To listen to my interview with Anthony Harris, go here: Share the Light and Love of You in Service to Others
by Anthony Harris
When I think of relationships, a couple of thoughts come to mind. First, with the right relationship, there is absolutely nothing that cannot be done. Whether the relationship involves family, friends, or colleagues, when individuals create a mutually beneficial and mutually satisfying relationship, those individuals can accomplish some amazing feats. When I think about my own personal and professional accomplishments, I could not have come close to being successful without being in a relationship with someone. Whether it was climbing an 80-foot wall or establishing a mentoring program for at-risk kids, absent the presence of someone who genuinely cared about me and valued our relationship, some important goals in my life would have gone wanting. I am firmly entrenched in the belief in that Swedish Proverb: Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.
The second thought that comes to my mind about relationships is that they can be either resilient, fragile or both. Most strong relationships – the ones built on a solid foundation of trust, respect, and honesty – can amazingly withstand both the ripples and tsunamis that inevitably affect a relationship. Whether there is a minor misunderstanding or a major breach, strong relationships do not accede to the destructiveness of pettiness or succumb to the temptation to end the relationship when stress is placed upon them.
Although strong relationships are inherently resilient, their strength can be diminished; and they can suffer chronic and debilitating fragility, if we take them for granted. Because relationships are organic and require the proper amount of nourishment, attention and nurturing, it becomes extremely important to resist taking them for granted. Just as a robust plant can wilt if it does not receive proper nourishment, attention and nurturing, so can relationships. As humans, we frequently get caught up in the busy-ness of life, dealing with deadlines, balancing demands on our time, and otherwise dealing with the daily stressors of life. An unfortunate consequence of that busy-ness is that we can forget to nurture, nourish, and give attention to our relationships. In other words, we can take our relationships for granted and even make erroneous assumptions about them. As Robert Brault pointed out: For lack of an occasional expression of love, a relationship strong at the seams can wear thin in the middle.
In my book Gifts of Moments: Being Somebody to Somebody, I recount an incident that prompted me abjure assumptions and instead, reach out to loved ones in an effort to nurture and nourish those relationships. The short version of that incident is that a recently released convict was sharing his story with a group of which I was a part. The part of the story that got my attention was when he expressed disappointment with people in his life with whom he believed he had a solid relationship. He said that when he started missing school, the principal, teachers, and counselors did not seem to care; when he stopped going to church, the pastor and deacons did not seem to care; and when he started committing crimes, adults in his life did not seem to care. He was quick to point out that he does not blame anyone but himself for the crimes he committed. However, he said that when he stepped out of his circle and started down the path of destructiveness, no one seemed to even notice or care that he had stepped out of the circle. A chill ran through my body as I heard his words. I watched as tears welled up in his eyes as he said that during his incarceration at San Quentin Prison, no one from his circle (his relationships) cared enough to even visit him. I began to think about my circle. Who is in my circle? In whose circle am I? Do I know who has left my circle, and do they think that nobody cares enough to notice their absence? If I left my circle, would anyone notice and care enough to check on me? When I got back to my hotel room, I began making phone calls to friends, family, and neighbors, just to ask if they are okay and to let them know that I was thinking about them. I vowed that from that moment forward, I would never again take for granted or make assumptions about people with whom I share a relationship. I vowed to always strive to nourish and nurture my relationships. My charge to anyone reading this essay is to make a phone call, send an email, or go visit someone in your circle. Reclaim those who have left the circle, and let them know you want them back. You know who they are. They are waiting to hear from you. They are waiting for something that only you can give them – you.
About Anthony Harris
Anthony Harris is Professor of Education at Mercer University, in the Tift College of Education, on the Atlanta (Georgia) campus. Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Anthony attended the racially segregated public schools of Hattiesburg until 1966, when he became one of five African American teenagers to desegregate a previously all-white junior high school. With the support and encouragement of his mother, he was an active participant in the local civil rights movement in Hattiesburg. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a master’s degree in Counseling. In 1982, he received his doctorate in Counseling from Texas A&M University-Commerce, where he remained until 1999, working in various positions at the University, including Director of Counseling, Associate Professor, and Executive Assistant to the President. He was elected to five 3-year terms as a member of the Commerce Independent School Board of Trustees, serving as board chair for six years. He was selected a W.K. Kellogg Fellow in 1989, which allowed him to travel the world and experience extraordinary life-changing events and moments. Following his Kellogg Fellowship, he founded Project Keep Hope Alive, a very successful after school mentoring program for African American boys in grades K-6.
He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Toastmasters International. His wife, Smithenia, have two adult children, Ashley and Michael, and a rescued mixed Dachshund and Terrier dog, Keeper.