Recognizing People’s Unique Roles in Our Lives

Most of who I am today is because of the people I’ve met, worked and lived with. I’ve never believed in the concept of the ‘self made’ person. We are hardly ever self made. I love the quote –

‘The difference between us now, and us 10 years from now, are the books we read and the people we meet.’

The books I’ve read in the past 4-5 years have indeed had tremendous impact but even getting that habit in place has been thanks to push and encouragement I’ve received from people I’ve met.

As a family, thanks to the way circumstances panned out, we were always very connected with people on the outside of our family. It’s our friends who were with us at the time of crisis and it’s something I never forget. As a result, I’ve always had, and to the best extent possible, done my best to maintain close relationships with those life has been kind to connect me with – friends, teachers, ‘wiser’ friends who’ve taken an interest in my development, colleagues and the like.

People, however, tend to be complex beings and there are times when I find myself frustrated with one close person on the other. I ask myself – ‘Why can’t she be more like him?’ or ‘Why can’t he be more like her?’.

And, while it’s easy to get sucked into this, I’ve realized over time that all I’m doing is placing an unfair expectation on someone I care about. First up, I’ve learnt to accept (slowly!) that people are in our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. The ones who are around for a ‘season’ or period of time are the tougher to let go. But, I’ve come to realize that disengaging and getting out of touch (in this day and age, especially) is a choice and relationships are two way games.

Second, every one of those who are in it for a life time have a unique role in our lives. While they all might love and care for us, they likely express it in different ways – some might do so by being our ‘soft place to land’ and by affirming us and making us feel good, yet some others might do so by challenging us, pushing us and helping us be better people and so on. None of them is right or wrong.  It’s this tension that makes our lives special.. (In fact, if there is one thing that is extremely helpful – it is to surround ourselves with people with very different strengths and traits!) What matters, though, is that we engage people for the right thing.

We start feeling frustrated when we go to someone who is incredibly helpful directionally for specific objective advice, or when we go to someone who generally pushes our boundary and challenges us, for affirmation. In the ideal world, there would be people capable of all of this but that’s never the case. Every person has their own strengths. And it’s our responsibility to engage those we love on their strengths.

I am always reminded of a wonderful Paolo Coelho story when I think of close relationships.

When many animals were dying due to the extreme cold of the Ice Age, a group of porcupines decided to huddle close and keep warm. The moment they huddled close, their thorns began scratching each other. The moment they stayed apart, they started freezing to death again!

So they had to make a choice: either vanish from the face of the earth or accept each other’s thorns. They wisely decided to stay together again. They learned to behave courteously, overlooking the small wounds that closeness causes, because the most important thing was the warmth given by the other.

What more can I say..