Want to cultivate great relationships? Embrace the stand “people matter more than stuff”

How to cultivate great relationships with people and enrich your life

Relationships enrich our living.  That is simply so, if it was not so then most of us would be living the life of hermits – isolated from our fellow human beings.

If you accept that relationships enrich our existence then you would want to generate goodwill with you fellow wo/man,  With some you’d want to go further to become more entangled with one another and thus co-create intimacy.  How do you do that?  What is the insight that allows us to come up with the right practice?  The insight is that each of us wants deeply to matter!  We want/need/ strive to matter to the people with whom we interact.  That includes family, friends, work colleagues, our neighbours and our community.

Given that insight what is the core practice that builds relationships with our fellow human beings?  The core practice is encapsulated in a saying that I heard my friend Analia say to her young daughter:  “People matter more than things!”  I rephrase this “People matter more than any stuff that you are up to and any things that you want/own!”

How does this work in the real world? A personal story

Yesterday I was watching a movie with my wife and my youngest son.  We were really immersed in the story that was being told.  Then my eldest son came into the room and asked me for a hug.  What was my first reaction?  It was to say no! ” No, I am right in the middle of watching a really interesting movie.  I cannot just stop it and give you a hug upstairs in your room – your mother and brother are watching it with me.” And that is the approach that I took though I put it more politely than that.  After a couple of minutes I got present to “People matter more than stuff!”.  So I told my wife and youngest son to continue watching the film without me and headed upstairs to find my eldest son.

He was delighted!  He got that he matters to me, that I love him, that he is more important to me than stuff.  And here is the truly beautiful piece of this story:  I got that I matter to my son – his whole face lit up when I lay down on the bed and put my arms around him.  It is when we put aside our “stuff” and give ourselves to our fellow human beings that they get that they matter.  I was only upstairs with my son for 5 minutes – just 5 minutes out of “stuff” and those 5 minutes make all the difference to our relationship.  We both know that we matter to each other.

Why is it important to put people before stuff?

The being of human being is a social one.  What am I pointing at?  I am saying that human beings are ‘herd animals’ – we are truly ourselves when we are in relationship with one another: speaking, listening, sharing, giving, taking, offering help, receiving help…  Put differently, we exist in relationship.  Even our ‘individuality’, our ‘self’, flowers and exists in relationship.  There is no-one alive who is alive without the help of another human being.  There is no-one alive, no matter how ‘individualistic’ he sees himself, who has not been shaped by other living beings – usually parents, siblings, school students, school teachers, neighbours…..  Individuality is response to and flowers out of relationship and connectedness!

Yet, in the West, we ‘throw into and life from’ a worldview that does not recognise nor value our relatedness – mutually interacting and influencing one another.  It does not recognise the impact we make on another.  And whilst it speaks about individual rights it does not speak of our responsibilities to one another.  The dominant idea is to allow everyone to do his own thing provided he/she does not interfere (actively) with other people and what they are up to.   What we are not present to is that we matter to our fellow human beings: what we do or do not do matters –  it affects the health, the well being, the happiness of our fellow human beings.  Think about the rampant loneliness, the existential angst of leading ‘meaningless’ lives, the boredom that youngsters increasingly experience.  How does this show up?  Look around you the signs of social decay (ruptured human bonds) are all around us: excessive drinking, drugs, crime, corruption, gated communities, inner cities falling apart……

Are you ready to live from the stand “people matter more than stuff!”?

Is it time to hold a correct view of the world and our being as human beings?  Is it time to embrace and live the stand “People matter more that stuff – whatever form that stuff takes and no matter how seductive it is!” ?  Whatever you chose, notice that my choice affects you and your choice affects me – we are interdependent.

A powerful access ‘extraordinary living’: whole, complete and perfect

Before I share with you a powerful access to ‘extraordinary’ living  I want to share with you what is so about ordinary living: the point of view that keeps is embedded in ordinary living and the price we pay.

Ordinary living: I am flawed, you are flawed

Dig into your experience, dive deep, and you will find that the culture tells you that you should be whole, complete, perfect.  Yes, you should!  Yet, the message that you (and I) have been getting from our parents, our school teachers, our colleagues, our media, our places of work, even our religions is that we are not whole, we are incomplete and we are imperfect.  Christianity is the dominant religion in the Western world and what does it say?  You are born a sinner and you have to seek redemption!  That is exactly what most of us buy into and do yet we fail to find that redemption because we are no a fool’s errand, we have a mistaken view of us, of life (more later in the post).

