Saturday, December 02, 2006

Which relationships to nurture?

About an hour ago, I set out to write something on the people with whom I am connected and how I do – or to not – nurture those relationships. In my social scientist way, I made lists, created matrices and tried to draw distinctions The process got to be inordinately complicated and, after an hour, I have given up trying to any complete grasp of the matter.

However past experience came to mind. When one of my important communities was the US Association for the Club of Rome, a friend with whom I felt deeply connected was a woman who empowered poor rural people in developing countries to make films. The purpose of the films was partly self expression and partly to communicate about their lives, in their own terms, to experts and do-gooders – like me. For a time, our connection was intense. Then a common project on which we were working ended and we drifted apart. We lived in different cities and sustaining the relationship, with both of us living busy lives didn’t happen, despite good intentions.

When I stopped by to visit, following a lapse of a year or so, she was in the near final stages of terminal; cancer. I made one more visit and, until she died, I wrote to her every week. My realization was that, all too often, we only realize the value of close friends with whom we have a special connection, when they are in crisis.

After her death, I sat down and made a list of close friends, in the same category to whom I wished to stay connected. For about two years I wrote to them monthly. Then my resolved slackened. The letters did have one benefit, however. They became the genesis for the “dear folks” letters that my friend Donella Meadows wrote for many years and that are archived at

My professional life includes multiple roles at American university and in three different international networks. The work related to this roles remains intense, demanding, fulfilling and fun, though I do wonder if I am giving my best to all of my many obligations.

I also know that I have close friends whose time would command my attention if they are dying of cancer. Why does it take a crisis to bring home to me the value of those relationships?

That is the question my reflections on nurturing relationships have lead me to, this morning.


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