Relationships: What They’re All About

ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST:  In the 1966 film Alfie, Burt Bacharach contemplates the meaning of life in the lyrics to the title song (in which he writes the question, “What’s it all about, Alfie?”) During the musings of childhood, the angst of adolescence, or the demands of adulthood, I suspect we have all questioned what truly matters in life, and many of us have arrived at a similar conclusion: It’s all about relationships.

I suspect we have all questioned what truly matters in life…

Yet as much as we value our relationships, I suspect we sometimes behave in ways that do not fully honor our connections. We get caught up in schedules, deadlines, earning, winning, and being right.

In the moment, life’s demands and distractions seem inescapable. However, when we pause, step back, and contemplate, we realize that there is truly room to prioritize our relationships. Doing so doesn’t require more time or effort; it just requires a thoughtful approach to connecting and the cultivation of some good habits.

One of my favorite tips for demonstrating you value a relationship is simple: offer the people you love a warm greeting as your first interaction each time you see them. (How often are we guilty of launching into a list of chores that need to be accomplished by our children or our spouse, before even pausing to say, “Hello”?)

Years ago, in my household, we established as a rule that, when a family member walks into the house, he or she must be greeted with a sign of affection and an inquiry as to their well-being. Once these common courtesies and loving gestures are exchanged, then, and only then, discussions about tasks can ensue. Note that the responsibility falls on both parties to make certain these loving greetings occur. It is also the responsibility of both parties to make certain that genuine listening occurs.

With children, gentle, playful questions, such as, “Did you forget something?” while holding out open arms, provides a reminder of the importance of connecting. When loving gestures become the norm, it becomes easier to accomplish tasks in the spirit of cooperation.

The implications for the school setting are apparent. The Peck School’s renewed emphasis on a firm handshake as students enter the classroom offers an opportunity to start the day with a caring connection. This simple gesture enhances those critical student-teacher relationships. Likewise, genuinely warm greetings among students, faculty, and the entire Peck community help us all to feel valued and connected. In the end, this leads to more successful collaborative learning.

A compelling question I often pose is, “Would you rather be right, or would you rather stay friends?”

“Being right” is seductive. We often stop listening once we’ve pinned on the badge of “being right.” We may lord it over others, including those we care deeply about. Yet in this self-righteousness, have we accomplished anything really important? Have we acted in concert with our values by stopping there? What is the cost to our relationships? Are there not times when it would be better to “agree to disagree,” simply let it go?

Yes, there are certainly times when we must strive for both; to do what is right and be clear about our convictions (as when we may have to explain to our children those “right-but-unpopular” decisions made in their best interests!)

So many times, though, simply stopping at the idea of being right is ego, not necessity—and the flip side of that coin is the danger of seeing others as nothing but wrong.

Perhaps we are better served to embrace forgiveness. We can forgive in order to honor our relationship, and live in a state of gratitude for our loving connections. We can forgive ourselves, and others, the urge to “be right,” and remember to see each other as infinitely more than any one argument. A forgiving spirit will facilitate positive, loving relationships —and takes away that seductive pressure of just being right.

If we stop to think about that which is most important in our lives, most of us would point to our relationships. So shouldn’t we, every day, communicate those priorities in our actions and our words?

Because showing those we love how much we value them, and are choosing to make them our top priority….“That’s what it’s all about, Alfie!”

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