for release March 8, 2002
by Melodie Davis
David was a pretty good soccer player. An older player at another school was his idol: this guy won the MVP awards in every tournament, held records for not only his school but the county, and always seemed at the top of his game. David envied Roger, and thought he would have it made if he was as good a soccer player as Roger.
Then they were both chosen to represent their schools at an area-wide coaches' clinic together. So they carpooled to the clinic.
David was pleased and somewhat surprised to learn that Roger was not only a good soccer player, but a genuinely nice guy. He, too, fretted about grades and about other players who were better than he was. He often didn't feel like practicing even though he loved the game. In short, Roger was human.
When they got home from the coaches' clinic, David's father asked him how it went. "Oh okay, but the best thing was riding over with Roger Rhodes," and David told his dad about what he had found out.
Life is not so much about the job you have, the college you go to, the events and activities you participate in, but about the relationships formed.
Some cultures know this better than others. I'm told that in many places in Africa, when you are visiting a new village or home, there is an expected protocol of taking a certain amount of time to just check in with each other and visit, before getting around to the business at hand, whether it is an actual meeting or a meal together. The same way with good-byes: one must never just rush out, but take time for blessings and conversation with each person in the room before leaving.
Life is about relationships. Somewhere along the line we discover this fact. I need to be reminded often.
It certainly doesn't seem like the folks at Enron worried too much about relationships -- except for the former executive who apparently committed suicide, perhaps out of concern for the relationships his possible testimony would harm. Money, being on top, power, coping with stress, health-all these things (popular topics on my shelves) are more what our culture is about.
It doesn't seem like our government leaders worry too much about the relationships they might harm when they go around seeming to slander countries from an "axis of evil."
Kind of reminds me of the "evil empire" that an earlier U.S. president talked about. Remember how the use of that term fell by the wayside after a series of conversations between Gorbachev and Reagan? I remember how excited I felt when reporters talked about what was supposed to be a brief, initial meeting between the two in Geneva, Switzerland. It went on for hours. The two developed a relationship, which was probably the best thing that could have happened between the two countries at that time.
Relationships don't come easy for me. I guess you might expect that of a writer who mostly works in solitude. When I was a child sometimes I used to go and hide in the bathroom stalls after church rather than participate in the small talk that everyone else seemed to be enjoying.
But I have found three things that help me, and I offer them here not as an example but in case they give anyone else inspiration to do better in the art of forming relationships.
In social settings, like after church, I try to think ahead of one or two people to seek out and talk to about something, whether it is a piece of business, inquiring after their child or grandchild, or simply to compliment them on something. That saves me from having too many conversations that consist only of "Hi, how are you?" "Just fine" exchanges.
Two, when I am having a conversation, I try to really focus on the other person: turn, give full attention, and look them in the eye. This may not do as much for the other person as it does for me. It forces me to concentrate and listen better.
And three, it is never an ideal time to get together with people, have lunch or invite someone over. There is always an excuse: the kitchen needs painting, I just got back from a trip, or the kids have too much going on. However, just do it. Pick up the phone, and call someone, even if it is just to talk.
Today's young people-teenagers and young adults, seem to be pretty good at this art of just hanging out, talking, enjoying each other. Maybe it's something I can learn from them.
What do you think? Send responses to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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