My wife and I were watching a soccer game recently. The home-team players were great. As individuals they were phenomenal. The team as a whole was terrible. In terms of skill, they were facing a far inferior opponent. But the game ended in a tie. The fantastic individuals kept doing tricks, trying for the ohhs and ahhhs of the crowd. They held the ball too long and the team suffered. What should have been an easy victory was turned into an embarrassing tie (which they were lucky to get, having been severely outplayed). In order to be successful they need to redefine way they view themselves within the team.
The whole display made me think about relationships. It made me think about how we enter into our commitments to one another (be it a friend, spouse, or co-worker) with our individual skills and attitudes, values and visions. How are we supposed to bring a set of individuals together to make a healthy relationship running on full potential? How do we redefine our relationships?
No matter how different we are from others, there is a Venn Diagram of our values and theirs. Sometimes the sliver that we share is very small, but it is always there. A little overlap is inevitable.
The thing that makes relationships (and soccer teams) so challenging is the perspective we have about that area of overlap.
Take the soccer team for instance: they sometimes would pass the ball to one another. They all realized the team needed to score. Not only that, each of them as players needed to be on a winning team. They all wanted the trophy. They all want to be champions. This is their shared vision. However, there is a big open space in the Venn Diagram of each player. They want the glory, the awe of the crowd, the recognition and titles and accolades.
It’s no different for each of us. We want healthy marriages and fun friend groups. But we also want to be leaders and influencers; we want affirmation and control and personal happiness and peace.
And so, a delicate dance ensues. And this is where our perspective begins to define the kind of relationship we are going to have.
The predominant approach is that we will dip into the sliver of shared vision in so far as it helps us reach the desires that are purely our own. The soccer team is full of players who will pass only to make a run expecting to get the ball back. The team serves the self. And they’re all doing it. The result is disunity and a sort of subtle confusion.
In relationships, we do the same thing. We’ll pursue a good marriage (the shared sliver) as long as it serves our happiness and sense of affirmation. We step into the overlap of our values only to get what we want in order to scurry back to our personal nests, the stockpile that matters to us most.
The Redefining Shift
If we want healthy relationships, we need to turn this paradigm on its head, redefine it, reversing the way we approach ourselves and others within relationship.
What we ought to do is live inside the oval of shared vision, making our nest there, burying our treasure in its fields and building our homes on its foundations. And we step outside into the realm of individualism only to grab what is necessary to serve the betterment of the whole. A true reversal.
If the soccer team took this approach, they would dribble only when it helped the team reach the goal. They would pass with hope for the goal. So often we pass and feel totally inadequate until we get the ball back.
We cannot find lasting peace and joy alone. We cannot ransack our relationships in order to get it. The only ways is to participate rightly in our relationships. For we are capable of much more together than we are in subtle and manipulative opposition to one another.