In each of
our daily activities we need a lot of effort and no small
amount of skill to be able to behave as expected. At work,
for example, we are supposed to carry out our obligations
well and to conduct ourselves in such a way as is in keeping
with our position. We have to treat clients in a certain
way and supervisors in another. When we leave work and take
the bus or train, we must act in one way; if we speak with
a stranger, we express ourselves in yet a different manner.
We continuously change the way we express ourselves according
to changing situations. We adapt so spontaneously and quickly
that we think that we are always the same. We think we never
change how we act and relate. One of the fundamental aspects
of our education is precisely this: knowing how to behave
in an appropriate way in all circumstances and recognizing
the difference between one situation and another. Thanks
to this capacity, it is possible for us to maintain a system
of relationships, which is very complex but, at the same
time, is not burdensome nor that hard to maintain.
Even so, many of us are not satisfied with the way we relate,
not because it is bad, but because it is superficial. We
would like to establish deeper, more meaningful relationships.
It is obvious that we cannot do this with everyone, but
we wish we could with at least those we are close to. Unfortunately,
this is something that we do not always find easy to do.
To achieve a good relationship within the framework of our
daily activities, we need to exercise a great deal of control
over ourselves. We have to absorb annoyances and difficulties
without appearing frustrated. We have to maintain a certain
demeanor at work and with associates. And because we cannot
release our tension, it begins to build up. What better
way to release it than when we meet a friend or arrive home?
Releasing our tension rarely opens up good communication
with others. On the contrary, it is often a source of misunderstanding
and mutual pain. Our friend also may want to unburden his
problems on us, and at home others, too, tend to release
their tensions and frustrations. We cannot hope to have
a good relationship with someone if we cry on her shoulder
or make her the recipient of our frustrations and reactions.
Our friends and family may very well expect different behavior
What can we do to improve the situation and transform it
into a means of communicating more deeply with one another?
We can do a lot. We can begin by observing ourselves as
we relate. We can see how we use others to release our frustrations
or to get what we want. We can honestly look at the way
we try to control others. As soon as we see ourselves a
little more clearly, we realize that there are many little
things we can do to improve our relationships.
Let's begin with a very simple fact about relationships:
When we are with other people, we tend to emphasize our
differences-contrasting opinions, customs, preferences,
objectives. When this happens, we usually defend our position
and others defend theirs. It is but a short step from this
stage to an argument or serious misunderstanding. This approach,
of emphasizing differences, seldom leads to good relationships
or a real understanding between people. We need a different
method. Instead, we can attempt in any relationship we may
have to uncover elements we share, what we could call "common
ground." When we discover similarities, we find a common
language, and through that common language a closer relationship
begins, which can deepen with time and effort.
Differences are always relative to circumstances. Everyone
undergoes different experiences. Our coworkers may be from
different cultures and social conditions. Each personality
is formed with its own characteristics. Even members of
the same family are very different from each other. But
we are all human beings, we are all sensitive to pain and
joy, we all have difficulties, we all yearn for happiness,
and we all seek the way to develop our possibilities.
Our human condition unites us. What we have in common constitutes
a much more powerful bond than the differences we use against
one another. In the end, what tends to separate us are elements
of our own making which we ourselves can control and change.
What unites us belongs to our human nature, to a history
that is common to the whole human race and to the possibilities
of all human beings. When we remain conscious of this common
ground, and when our relationships unfold along this line,
we automatically communicate better and find the channel
by which we can understand one another deeply and permanently.
Reprinted from Living