When you look at yourself, relate to yourself, experience yourself, you (and I) see ourself as something like this:

What is the price that I pay, you pay, he pays, she pays?  What is to like to know/feel/experience being not whole, not complete, imperfect when the culture around you spins the myth of perfection?  I know what that is like. You know what that is like!  He knows what it is like and she know what it is like.  We keep that shame of imperfection hidden.  We strive and strive and strive to be complete, to be perfect, to be whole.  Yet, the way that we go about is guaranteed to keep us rooted to being incomplete, broken, faulty, worthless, inferior, imperfect.  If you sense of wholeness / perfection is tied to your partner then what happens when your partner becomes unhappy with you, starts an affair, or leaves you?  If your sense of wholeness / perfection is tied to your job then what happens when you lose your job?  If it is tied to your wealth then what happens when you lose your wealth or are in danger of losing it?

The price that we pay is the cost of wearing a mask.  We can never put ourselves in the world as we are – we give up self-expression.  We can never build genuine human bonds – the cost is genuine relatedness with our fellow human beings.  We can never relax into the world – the cost is shows up as alcoholism, drug taking, stress, disease and an early death.  Right?

Access to ‘extraordinary’ living: “I am whole, complete, perfect – just as I am and I am not.  You are whole, complete, perfect – just as you are and just as you are not”

Look into Buddhism and you get a central insight into the human condition: we cause our suffering by living from/into an incorrect/false view of ourselves and the world.  The false view is that I, you, he, she, they, we are broken, incomplete, imperfect!

The correct, the right, view is that I am whole, complete and perfect, just as I am and just as I am not.  There is nothing to add and nothing to take away!  And that applies to everyone of us.  Sound philosophical to you?  It is.  Let me make it more concrete to you – take a look at the diagram below:

Do you see it?  Do you see / get the beauty of what is so?   Look at the diagram again.  If you look at each shape in isolation you can easily say that it is incomplete, imperfect, something missing – none of the shape are a square or a circle!  Now look at the picture as a whole – how the shapes connect to make a beautiful figure.   And the figure is never completed!  No matter how big it grows the design allows more and more piece to connect.  The design of the design is connection!  You only get this when you stop looking at one individual piece and start looking at the whole show.  Sound abstract?  Think about an orchestra – you can zoom into only one member of the orchestra or you can use a wide angle lens and see the whole orchestra.  Both are there!  Each individual member of the orchestra and the orchestra itself. 

Here is the truth of our design, of our situation, our existence on this planet:  we are social beings: you, me, they, we, have been designed for connection – we are perfectly designed for connection.  We have whole, complete and perfect for connecting with our fellow human beings.  Think about language and the connection it enables: I see you, you matter, you make a difference, your existence matters to me, you contribute, I love you.  Neuroscience tells us that we have mirror neurons:  I see you crying and seeing you crying, my mirror neurons enable me to feel/get your experience and thus I have the access to connect with you.

Look around you, look around you, wherever you want in the world.  What do you see?  People live with one another, people live next to one another, people work together, people trade with another.  Now think about this, you are invited to party you are told how amazing it will be – the food, the drinks, the place (say Hawaii or whatever your favourite place), the music will be just so, exactly they way you want it.  Can you imagine yourself at this party?  How delightful does it feel?  There is catch to this party.  No other human being will be present. The drinks and the food will be served by robots.  The dj taking care of the music will also be a robot.  How excited are you now?  Are you going to that party? No, right?  That is the truth of our being, our design, that we do not see and we are not encouraged to see.  Hell for us is solitary confinement: have you ever wondered why this is the harshest punishment meted out in prison?  Because the prison guards gets what is so – the truth of our design as human beings.  People matter to us. People contribute to us.  We are only human when we are connected to, contributing to, one another.

A movie recommendation: The Way

Are you up to getting present to what I am speaking about?  I recommend that you watch “The Way”: Michael Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to France to collect the remains of his dead son, killed in the Pyrenees while walking The Camino de Santiago.  Driven by profound sadness, and desire to understand his son better, Tom decides to embark on this historical pilgrimage.  Tom navigates this 800km journey and soon meets others around the world, all looking for greater meaning in their lives.   This is a moving, inspiring movie that provides a powerful access to the human condition and our greatness.

And Finally

If you are still wondering about your greatness then let me repeat:  our greatness is that we are whole, complete and perfectly designed for reaching out, connecting, uplifting, healing, completing one another and generating a beautiful pattern called life on Earth.  I leave you with this picture to ponder – it is visual metaphor for our lives:

I thank you for your listening.   The context from which I am living my life is “I matter, you matter, they matter, we matter, let’s live extraordinary lives and co-create a world that works, none excluded”.  Are you up for joining me?  You Matter, your answer matters and shapes our world that we share!  I love you. I hope you will join me.