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Healing, Step Four: Relate

“We need space to share our whole selves with each other and understand we don’t have to agree in order to respect each other.”

(From “Seven Steps to Healing” by Edgar Villanueva in Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides, second edition, copyright 2021, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc, Oakland, CA)

 

Strength in Diversity

When my daughter was in high school, the banner just inside the front doors of the building read, “Where diversity excels.” I was very impressed with how they lived this out, particularly in the arts programs. Her classmates represented a dizzying panoply of different ethnicities, religious and belief systems, socioeconomic strata, academic achievement levels, gender identities, relationship preferences, physical and psychological challenges, and so on. United in a common cause, “The Band Family” and the cast and crew of every production she did, gelled.

 

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t utopia, They were just as human as everybody else. They were normal enough teenagers with normal enough adolescent obstacles. The beauty that I saw was in the way they made room for one another, and for their differences.

 

Not Like Me

This 4th step of healing is the core of relationship itself; Relating.This is one of the key elements that my daughter and her friends did exceptionally well.They were able to empathize with and care for one another, without the demand that others see things the same way they did, or had the same frame of reference for their lives. People weren’t acceptable only in as much as they were alike.

 

If we have done the work of self inventory by grieving the harm done in a relational rift, (step one,) if we have rehumanized the other person through genuine apology, (step two) and if we have both heard and been heard, (step three,) we are now able to relate to the other person, without needing to fit them into our limited perspective. We can let each other expand our view and broaden our understanding of the human experience, instead of limiting it to the ways others’ experiences fit into our frame of understanding up to this point.

 

A Whole New World

Whole new worlds open up when we step into another person’s shoes and imagine what life is like for them. When we relate in this way, we become more whole humans. We also become more emotionally hospitable to others. We can make room for others.

 

This kind of relating facilitates greater intimacy. We have co-created a safe enough space for each person to show up more authentically. The more we share these parts of ourselves and find the other person accepting us there, especially in our differences, the more intimate and satisfying the relationship can be.

 

Assumptions

We all come into exchanges with certain sets of assumptions. Edgar Villanueva’s book demonstrates this starkly in the context of philanthropy. He notes that even the architecture of the buildings used by different philanthropic organizations sometimes unconsciously conveys a very specific cultural context that can be downright hostile towards those who do not share that particular culture. To many in those organizations this is entirely unconscious: This is just what financial institutions are “supposed” to look like, in their minds. Unless those who feel the hostility of it can be heard when they describe what these spaces communicate, the unconscious won’t have a reason to think twice about it.

 

Taking this concept to the interpersonal level, there may be ways that we speak, expectations that we have of one another, or assumptions we have made about ourselves, the other person, or even the relationship itself that will need to change to engender mutuality and respect.

 

Compatible Terms

We certainly don’t have to make these changes, and it could be that the request is not one we can honor without compromising something that is important to us. However, that means this relationship will not heal and not become close. Sometimes we make room for the other by creating distance. As we used to say back in the day, “You can’t fake the funk.”

 

Sometimes those mismatches create an irreconcilably hostile environment for one or both people. At those times, the most loving, kind and respectful thing you can say is “goodbye.” You have incompatible terms for relationship. At other times, it’s healthy enough to step back in terms of our expectations of the relationship. It may not be safe enough to be close to this person, but you don’t need to cut them off either. The person has become an acquaintance, or someone you interact with only in a specific environment. Pretending that a relationship is something it’s not does harm to both people.

 

Represent

However, if you’ve successfully navigated these first four steps together, you are ready to be much more fully represented in the relationship! Stay tuned to this space as we look at the nuances of representation.

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