NaBloPoMo 2021: Do Good, Kid
Who are or have been the most influential people in your life? Did you choose them for that purpose, or did they just happen to you?
Looking back on clinical rotations throughout medical school and residency, I still smile or shudder. We had fun and learned eagerly on my general pediatrics team, when the attending regularly took us outside for teaching rounds. On another rotation, we missed teaching conferences for hospital rounds all month, and every day was moral drudgery. The culture, explicit and implicit, of any group, large or small, determines the bulk of the experiences among the people in it.
We do not choose our families of origin, nor our acquaintances of proximity early in life. In adolescence, forces beyond our comprehension push us in and out of social groups, often at high mental and emotional cost. If we are lucky, we find and can stick with people who stimulate us, challenge us to think and learn, and help us discover our best selves. Who did you have growing up who did this for you?
At some point as adults, we need to take responsibility for our social contacts. If I hang out with people who overeat and overdrink when I really want to lose weight and get healthy, I need to ask myself some important questions. It’s not that they intend to sabotage my efforts at self-care. They are who they are and do what they do for their own reasons. But I cannot underestimate their influence on me when I’m with them. The human need for acceptance and belonging is primal, and manifests primarily in group norms. No matter our fervent intentions and strong core values, given enough time and exposure, we are all at risk for succumbing to the pressures of conformity. So when we have an opportunity to select our tribal membership(s), such as for work, it’s better to be clear about what kind of culture we value, and whether our choices align with that standard.
The older I get, the less energy I have to waste. How will I spend this precious resource—my time and attention? What value can I bring to my relationships, and how will they feed me in return? Straight up social reciprocity is a natural human trait, but I’m aiming higher. I want to be my best self and make a meaningful contribution, and I seek others who want the same. Once we find each other and recognize that shared, greater goal—that higher ethos—our mutual return on investment in relationship becomes synergistic and exponential, and benefits more than just ourselves. We are better, together, for society at large.
Focus, goals, and personalities evolve over a lifetime. Mutually enriching relationships in a previous life phase may wane in significance over time. Or we may grow closer with age, flourishing in parallel rather than divergence. I think either is okay, if it’s done with awareness, intention, and grace. Cultivating meaningful relationships is a lifelong practice in these three skills. If we find and run with others committed to this lifelong training, then we may all realize the fruits of its mastery–or at least of progress–faster, and hopefully with a little less suffering and a lot more fulfillment.