Uncle Al, Braden and Conor
It follows directly that empathy, of whatever developed variety, is the foundation of all relationships — because relationships, by definition, involve the communication and inter-relational coordination of two people.
It them makes sense to explore how different levels of empathy play in the relational dynamic, and how they then construct the social/relational structures of broader communities. At some level, there is an inherent premise in all this — that relationships between individuals have larger structural effects as social structures are created. In the fractal/chaos theory world that I used to play in over thirty years ago, this principle is called self-similarity. Social structures on a large scale are self-similar to those constructed at the small scale.
There would be a whole lot of unpacking to do if I intended to resolve every potential contradiction here (for those that are immediately interested, look up multi-fractals) but the short version is that things might be different in a branch office than the way things work at corporate headquarters. So bear with me.
A useful dichotomy, relationship-wise, is what I call externally-defined relationships vs. independently generated, trust-based, data-driven relationships.
The first — externally defined relationships — are defined outside the individual. Whether you think I’m brilliant or a kook, the reality is that, barring unforeseen professional catastrophe, I’ll wake up and still be a professor tomorrow. And if you’re a project manager, art director, or chief cook and bottle washer, tomorrow you’ll wake up and that’s WHAT you’ll be. You could also be a father, a mother, or any of a variety of labels. Like Grandma always said — you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your relatives.
Independently generated, trust-based, data-driven relationships are different. At some level, you get to choose these. One of the simplest is in front of you right now. You read my blog, you decide if it makes sense, maybe you leave a comment. I respond back — perhaps you didn’t quite understand something I was talking about. Or I got something wrong. I fix it. Back and forth. Over time, we develop trust based on the experience. It’s a data-driven exercise
The first kind of relationship — I’m a professor, you’re a project manager — is belief-driven. As a professor, you believe what I say because of my title. Or not. I’m a mechanical engineering professor, and as such, you might think I have no business discussing social psychology. So you don’t read the argument.
The second kind of relationship — Chuck (that’s me) and whatever your name is — is data driven. You’re making a series of decisions on whether you believe what I say, or find value in it, based on the argument itself. Does it jibe with your experience? Am I just flat-out wrong?
Whichever it is (and there’s no question that these two types overlap — my students, for example, call me Dr. Chuck) will dictate how your mind works around me, and in the context of the relationship. How we relate is how we think.
Takeaways: Two kinds of relationships — externally defined, and independently generated. The first is belief-based, the second data-driven. How we relate is how we think.