When Leonardo da Vinci was fourteen, he began working in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, a superlative Florentine artist. (Verrochio’s teacher was Donatello. These people were good.)
As art historians studied the paintings that came out of Verrochio’s workshop, they saw that many artists contributed to the same canvas. That is, Leonardo, Verrochio, and associates painted on the same canvas in order to create the same Renaissance masterpiece.
Can you imagine? Consider the patience, empathy, and communication needed to paint a consistent, astounding whole.
We need these same skills as we build our communities, large and small.
Think of three people who you love and respect, but who value different things than you.
Maybe they do not vote like you. Maybe they don’t believe what you believe. But you still love, respect, and communicate well with them.
How did you come to love them? Where did this relationship grow?
As we consider how to strengthen our communities, a good place to start is get curious about the gardens where these relationships grow.
Too often, strain arouses our indignation and causes us to retreat into old, stunting narratives. Narratives that allow us to claim the moral high ground but don’t lead anywhere productive.
So, instead, ask and answer: Rather than this confounding situation, what specifically do you desire?
Articulating a positive and achievable future is freeing, but it also puts us on the hook. We suddenly see the next steps of hard, generous work toward building a world in which it is easier to be good. Seeing these steps, we can then become responsible for them and act on them.
What confounding situation is waiting for your articulation of a positive and achievable future?
The Gottmans observe that healthy relationships have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments. That is, for every negative interaction (during a conflict, say), a healthy relationship has five (or more) positive interactions.
I think this is also true in professional, social, and church communities.
Reaching this 5:1 ratio can be difficult, and particularly so when we are learning something new. Raising a child. Learning to be in a new place. Adapting to a new process.
Two bits of good news, though.
1) The challenge to reach 5:1 invites us to verbalize gratitude more often than we typically might.
2) Appreciating how hard someone is working to reach the 5:1 ratio counts as a tally in the positive column.
Advice that we offer to others tends to be autobiographical. That is, we tend to give the advice that we need (or have needed) to take.
To the extent that this writing constitutes advice, the above observation is quite true. It is largely my failures in accompaniment, attentiveness, and contribution that fuel my interest to develop language and practice around this topic.
So please know that, if what I write seems like advice, I’ve let that advice into my own life first.