October 19, 2018

Dear Drama Observers,

Years ago, I had a professor who possessed a quality I’ve always envied. He could convey in a few words what usually took me many to verbalize. He was a master of the pithy one-liner.

For instance, I’ll never forget his philosophy of teaching: “If you state your ideas simply, illustrate them adequately, and repeat them endlessly, people will tend to remember what you say.” That’s exactly how he taught and his philosophy worked, as evidenced by me remembering those words 30+ years later.

Here’s something else he once said I’ve never forgotten. “Americans love to build patios, but they rarely sit on them.”

When asked to elaborate, he told the class, “We Americans build nice-looking patios and landscape them beautifully. But rarely do we sit on those patios and build relationships with our neighbors. We value the trappings of niceness while undervaluing the need to connect.”

His words, it turns out, were prescient.

A week ago, an essay by Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska was published in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

Humans are social, relational beings. We want and need to be in tribes. In our time, however, all of the traditional tribes that have sustained humans for millennia are simultaneously in collapse. Family, enduring friendship, meaningful shared work, local communities of worship—all have grown ever thinner. We are creating thicker, more vehement tribes around our political differences, I believe, because there is a growing vacuum at the heart of our shared (or increasingly, not so shared) everyday lives.

He continues,

Loneliness is everywhere in the U.S., across every sector of society. A survey of more than 20,000 American adults conducted earlier this year by the health insurer Cigna and the market research firm Ipsos found that a majority of us are lonely, based on responses to the UCLA Loneliness Scale. The highest scores were reported by the youngest adults, ages 18 to 22. The researchers describe it as a “loneliness epidemic.”

In the introduction to his newly-released book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal, Senator Sasse writes,

As reams of research now show, we’re richer and better-informed and more connected—and unhappier and more isolated and less fulfilled.

What we need are new habits of mind and heart. We need new practices of neighborliness. We need to get our hands dirty replenishing the soil that nourishes rooted, purposeful lives.

Right now, partisan tribalism is statistically higher than at any point since the Civil War. Why? It’s certainly not because our political discussions are more important. It’s because the local, human relationships that anchored political talk have shriveled up. Alienated from each other, and uprooted from places we can call home, we’re reduced to shrieking.

Our world is nudging us toward rootlessness, when only a recovery of rootedness can heal us.

What’s wrong with America, then, starts with one uncomfortable word: Loneliness.

Senator Sasse is talking about societal trends resulting in loneliness but there’s a particular type of isolation one experiences in relationships with Drama People. They relate to others through the masks they wear and require others to play along. So, closeness to Drama People comes with a cost—the desolation of loneliness. Robin Williams captured this notion so very well when he famously noted,

I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.

I hear examples of this in my office all the time.

  • The adult child coming to terms with the painful realization that any relationship with Mom will only be superficial, never close.
  • The grieving wife who must get her connection needs met through healthy others because her husband can’t tolerate the discomfort of closeness.
  • The person feeling bumfuzzled by the “friend” they thought was close but really wasn’t.
  • The abuse survivor who’s been shunned by her “friends” because they just can’t believe the abuser could’ve done such a thing.

I could give you many other examples.

I started this letter by telling you about my pithy one-liner professor. I’ll close by recounting another story about him.

One of my graduate school classmates went into his office one day and asked, “Prof, I have enormous respect for you. Would you be willing to mentor me this coming year?” Prof paused for a moment and with a quizzical look replied, “You know, mentoring—I’m not even sure I know what that means or how to do it. So, I don’t know. But, I’d be willing to play racquetball with you once a week. Do you play racquetball?”

So, once a week for the following year, my classmate picked up Prof and they played racquetball. You know what happened to my classmate that year? He got mentored.

Till next week.

8 replies
  1. Katie
    Katie says:

    Incredibly thought provoking. So much to consider. The twist on mentoring is challenging. It’s so much easier to ‘mentor someone’ while holding a workbook and being in control of the semi-predictable outcome than releasing control and just ‘breathing the same space air’ and trusting God with the flow of the unpredictable. Lifestyle mentoring indeed requires more of us in every way. …….and I’ve only begun to plummet the depths of this article. Thank you.

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      Thanks, Katie. I agree so much with your statement that it’s easier to “mentor” while holding a notebook but the results fall short of lifestyle mentoring. The first is easier but the latter is more impactful. I appreciate your comments.

  2. Janet
    Janet says:

    What a lovely column. For me, the task of becoming truly connected with others has always been terrifying. What was demonstrated in my family of origin was confrontation, not cooperation. I suspect I’m not the only one who was never taught how to make and sustain deep, abiding relationships. It takes courage and effort to strike out on that path without a roadmap. It’s much easier to attack “them.”

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      You’re so right, Janet. And you’re not the only one who wasn’t taught how to connect in meaningful ways. That’s true for many of us. It’s an acquired skill but it can be developed. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  3. Annette M. Fricke
    Annette M. Fricke says:

    I believe that you are spot on. This is the concept that I have been trying to push each time it is my turn to preach for church. My next task is to try building an intergenerational “Sunday School” between services. Mentoring is almost non-existent in my church to the point that I can really see how people come for a while, then drop out. If you are interested, I have a blog with my sermons. The paper I wrote on cause of death for Robin Williams is also in there. It is called The None Zone and is found at http://www.nonezoner.blogspot.com.

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