I'm not always sure (in the moment anyway) why my life takes me across the paths of certain people, and them across mine. Even though it may seem inconsequential at the time, I'm realizing again that most of life is about connecting...
I'm not always sure (in the moment anyway) why my life takes me across the paths of certain people, and them across mine. Even though it may seem inconsequential at the time, I'm realizing again that most of life is about connecting, so I need to pay attention at these various intersections because each one has it's own implications.
The length of a connection often depends on the quality. Just ask any marketing manager or advertising firm trying to cultivate brand loyalty in a consumer. Unlike sales however, not every connection in our life needs to be cultivated to last. Some may be like when you downloaded that app to your phone yesterday; it may last just a few minutes, but gives you some tools you will need in the future. Other connections are like an outfit that looks ‘amazing’ in the mirror of the fitting room at our favorite store (the mirrors are rigged), but not so much when we try it on in the bathroom at home. We may have to exchange it for another.
Then there are the connections that can be hijacked.
Much like the cyber attacks that affected hundreds of thousands of people around the world a couple of weeks ago, it can result in our thoughts and emotions being held for ransom by the actions and manipulation of another person or group. The source or the motive isn't always immediately clear. It may be unconscious, subconscious, or the intent could well be malicious.
Either way, it can have a damaging effect on our lives.
Sometimes our initial response might be to pay the ransom; to avoid further inconvenience and regain a semblance of control over our lives. But here is the thing about a ransom; once we pay it, we set a precedent that others will potentially try to exploit in the future. We paid it once, there's a good chance we’ll pay it again.
Right after the cyber attacks, I bought some additional antivirus and security software. It adds another layer of protection to my computers and mobile devices. But here's the thing. Despite the marketing tag lines of every internet and computer security firm out there, there really is no guarantee they could make that will hold, one hundred percent of the time. Vulnerabilities are usually unknown quantities until they have been successfully exploited, and at that point it is often too late to do anything about it. Sure, there are novice and juvenile hackers out there roaming various internet neighborhoods “just out to cause some mischief,” but as we have discovered, again, there are also serious cyber criminals and terrorists writing new code every day, with the intent of compromising and corrupting every piece of software it comes in contact with, and ultimately crippling the networked hardware systems.
While there may be no relational equivalent to cyber terrorists in my life at the moment, there certainly have been in the past. Something that no doubt many can relate to. If we allow them to, people can wield significant undue influence over our lives. Interactions that at first glance appear innocuous, can quickly become toxic, leaving us in personal or business relationships where a dangerous and unhealthy codependency can develop. So, how do we guard ourselves against these harmful intersections of life?
They are not the only thing we need in our lives, but boundaries can serve as a form of antivirus software in relationships. Even loving and mutually beneficial partnerships have boundaries that must be respected. Parents and children, sibling to sibling, romantic relationships, spouse to spouse, teachers and students, employers and employees, and so on. You get the point. Boundaries create a healthy distance for us to interact with each other, and as the level of trust and mutual respect grows, the boundary lines may even move to allow more access. But here’s the key. We can only really learn to respect the boundaries of others when we have learned to maintain those in our own life. People who have no established boundary lines in their own life will often trespass on the lives of others.
I’ve heard some people describe the setting of boundaries as the ability to say “No” in life. While I agree learning how to say “No” is definitely an important part of setting and maintaining boundaries, equally important is the ability to clearly communicate where those lines are. Why is this important? Because, unlike a fence or wall around a physical property, your boundaries cannot be seen by others. Because they are invisible, we have to help people identify where the lines have been drawn, so-to-speak. I believe a lot of unnecessary conflict arises in relationships from the failure to state clearly what is acceptable and what is not. When a stranger intrudes on our lives, sounding the alarm with an emphatic “No!” is probably an appropriate response, but for those with whom we are trying to cultivate long term connection, notifying them where the trigger points and booby traps are is very helpful. Helpful, because our cumulative life experiences more often than not determine the boundary lines in our lives, and insisting that others have those same demarcations in theirs is not a reasonable expectation.
So, returning to the idea of connection. I don’t think we can live a truly meaningful life without it. We’re made for it. But here is the caveat. Just like antivirus software cannot stop every potential threat of spyware, malware, virus or ransomware, neither will the setting of boundaries prevent every unwanted emotional, psychological, physical or existential intrusion on our lives. We are probably going to have run multiple ‘virus scans’ in our lifetime and quarantine a lot of infected areas in order to remain healthy human beings. Antivirus software constantly updates its security definitions to protect against new threats and, in much the same way, our lives require a similar level of vigilance and maintenance in order to function as we should. It may require an inspection of our ‘hardware’, the make up of who we are, for inherent vulnerabilities, repairing or replacing them as needed.
One of the ways we avoid further infection of our computers is to become more aware of the websites we browse, what we download and the emails we receive, educating ourselves about the potential harmful content in them. Life is not dissimilar, in that we may have to stop browsing the relationships, avoid the promises and ignore the messages, that have shown all the warning signs of being harmful in the past.
There will be other places to connect where we can discover the joy of mutually beneficial interactions.
The cyber attack much of the world experienced a couple of weeks ago could lead us to the conclusion that being connected is a bad thing. For fear of being attacked or infected, we could retreat into complete digital isolation, never turning our computers or phones on again. We might never leave the house for fear we might get into a car accident or contract some terrible disease. For fear of rejection we may never want to date again. For fear of people who do not look or sound like us, we may choose to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and never experience the beauty of its diversity.
I am not trying to make light of these and other fears, because I know for some they are a very real and painful reality. But here is the point I am trying to make; fear rarely expands our lives, it usually constricts and places limitations on them. We may have suffered greatly from the negative consequences of unsafe connections in the past, our thoughts and emotions may even have been held hostage in abusive relationships, or, despite our best efforts to set healthy boundaries, people have ignored them and tracked their muddy footprints all across our lives. It’s true, our lives are not computers we can just replace if they get damaged, but even so I say it’s worth the risk. If we succumb to fear, it will rob us of even the potential for connecting with others, and them with us. There are meaningful relationships waiting to be enjoyed, new friendships to be made, business connections to be cultivated and dreams that need fulfilling.
So, we can be vigilant, but let’s not be afraid to connect as well!
Posted May 23, 2017
Connection © 2017 by Kris Peterson. All rights reserved.
* I claim no rights to the image above. No copyright infringement intended. Image credit Cassidy Turley