We all know we need oxygen to live physically but how much more do we need ‘relational oxygen’ to thrive in our friendships and varying relationships?
In 2008 the movie The Bucket List prompted many of us to look at our short lives and wonder about what he had not yet accomplished or done, that we wanted to do. It became known as ‘what’s on your bucket list’? This article isn’t about your bucket list but rather about the story line embedded in that movie. It’s really a story about how two individuals become ‘relational oxygen’ to each other and begin to thrive in their lives soon to end.
Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) is dying. And he gets put in a room with Edward Coles (Jack Nickolson), the owner of the hospital, who is also dying. They both have a short time to live.
We all know, don’t we, that when we are nearing the end of our lives most people don’t ask, “I wish I had worked more or harder,” but rather, “Have I loved as I could have loved those in my life?” At least I would like to hope that’s true.
It’s ironic that Coles is dying in his own hospital because he owns a whole chain of them, in fact, and up ’til now Edward operated them like warehouses stocked with bedpans, overworked doctors and terrible pea soup. Oh, and those patient-folks. No-one gets a private room in one of these places, not even the hospital’s fabulously wealthy, cranky owner.
Not one to feel sorry for himself, Coles notices Carter writing out a ‘bucket list’—things Carter wanted to do before died, and with a few additions, Coles pitches in and they both set out on a world trip completing all the things left undone in their lives. The best part of the movie is not the things they do but the relationship they develop.
At the end of the movie after Carter dies, Coles eulogizes his new best friend with these words,
‘The simplest thing is… I loved him. And I miss him. Carter and I saw the world together. Which is amazing… When you think that only three months ago, we were complete strangers! I hope that it doesn’t sound selfish of me but… the last months of his life were the best months of mine. He saved my life… And he knew it before I did.’
I love that scene from the bucket list where these two aging men discover each other and set out to bring the best out of each other, and in many ways help each other experience a fulfillment in living life that they never had.
Sometimes when we talk about friendships we talk about having friends so we won’t be lonely anymore. That is not my direction in this article. I am writing about friends who bring the best out of you and who you can bring the best out of.
In his book, We are the Beloved, best selling business author Ken Blanchard, moves away from business and writes about love, friendships and connection. He says that we spend our lives living in two Acts—Act 1 is the act of achievement, acquiring, accumulating, but in the second half of life, in Act 2, we spend our lives wanting to connect with others. Both Acts are essential for human flourishing but sometimes we sacrifice Act 2 for Act 1, and then we spend last years trying to connect with people more meaningfully. In some cases it’s too late.
The idea for this article came from a book I read by Tom Rath called Vital Friends, an excellent gallup research based book on the relationships we cannot afford to live without particularly in the workplace but also in all our relationships. Much of this article is a summary of Rath’s book which I highly recommend to our 52 Million Pound Challenge readers.
Early on in the book he talks about the relationship that Winston Churchill, prime minister of England, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the united states had. He uses their relationship as a case study of the kinds of friends you want to build your life with.
In one sentimental note in the book, Franklin and Winston: an intimate portrait of an epic friendship” Churchill says directly to Roosevelt, “Our friendship is the rock on which I build for the future of the world so long as I am one of the builders.”
Throughout ww2 these giant men exchanged nearly 2000 letters; spent more than a 100 days together; and celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s day with each other.
By mid 1944 the allied coalition was well on their way to winning the war. These two world powers and their leaders had been there for one another in times of dire need and were about to prevail.
Nearing the close of the war in 1945, with victory imminent, an ailing Roosevelt turned his thoughts to the future of the world. On April 11, the day before he died, Roosevelt sat on the porch of his vacation home in warm springs, Georgia. As he penned a Jefferson day speech, the president contemplated society’s next big challenge.
Roosevelt had already overcome paralysis, led the United States out of the great depression, and the allies were on the verge of winning world war 2. Now, in the last 24 hours of his life, he peered into the future. With age old walls crumbling around the globe and discrimination under fire at home, Roosevelt, perhaps inspired by his close friendship with Churchill, found a common thread—one that could reconcile people around the world. Roosevelt would not live to deliver this speech, but his words offered a challenge for generations to come and that includes us 64 years later,
“Today we are faced with the pre eminent fact, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships.”
Makes me wonder if we’ve learned anything after all these years.
Research indicates that friends are catalysts for high points in any given day. They learned that even the dreaded commute to work is tolerable if it involves riding with a friend. The presence of a friend can make some of the most tedious activities enjoyable. Perhaps, more important, strong social relationships are the leading indicator of our overall happiness, and these findings seem to go across cultures.
Not only that but a study done many years ago
Scientists are also uncovering how friendships shape our expectations and desires of the other person and goals for the future. A 2003 study revealed how our closest friends have a powerful effect on our behavior—even in the absence of the other person.
Another finding is that in our teen years we spend up to one third of our time with friends but the rest of our lives we spend less than 10 percent.
All this to say that those we associate with impact us for better or for worse.
Here’s what I want to write today, “we become most like those we admire and those with whom we interact most frequently’. That is a fact. You will be like whoever you admire and whoever you hang out with. And in doing so, we experience relational oxygen.
In his book Rath says, “millions are flat-out disengaged in their marriages and other close friendships. Why does this happen? Perhaps this situation evolved as a product of the “focus on me” environment. Perhaps the answer is that we need to shift from a focus on self-development to relationship development in order to be successful in life and discover that developing vital friendships is better than Prozac!
In my words, vital relationships are like relational oxygen. The book reveals how much friendships influence our long held beliefs like religious preference and discovered that, “when you trace back to the origin of major beliefs, a close relationship is often sitting near the source.”
My favorite part of the book is what Rath calls “The Eight Vital Roles’ that friends play in our lives.
Rath’s approach to relationships is based on research by The Gallup Organization and includes resources for both friends in life and friends at work. He describes “The Eight Vital Roles” friends play in our lives.
One of my favorite chapters in the book is “The Rounding Error” where we are reminded that “we should not expect any of our friends to be good at everything. This ‘rounding error’ can poison the very best friendships and marriages.” Rath says we need a variety of friends to fulfill the vital roles of friendship in our lives. There is no perfect number of friends to have but Gallup’s research shows that “people with at least three close friends at work were 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their life.”
This book may be especially helpful for those who tend to minimize their need for friends, whether because of past hurts or sheer busy-ness. Even if you have a lot of friends already, this book will help you develop and keep those friendships healthy. Much of the book is devoted to friendships at work and rightfully so, since much of our lives are devoted to our work. Vital Friends will help you discover who are your:
- Mind Openers
You can write in your own definitions of these qualities of friends but in Rath’s book he gives some helpful distinctions that will spark up your quality of friends and I suspect you will find yourself pining for more ‘relational oxygen’ after embracing and practicing these relational ideas.
Rath goes on to say that, “Having the right expectations of your friends is everything. If your expectations don’t align with what your friends are capable of, the relationship is doomed. If your expectations are in alignment with the things each person can bring to your life, the friendship is poised to thrive.” While doomed may be a harsh way to say it, many of us have experienced frustration with unmet expectations in relationships.
Perhaps this article will stir you up to have realistic expectations of your friends, be a better friend and build better friendships.
During Coles euology for his friend, Coles says, “The last months of his life were the best months of mine. “ Who is experiencing such a life because you are such a friend?
Just goes to show that even in our last dying days we can still be giving life to those around us.