Nurturing healthy connections

An informative Swedish proverb goes like this:

Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.

It goes to show we need each other. From one vantage point, our starting orientation is “Me-in-here” and “the-World-out-there.” We are in constant contact with our boundary to the world. Our relationship with what goes on around us determines so much. A healthy community rides in the balance. The big question is: how do we nurture a healthy connection to our surroundings and community? One telling aspect has to do with how we integrate the feedback we get from our environment.

“What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef?

Feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication.”

— Anonymous

Feedback is a building block. It basically represents everything coming into our field from any direction. Feedback is our interface with the world. It is what defines and shapes our life on earth.

“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.”

— Albert Einstein

We are here to grow and learn. Feedback is how it happens! However, it’s not all positive or constructive. It can be a bitter pill to swallow. Chaos is created by feedback that disrupts our internal status quo. In the face of certain feedback and criticism, we have to reformulate and adjust our understanding of ourselves. After receiving feedback we have to re-establish our inner balance. To keep our bearings, we need a strong self-orientation and inner connection.

“Improvement begins with I.”

— Arnold H. Glasow

Always having our core challenged helps to define it. It helps us learn that it’s not what happens to us, but it’s the way it re-shapes us. Chaos may seem like it should be avoided at all costs, but it’s the only agent for change and growth. It builds muscle, the “me” muscle. I’ve come to understand several aspects of feedback as highly instructive and valuable. Here is a collection of my top thoughts about it.

1. Team Orientation

For anyone building a team, high up on the list of valuable traits is the ability to take feedback. Coaches call it “coachability.” It’s indicative of pliability and ability to fit what’s needed. The team needs you to fill a certain role, can you adjust and take on what is needed? If so you certainly will then play your most valuable role for the team. It’s an important trait and one I appreciate.

2. Warning signs

If the ability to take feedback is a sign of strength, then the flip side is true. The inability to take feedback can be destructive. I’ve come to see it as a real warning sign not just in team building but also for what it signals in interpersonal relations, no matter what the circumstance.

“Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

A total block for criticism usually means there is an inner weak spot or wound that demands to be protected. The sense of self could be so delicate that criticism is too overwhelming. It should raise a big red flag. Compassion in this case is hugely important; but, the outward presentation of severe “allergy” to criticism is lashing out. This could mean that the wound is so deep that the person has constructed complex protective mechanisms. It’s important to know that this often points to a maladaptive configuration that could interfere with sound communication.

3. Bubbles

Feedback loops shape the individual out of the wisdom of the community, and subsequently stamp the community with the character of unique individuals. Bubbles are dangerous because they deter good team formation as well as self-development. Having a lot of power, money, or resources serves as a big risk for disrupting healthy feedback loops. Power and money diminish obstacles and natural re-set points, for example. Bubble city. Flattery and servitude from the community offer less opportunity for higher levels of re-organization. Just think of Michael Jackson creating Never-Never Land. I don’t know a lot of the details, but it seems like things were getting a little misguided. Community and individual development suffer in the bubble. Pretty soon we’re in danger of seeing an emperor and some “new” outfits.

We used to see bubbles only with narcissists isolated by their allergy to feedback, amongst other things. As mentioned, bubbles have been seen with the mega-wealthy if they don’t have trusted advisors to tell them what their power-paralyzed circle of sycophants wouldn’t. It’s unfortunate that the folks who are isolated, unshaped, and uninformed by the community at large, are often the ones in the position to shape society because their power affords them that opportunity, even though it’s the very thing that diminishes interactive development. As long as money continues to dictate elections, we will have poorly guided impulses aplenty in politics, because of the bubble phenomenon. Furthermore, and somewhat shockingly, the general public is now getting more isolated from normal feedback (eg, from alternative belief systems) by social media algorithms. We all get bubble-wrapped in self-validating content to keep our attention. Time spent on the app is money in someone’s pocket. Feedback deficiency is not just for the wealthy anymore!

Remember, feedback (and at times it needs to be uncomfortable) is how we interact and interface with the world, build a healthy society, and find our path to self-development.

4. Illness

We need all of what comes to us from our surroundings. Our community, our friends our family are great teachers just as are our critics. We can cherish all forms of feedback; even our illnesses have value in this regard.

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

— Winston Churchill

As a young doctor I encountered a philosophy on health and disease that became formative for me in the book titled Blessed By Illness by a doctor named LFC Mees.

“The prevailing attitude in modern medicine is that illness should not exist. Consequently, millions of research dollars pour each year into medical science and technology in the hope of eradicating various sicknesses and diseases. Patients and doctors alike suffer the terrible consequences of this impossible quest for material perfection. Yet, there is an alternate view — that human beings and human evolution are great enough to include “illness” as an essential part of existence. In the first part of the book, the author traces the history of our changing concept of healing, from the so-called temple sleep of ancient Egypt–when spiritual science tells us that human beings still had a living connection with the spiritual hierarchies — through the herbal lore of ancient Greece and the healings of Christ, to the rise of modern medicine, based primarily on treating symptoms. The practice of modern medicine focuses merely on removing discernable symptoms and ailments. The author, however, asserts that this does not really heal at all. Rather, true healing considers the whole human being. And, to do this, doctors must learn the language of our natural, healing life forces, which affect not only the body, but also nature and the greater cosmos. From this perspective, illness is actually a gift, a blessing that urges both patient and doctor to work together with our illnesses for the sake of something infinitely greater — true healing. Blessed by Illness offers a powerful introduction to “alternative” methods of healing.”

— LFC Mees

All that is to say, it all can be integrated if the scope is broadened enough. Our struggles just like our illnesses are no match to our unwavering striving.