We were created for relationship and were wired to need one another. This is why there are so many tragic stories of the rich, famous, and powerful but lonely feeling entirely unfulfilled in life. We crave connection. From the moment we enter this world we reach out for it; without it we feel lost, abandoned, alone.
As such, one of the most important things we can do for another human being is to show up. Whether it is a time of need, of pensive thought and reflection, of joy, or of immense sorrow, the most important thing we can do is to consistently be there for one another. I recently read Bill Gates Sr.’s book with the same title as this post, and it prompted me to think hard about how I show up, for my community and for my world.
So how do we do that? How do we create relationships where we show up for others and can rely on others to show up for us?
We need the right priorities
First and foremost we need to have our priorities straight. To me, the three most important things that any citizen of our world should hold highest in priority order are:
Family. If one of the primary drivers of meaning in life is relationships and if the strength and value of a relationship is proportional to the time invested in it, then family comes easily to the top of the list. While there are some that disagree on the grounds that we don’t get to choose our family, my view is that this is a good thing - they don’t get to choose you either!
An important note though is that while there are many that believe that simply being family covers a myriad of sins, I wholeheartedly disagree. Just because they are family does not mean we hold the bar lower. Too often what started out as great family relationships get ruined because a family member is not held to the same standard which causes unspoken strain on the family relationship. This is broken.
Family does not get a pass simply because they are family. The bar must be kept high (if not held higher!). Family should, however, get more grace and be given more chances. Because we live in the messiness of the day to day with our families we ought to give more grace knowing that they may not be at their best on any given day.
Friends. Great friends are a blessing that we ought to cherish. It has been said that if one requires all the fingers on one hand to count the number of great friends one has that they are incredibly blessed. I believe it.
Great friends show up for you. They laugh with you, cry with you, push you to be your best and then keep pushing. They mourn with you. They rejoice with you. They take joy in your victories and feel sorrow for your misfortunes. They are the whetstones that sharpen us and help refine us.
As such it is incredibly important to cultivate great friends, and to choose wisely whom those friends are! Remember that our great friends don’t have to share all our beliefs, but they will tend to share many of our values.
Public service. This is simply the act of endeavoring to enrich our communities and our world. Much of our lives are characterized by a desire for advancement and growth - these are good things, and not in conflict with public service (for if one has no abilities, what can one hope to give back to one’s community?). We should, however, always have some thoughts and actions taken towards serving those around us.
We need to teach our children this at an early age so that as they grow in capability so too will they grow in their service of their communities. It is in service to one another that we enrich our own lives, build great relationships, and make our world better.
We also need to remember that we can serve with others despite differences in our beliefs and values. If we focus on our differences before working for our community we will never get anything done. We should instead recognize that while we may have different beliefs that are deeply rooted, those different roots can produce many branches that have areas of overlap. Areas like a desire to raise our children in safe environments. A desire for equality and justice for our world. A desire to see women empowered, to see our poorest countries lifted out of poverty. These are the common ground that we can serve side by side with our neighbors, regardless of their deeply rooted beliefs.
We should build traditions
Traditions give us the extra push to do something that we may have been on the border of not doing but always enjoy when we do. When done right they can be incredibly beautiful and freeing. They remind us of who we are, where we’ve come, and what we value.
But they must evolve with us.
Too often people hold traditions to be sacred. This is a mistake. Traditions when placed in their rightful place are held in service of the people, not the other way ‘round. Traditions should free us to fully experience our relationships and communities. They should not bind us.
As such they should evolve as we evolve. They ought to have a natural end of their usefulness, and when they do ought to be replaced by other traditions that uplift the underlying values of the community. Growing and evolving traditions to suit the new needs of the moment are signs of growth and health in a community!
We need to deliberately nurture cherished friendships
Cherished friendships are ones that have stood the test of time. They are friendships that have grown along with us. Life is not a one-act play. Cherished friendships have been with us through each of these acts and have shown up and stuck with us through it all.
In our world filled with noise and time wasters like social media and the like, it becomes all too easy to forget to nurture these friendships. Simply “liking” a post of a cherished friend doesn’t count, nor does retweeting or whatever the latest social amplification of the day happens to be. Real friendships take time and effort.
As such, I urge you to regularly set aside time to nurture those who have shown up for you, and for you to continue to show up for them.
We ought to show more gratitude
Above all else we need to regularly express gratitude in ways that are intentional and meaningful. Expressing gratitude allows us to posture ourselves for someone. We focus on them, on the great value that they add to our lives, and in doing so uplift them and strengthen them.
And so my sons, I will end this note with an expression of gratitude towards the two of you. I have learned so much from the both of you, from being your dad, from watching you grow, from learning to take care of you well, and from interacting, playing, traveling, and talking with the both of you. I am both a better father and a better man because of you. I love you boys!