Being Present in Relationships
The time we have in life is so limited. We have to balance family, friends, careers, personal wellbeing and how we act as a citizen in the world.
I work in the charity sector supporting exploited and marginalised people groups. I tend to give my all to my job, going above and beyond to support those in need as much as I can.
However… I have been challenging this approach recently.
My motivation to commit my time to assisting those most vulnerable in society has not reduced in the slightness. Rather I think it is one of the best things we can devote our time, money and energy to. I have just been thinking about why charities exist.
I believe if community functioned effectively – if people were generous, kind, honest, loving, and gracious to those in their lives – then hypothetically the majority of charities would not need to exist.
While it is rarely as simple as this, I have seen that in many cases situations such as homelessness and being trafficked could have been mitigated if the individual at risk had an effective and informed support network.
I am not trying to say that if you have a strong support network you will never have financial, emotional, or mental difficulties. But it is surprising how much difference living in a generous, loving and honest community can make in elevating financial and mental difficulties.
When a friend or family member is struggling financially, all it could take to stop them getting behind on mortgage payments could be:
Sitting down with them to advise them on their budgeting,
- Being around to help them move so they do not need to pay for movers, or
- Babysitting their kids for free so they can have the rest they need to be effective at work.
Most of us know from personal experience what a difference feeling loved, valued and heard makes to our own wellbeing, and this instinctive knowledge is supported by scientific studies on mental health.
If we are really there for friends and family – making regular time for them and standing with them in their difficulties – who knows the difference it could make for them mentally, emotionally and/or financially.
Now the fate of our friends and family does not rest on our shoulders. I often act like it does, and this is not healthy. Moreover, sometimes people do need formal services, especially in areas like mental health. But being present in relationships does changes lives.
Sometimes we can’t be there for our friends or family members. Please do not feel guilty if this is you. If this is you, I hope you have someone in your life who is present for you – who listens to you, who buys you lunch on the day you really needed it, who does your shopping for you the week you sprained your ankle.
But sometimes we lose focus. We prioritise work over people when we do not need to. It is so easy to do especially when you are working for a really good cause.
Careers are important. They can give us the capacity to affect the bigger picture in society. But I have been challenging myself recently with the idea that if I work overtime to help someone in need, I might miss the needs of a friend. Without my support their situation could escalate to a scale that another charity has to intervene. I love the charity sector. It does amazing work. But it is rarely sustainable. Community is sustainable.
The problems in the world are huge and only feel like they are growing. While we need formal systems and organisational support to address the extreme need in our world, they cannot and should not be the only response. People need real friends who are present – who truly listen and actively love them. From my side, that means not being a workaholic this week (no matter how important I think my work is), so that I have time and energy to help my friends paint their new nursery tomorrow. Painting rooms doesn’t change the world, but it can have huge financial or mental knock-on effect in the life of an individual.
Hope you found this interesting or helpful.
Emile G. Bruneau, Rebecca Saxe. The power of being heard: The benefits of ‘perspective-giving’ in the context of intergroup conflict. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2012