In life, we all have the opportunity to build tons of relationships. Those relationships start with the family, then expand outward over time. After the immediate household come extended family, neighbors, friends, religious communities, schools, and companies. Zooming out further still, you might say you build relationships with your home city, state, or country, or at least a relationship with the values and beliefs upon which those are built.
There’s a ton of advice out there about how to build strong relationships. But the thing about relationships is that they’re all a bit different. Some people love and respect family members, while others treat them as sworn enemies. Some people beat their dogs while others treat them like royalty. Relationships are subjective.
As a result, I don’t feel it’s a great use of time to give advice about how others should go about building relationships.
What I CAN do, is invert the question. Rather than give advice about how you SHOULD build relationships, here’s a sure fire way to build terrible relationships that I think most will agree with.
If you want to enjoy guaranteed misery in your relationships, you should avoid difficult and uncomfortable conversations at all costs. When you are angry, upset, or confused (or think the other person to be), never talk about it. Just make assumptions about what others think and feel and accept that as the truth. Make assumptions about their drives and motivations. Make assumptions that you know what it’s like to feel what they are feeling, that you understand their experience.
Guaranteed misery, every time.
The relationship between America and the black community is, and has for a long time, been one defined by extensive misery. It’s a relationship defined by exhaustion and exasperation. It’s one defined by glimmers of hope, and repeated let down. It’s defined by fear, anger, and thoughts of “WILL THIS SHIT EVER END??”
You know, this has always been a difficult topic for me. And I never have any idea what to do in the moments of the deepest despair. And I think that question about what to do is deeply personal and subjective for everyone, regardless of what you look like or where you live.
As one person, a black man, here’s a range of things that have crossed my mind over the last three decades:
Do I just pretend that everything is fine?
Have I done enough to stand up for the black community? Have I done anything?
Do I drop everything and become some sort of activist?
But there’s no money in activism. And money is an important conduit toward financial and intellectual escape velocity.
The best thing I can do is to become successful in business and in life to prove that black people can do it too.
Or does that do more to say that I am some sort of exception to what many think is a rule?
Is it even worth fighting a war you’re sure to lose?
Of course it is! Do you want the work of greats like MLK and Malcom X to go to waste?
They paid the ultimate price. Am I willing to die for this cause?
Death aside, what AM I willing to sacrifice?
Not at all meant to be comprehensive, but you can see that I’m all over the map.
At this very moment, it feels like the best thing I can do is utilize the platform that I’ve built through VIC as a vehicle to bring more folks into the conversation. As I said earlier, ignoring difficult conversations is guaranteed to yield misery. So the best thing I can do right now is use the tiny loudspeaker I have to speak my truth. Or not so much truth, but to speak my confusion.
On one side, things have gotten better. We’re not getting abducted, then beaten, then eyes gouged, shot, tied to an industrial fan, and dumped into a river, like Emmett Till was. We’re not watching our kids sold to neighboring plantations and wives raped by our owners. It’s important to speak truth to that progress.
On the other hand, we’re having knees plunged into the back of our necks on camera until we stop breathing. We’re being chased through neighborhoods and gunned down my ex-policemen. You can’t make this shit up!
How do you reconcile those two things? I, for one, cannot.
You’ll notice that I offer no answers and solutions, only a sea of questions. And one of those questions is,
What are you thinking? What are you feeling?
Coming back to relationships, we are all friends, family members, parents, neighbors, company leaders, and citizens. Are you having what are sure to be difficult conversations with the people that matter to you? Because if you are not, I worry for the health of those relationships.
The “C” in VIC is curiosity. It’s vital that we remain curious about the truly vexing problems. One such problem, or question, weighs heavily on my mind.
How, or why, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that we are all the same, do large groups of people continue to fervently believe in intractable differences?