Outside the Box

One well-worn phrase I heard repeatedly during endless hours in management and strategy meetings is “Think outside the box”. Someone somewhere is probably raking in royalty money at every phrase utterance; I am sure my invoice is forthcoming. What the managers hoped for was for us to look at situations from a different perspective and use creativity along with “tried and true” methods. The irony is the ones flogging the phrase are observing from a deep corner of the box; seeing the wall next to them was a new experience.

We subconsciously categorize everything we experience, including interpersonal relationships. This is probably a survival skill vestige. A stranger on the street is benign or a threat.  A co-worker is a professional relationship, an acquaintance, or a friend. In most cases, the categories are well defined and rigid. Either our feelings for that person either stay the same or they gradually diminish.

Our closer relationships become more fluid. Through the years, a friendship may ebb and flow for many reasons: career demands, starting families, personal growth, or distant location. Some relationships may start out as one type and evolve into something more wonderful. Lucy and I started out as professional co-workers, and we ended up having an incredible life together. We were willing to think outside the box with our co-worker relationship and we were willing to let our relationship evolve. The Abba song “Take a Chance on Me” applied to us.

Lucy’s family is an example of people who were flexible. Lucy’s passing technically ended my membership in their family since I was a relative by marriage, not by birth. They were under no obligation even being nice to me. Julie and Suzy still consider me a brother and are happy to stay in touch and spend time with me. Even though they were dealing with the loss of their beloved sister, both spent time with me to help me heal, Julie especially, and I hope I helped with their healing. We have also become very good friends, and I am deeply grateful being a part of their lives. Annette and Al, and Ardelle and Dale also regularly keep in touch and I am very happy for that.

I reconnected with some long-time friends last weekend and it was so wonderful to spend time with them. Staying on touch via email, text messages, and Facebook is nice, but there is something about direct interaction that technology will never replace. Technology has allowed me to reconnect with a couple of former co-workers and become good friends with one of them. One can never have too many friends, and it is fun having another person who likes spending time with me. It helps cure loneliness.

There are many scientific theories why some interpersonal relationships are static while others are dynamic. That three-pound electrochemical stew we call a brain processes hundreds of thousands of neurotransmitter reactions per second. Each of us has a different recipe for our stew. Some neurotransmitter concentration measurements are in nanograms per deciliter and other interactions with the endocrine system influence neurotransmitter levels. With the enormous amount of variables and degrees of freedom, science may never tell us exactly what causes love, or why two people love each other in entirely different ways, or why some people are friends, and others are acquaintances. All it takes is a glance, a touch, a kindness, or a smile to begin evolving a relationship. The mystery keeps philosophers and romantics busy.

Take a few minutes to appreciate how a relationship evolution has enriched your life, and be thankful you both were willing to think outside the box. New relationships are very exciting, and for those of you in the early stages of one, I hope your adventure and evolution is wonderful. Thank you to the people who have chosen to keep me in their lives and love me for who I am.

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