Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Taking a step back

One of the hardest paradoxes we face is in our relationships with the people closest to us. When we are uncertain, we need those relationships. Yet there is also tremendous possibility in standing back far enough to take a look at what is happening in those relationships.

Watch two people together, any two people. To see them both without moving your head back and forth, you need to be standing ten or fifteen feet away. Socially, you are outside their circle when you are about six feet away, but visually you can't see them as a single unit until you get twice that far away. And you may have to get farther still to see the context around them so that you can tell what is integral to the relationship and what is coming in from outside.

If it's hard to see other people's relationships, it's much harder to see our own. We are so entwined in other people's lives, that we need some external pressure if we are to break away enough to see ourselves instead of just seeing the other people in our relationships. Think about the physical perspective you have standing two feet from someone else. Not only does it limit your ability to see them (up close, you probably focus on their face and shoulders and miss lots of information held in their bodies), but it also gives you a distorted relationship of context (you only see 180° and the person in front of you blocks much of that).

That's why it is frequently a shock to catch a glimpse of yourself in a relationship. You see a photograph or video clip, and you notice something. Someone else says something or reacts to something and you slip into that person's perspective and see yourself in relationship. You find that someone outside holds a piece of the truth about you and you make a choice. Will you acknowledge the truth or will you say "you had to be there." We often make ourselves safe by pretending that the information we have from inside a relationship is deeper, more accurate, more privileged.

Yet, if we stick to what we could see with our physical eyes, it is apparent that someone at a distance has information about our relationships that we cannot get from where we are. The only way to judge that information is to pretend we can take a step back (a big step) and see what they are seeing from a distance. And to do that, we have to admit that we are prepared (however briefly) to be at a distance.

In a world where things disappear and change, it can be scary to take a step back. We can remember that when we are reluctant to check out what other people see in our relationships. We can remember that when we are talking to a friend who is unwilling or unable to step back and see what we see.

And we can remember that the information is only information: it is how we assign meaning to the information that determines the results we will get.

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