by Sean Kosofsky
Some of the most valuable things we have are our relationships. We spend years developing and repairing them. Yet many of us take our relationships with our peers, co-workers and team-mates for granted. We just assume that because we work together frequently and mostly get along, that all is OK in these relationships. We believe that if we are honest, loyal and friendly the rest will likely take care of itself. Chances are, most of our relationships are nowhere near as deep as we would like, but there is something we can do to fix this unfortunate reality.
A few months ago, while attending the Rockwood Leadership program, I learned about the word “conocimiento.” This Spanish word has no known equivalent in English but basically means “sharing knowledge about each other to know each other.” Basically it means to put our personal relationships before our work. This seems so basic and so easy to understand that you may wonder why I am dedicating an entire column to it, but I think it is so basic, that many of us have forgotten it. Too often we get right down to work and begin working on the tasks at hand in our coalition work or just in everyday tasks. It is rare to take the first few minutes of a phone call or a meeting, or the first few lines of an email to engage with people about their lives.
Part of the problem stems from our fast-paced busy world, but some of it is just procrastination. Many of us really want to have deeper relationships, but our interactions are sandwiched in between meetings and deadlines. Sometimes we try to chit-chat, but it seems forced, like we are going through the motions. “Hi, how are you…So I need this favor,” we say without really waiting to hear how our friends are doing. We are moving so fast, and in such a hurry that our personal relationships suffer.
As a movement we should model this behavior. After working in LGBT advocacy for nearly fourteen years, I am privileged to say that I know thousands of people around the country that I have worked closely with at some point or another. It is a good thing that, as colleagues, we can just pick up the phone in a hurry and say, “Oh my God, there is an ex-gay conference coming to Michigan. What did you all do in Tennessee?” Those relationships are priceless. But it doesn’t mean we aren’t abusing them and taking them for granted.
Much of the strife and infighting in the LGBT community can be attributed to personal relationships that have not been nourished. We are thrown together by immediate need, urgency of election year realities and deadlines we didn’t create. Sometimes we come together because we want to be seen as “playing well with others,” yet we haven’t played together at all. We work. We work some more. We see each other at social or work events and maybe we make small talk, but rarely do we all call each other to do lunch or dinner with nothing else on the agenda. I count myself as someone who needs to do better in this arena. I wonder – and worry – about how many truly excellent people I didn’t take the time to get to know better, because it wasn’t a priority.
Of course this isn’t just a problem for LGBT professionals, but for all of us. We can develop deeper relationships with our co-workers, our neighbors and even our families if we slow down, look around and ask ourselves, “who do I want to know better?” We might be able to accomplish some amazing things in our personal and professional lives if we made our relationships as important as anything else.
I rarely ask for readers of my column to write in, but I would love to hear stories of people who have followed this principle. If you have seen this dynamic play out in our community, or if you want to share a personal story of how you have deliberately invested in getting to know the people you interact with, please share by writing in to [email protected]