general.

A supportive relationship can have the opposite impact. Consistently positive interactions can bring encouragement and allow us to persevere through difficult situations. One supportive relationship can make all the difference to our attitude and well-being.

Sometimes our relationships are not at all consistent. They may alternate between supportive and destructive. Each interaction may bring encouragement or discouragement, affirmation or criticism. These must be characterized as ambiguous relationships.

Scientific studies have shown that ambiguous relationships are far more stressful to manage than even the most antagonistic ones. When we know that someone is consistently hostile we actively avoid and oppose them, limiting the negative impact they might have on our life. We remain guarded because we know that they can not be trusted.

An ambiguous relationship on the other hand lures us into a false sense of security. A few good interactions and we let down the defenses. Then the trust is broken and we find ourselves under attack with no defenses.

These caustic interactions force us to be on high alert with every interaction. We do not know if we are talking to Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde (Bruce Banner or the Hulk). As a result every interaction is fraught with peril and extremely hazardous.

Abusive Relationships

Over time, ambiguous relationships often take an abusive turn. The aggressor becomes increasingly forceful in asserting their will. The victim is expected to react gracefully to boundary violations, give in to every demand, and to always placate the abuser. The victim is blamed for the problems in the relationship and expected to be the one to seek reconciliation.

The positive interactions that occur lead the victim to hope that the relationship can be redeemed. This gives to victimizer an opportunity to discover the next point of vulnerability that can be exploited. Appeasement is not a long-term option since the end goal is nothing short of absolute surrender.

The only workable solution is a strong defense. Clearly determined boundaries must be established to prevent the abuser from taking over. Most relationships rely on the general goodwill and self awareness of each party to maintain the healthy connection. But when the relationship is abusive these critical elements are missing.

Once a relationship turns abusive there is no hope for true reconciliation. The best outcome is a cessation of hostilities and a formal truce. This kind of interaction requires a huge amount of emotional investment and by necessity must be limited. The victim must determine how often to interact with the abuser and control the circumstances to match.

Abusive relationships have left me unable to fully trust people. The effect of these harmful interactions has spilled over into other relationships. I feel attacked and threatened when there is no good reason. I am guarded when I should be trusting.

Childhood Memories

I would love to be healed of the hurts from my past. A sign of healing would be how I remember my past. Each time I recall my childhood it is with deep pain. I know that I must have had some life-giving moments but I find them very difficult to recall.

My childhood memories revolve around the strong emotions of Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Shame. When looking at photos I am overwhelmed with a sense of loss for all the things that were missing. The tears that come are not happy ones!

I believe, as healing takes place, I will be able to remember the good things that happened to me as a child. But unfortunately I am not there yet. I do believe that healing is possible and I am hoping that I will experience it someday.