Stay connected or pull the plug?
The community church hall had only a small fraction of guests in its auditorium that was easily equipped to seat more than a thousand people in what was an intimate gathering. It was a service of songs and the mood was warm and somewhat fluid as people quietly chatted with one another while they waited for the program to commence.
“Yet again, death is winning,” I thought.
It took Aunty P passing on for us to come together and physically catch up in spite of our relative proximity, access to technology and our intentions to make that happen. I remembered saying to Rimi at another service of songs in Yaba, Lagos, a couple of years ago that,
“We really need to do a better job at keeping in touch. We can’t only be meeting like this — at funerals.”
And yet, here I was, echoing that very same sentiment another life over with ironically, the same level of conviction.
Had I not attended many of these “celebrations of life” for moms and dads of notable impact, friends who had at their prime, gone too soon and funeral services for family members that I never believed would leave us, it would have been easier to believe that maintaining contacts was a priority for me.
Well, it IS a priority for me though developing authentic relationships is an even bigger one. This makes my dilemma one of quality. Whenever someone says, “let’s exchange contacts,” I literally have to ponder whether I want to stay connected or pull the plug on the relationship, a consideration that is trickier when revisiting old contacts.
I begin at considering what I value in relationships:
3. Open communication
I’m certain that any contact that presents all five of these values is an automatic priority. I subconsciously gravitate to them and easily remain connected with them. For contacts that are further away from these values, keeping in touch is more exhausting since more of my finite resources (time and energy) are being expended to the same end.
This raises another issue, “don’t I need to expend my resources to determine who shares my relationship values?”
I certainly do! So there was a need for me to engage my contacts and figure out who shared all of my relationship values. Naturally, those that did could often ended up in my inner circle or as one of my life board of directors whereas those who didn’t often remained acquaintances. In cases where there was value overlap, values were often expressed and experienced differently.
For instance, my relationship values were also expressed as the following:
1. “Being real” and “straight shooting” (honesty)
2. “Dealing with white elephants” and “confrontation” (open communication)
3. “Smart, adaptable, challenge, experience, talent” and “gifted in areas I’m not” (intelligence)
4. “Mutual admiration, consideration” and “adherence to boundaries” (respect)
Semantics not withstanding, I found that the most salient characteristic of my longest standing relationships was the commitment we had made, whether unspoken or verbal to maintain the relationship with each other. In other words, we’d decided that regardless of the circumstance, we’d work to resolve any issues that threatened the relationship and or what we value.
This is why I prioritized communication above all else because in order to resolve issues, both parties had to acknowledge them and acknowledging them only occurred after the other party had been confronted with the issues.
It’s like I’d just had an “ah ha” moment about the workings of a healthy marriage — first you commit, then you choose to do the work required to resolve issues presented by any and every circumstance of life for the marriage. This then becomes the couple’s formula for keeping the relationship going. The only problem is, certain cultures encourage secrecy over confrontation and Nigerian culture is one of them. Confrontation is seen as “airing dirty laundry” instead of as a natural healthy approach to conflict resolution.
Nevertheless, it would be futile to confront someone who has not yet committed to the relationship let alone resolving issues existing in it. Subsequently, it would be damaging to be secretive with someone who has committed to the relationship.
Sometimes, the existing cultural values, may force a misplaced approach to personal relationships. Like in Nigerian culture where certain relationships may be developed based on the culturally perceived value they possess such as material wealth, clout or other external indicators for success.
So I began to tackle value placements by prioritizing. Communication was my starting point followed by boundary definition and a review of my other values with my most promising contacts. This naturally became the litmus test for whether or not to pull the plug on a relationship since if I couldn’t honestly communicate or safely share with in the relationship, there was no chance of accurately evaluating how the relationship would develop let alone build a respectful and authentic one. Having a commitment to the relationship in those cases without the openness was futile since neither party would be successful at a relationship whose criteria for success had not been mutually verbalized.
Clarity from articulating and sharing values would provide the context of the relationship and ensure that each party, with the knowledge of the other’s expectations could be held accountable. Anything else is just networking.
“Finally a practical way to engage people,” I thought.
I can stick to maximizing my experiences in the moment when I am in networking situations where values are situational, often sensational, based on shared activities and or shared love and respect for the accomplishments of others and just plug in and out of those relationships.
I don’t have to commit to or work at aligning our values because the relationships are anchored on transient specific activities, events and or people accomplished to a definitive end and readily recreated and surpassed with the right level of effort.
So if like one of my BFF’s said of herself, I end up calling the same five people every time I pick up my phone, it is a victory for authentic relationships which is my ultimate goal for every entry in my contact list. For everyone else, I’ll see you when I see you.
As if the pastor had been reading my mind, he showed up right on cue to begin the ceremony. In that moment, I could commend my friend, Aunty P’s daughter for getting it right. She had stuck to the friends and values that were most important to her and ended up with an authentic and naturally intimate large small group that was able to offer temporary emotional support in that delicate time. God bless Aunty for the physical sacrifice and the spiritual deposits she left behind in us to reinforce authentic relationships.