One of the great things about traveling, especially the kind of travel that takes you to far away places where people have customs, practices, beliefs and values that are different from your own, is that you get to see how different people can be in some ways and how similar we are in others. A wise person once said, “People are people.” In other words, the essential concerns, longings, desires, fears, and aspirations, of human beings throughout the world seem to be universal. While the particular ways in which people go about dealing with and addressing their concerns may vary from culture to culture, the underlying needs that drive us all are consistent, as are the challenges inherent in the process of meeting those needs in a world that doesn’t always support those efforts, no matter where we may live.
Over the past three decades we’ve taught in many places throughout the world and the same messages are consistently revealed, whether we’re teaching in a third-world country, or an advanced industrial nation: It’s relationships that makes the world go round, and what fuels relationships is love. So, becoming a more loving person is a worthy goal, whether you live in a tribal community or a first world megalopolis.
Unfortunately, confusion about how to become a more loving human being seems to be quite prevalent as well. During a recent overseas trip we were once again reminded of how easy it is for all of us to fall into the trap of mistakenly thinking that the problems of our relationships have more to do with the other person than with ourselves. So if you’re one of those people who often forgets that making relationships work is NOT about fixing, changing, correcting, enlightening, or teaching your partner what they need to know, the good news is that you’re not alone. You’re in the company of a great many folks who feel the same way. As anyone who has ever been on either end of a relationship that is characterized by this pattern knows, the endless, closed loop that this kind of thinking creates makes for serious suffering whether you live in Timbuktu or Kalamazoo.
It’s not that things might not improve if the other person were to change, they probably would. It’s just that in the context of relationships, the other person’s work is irrelevant, and focusing on what you think they are doing wrong, rather than what you can do that might improve the relationship, merely deepens and perpetuates the cycle of blame, criticism and defensiveness.