Two Types of Relationships

uncle al

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.

10 thoughts on “Two Types of Relationships

  1. I just stumbled onto your blog from David Fullers Medium article about IDW. Love the content you have available here! Excited to read through it! The explanation in relationships here is fantastic, I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of expediting data-driven relationships through data-proven relationships. ie, you trust David, so I trust David. And if the connectedness of the internet promotes trust in data-driven relationships, or distrust in relationships. Thanks for your work!


    1. It’s a big plunge into the Matrix if you take the time, Rodney. I’m a nobody, but I’ve figured out a big secret. Do read through how Conway’s Law ties all these things together. The good news is if you take the time, you’ll pretty much know what people will say a priori. The bad news is that you’ll know what folks are going to say, a priori. It’s very Promethean that way. Stay in touch, and don’t hesitate to ask questions!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Definitely going to dive right in! Thanks for the recommendation and the research and information that you have shared here! I’m sure I will have questions so might be taking you up on that offer as well! 😉 Cheers!


      1. Great read! Thanks for sharing! That UAV is amazing! Very good points in the article about what is most likely needed for a successful emergent society. I think in the end that mindset has to begin at the level of the individual. Which I believe society is trending more toward, ie airbnb, uber, etc..

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Former Tesla employee, but still working in the renewable space. I’m a supporter of Mr Musk and still work with his cousins the Rives. Just found you on social media, but would be great to connect with you and get to know you as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. *I admittedly had to look up “Alpha Geek” but I do have a good thirst for knowledge 🙂


      2. Increasing personal agency is key — but these things are reinforcing feedback loops. Lower v-Meme scaffolding matters as well in creating the true übermensch. The problem that we have now is no one understands how these things have to be dynamically balanced. My work gives a framework to start the discussion and actually make progress toward a synergistic vision– because no one person can know the way. I wrote a paper on this re: education — send an e-mail to and I’ll send it to you.


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