While working on Capitol Hill in Washington DC the last few years, I hear a lot about Relationships.  There are political relationships, military relationships, business relationships, education relationships; it’s almost like the word relationship is used as a cover for whatever agenda people are trying to push.

So what does it mean to be in a relationship today?  Can we reduce the word relationship to a transactional way of doing life with people, or is it something far different?

At the risk of creating a definition too restrictive, I admit there may be a place to use relationships in different forms.  But if we’re conscious about what a true relaitonship can be, we can create synergies of good, instead of working out winners and losers.

Transactional Relationships

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give closing remarks on a panel at the John’s Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS for short.)   The panel was engineered to include academics, politicians, business people, and military professionals.  The topic to be addressed, The United States Relationship with Egypt.

I have to confess, I don’t have a whole lot of experience in Egypt, but relationship? I have quite a cadre of experience helping people understand what relationships can be.

As each one of the panel members talked about their various fields of expertise, they all used this term “Relationship” to define the interaction America is having with Egypt.  The Academic talked about papers and books.  The Politician talked about policy and how relationship is necessary for political gain.  The Military Retired General talked about relationship in terms of “selling more M-1 tanks” to help our friends in the region.

And as I sat there listening, I couldn’t help but think, “Is the word Relationship just another term for transaction?”

Transaction versus Friendship

When it was my turn to talk, I gently thanked the panel members for their participation in the event.  And then I started in on what is the true difference between transactional relationship and friendship.

It may seem like a simple distinction, but we’re all too hurried to reduce relationships to transaction.  Why?  Well, simply put, it’s easy.  In Transaction I don’t have to deal with personal life stuff.  I can keep my relationship on a contract or set of rules, and I don’t ever have to share anything about “who” I am, but just focus on “what I do.”

I asked the panel, “Take a second and Think about your best friend.  You didn’t become best friends because of some transaction that occurred.  You became friends because you found something in common to talk about.  You learned what it meant to listen.  You intuitively met someone’s need at a moment in time, and they reciprocated.  Shouldn’t we be moving to friendship instead of transaction?

Diplomats really struggle with this concept.

It’s squishy

It’s not quantifiable.

But it works.

You see, I believe one of the looming problems in the government today is we’ve stated our goals and principles, and we left “friendship” on the side of the proverbial road.  We don’t care about colleagues, we care about checking a box, passing a bill, and making sure we can self-promote all this good happening because of “US.”

When ME becomes the center of the Universe

Friendships never last in an “ME” narrative.
Marriages fall apart when “I” am the center of all things.
When there are winners and losers defined in transactional relationship, there’s really  no room for friendship.

But think of the difference for a second, When friends come together to solve problems:
There’s an inherent trust.
There’s a comfortable confidence that someone is actually looking out for my interests instead of just their own.
There’s a true “life giving” energy that goes back and forth.

When ME becomes the core of the agenda, I have to make sure I win at any cost.
Trust is broken
Confidence becomes insecurity
And Fear Wins the relationship.

How to be a Friend

It may seem so intuitive, but I’ve been doing some deep soul searching on what it means to be a friend.  What does it mean to be a friend to my friends? What does it mean to be a friend to my family?  What does it mean to be a friend to my colleagues at work?  And if Im honest I probably hit the mark about 30% of the time.

Being a true friend means you allow the space between the relationship for unexpected outcome.  It means you learn how to listen well, and humbly step back when you feel the need to tell.

A Friend doesn’t have to be right all the time.
A Friend finds need and meets those needs.
A Friend shows up in the times of pain and the times of joy.
A Friend is present in the moment.
A Friend understands we’re all broken, and we need to perceive where our broken ness meets the broken ness of another, and give grace.

I don’t know why this is so hard for so many people, but it seems we need to re-visit what it means to be a friend instead of simple transactional relationship.  Whether it’s on a global stage, a local stage, or even close to home on a family level; Friendship is a much better way to approach relationships than seeing others as transaction.



1 Comment

  1. ………..Andy Braner for President!!! Seriously, my friend, though there’s a bit of difference in our ages (…you younger…me way older…) what you write about I think we have “proven out” in our own friendship. For the most part, transactions do not allow meaning-filled, long-term, life-enhancing, vibrancy to long term relationships. All of us, if deeply honest, have a variety of longings for relationship. As your life-long friend and mentor, I experience you living out, better and better, what you have written about. And I am extra thankful we get to be the friends we are and are yet to be.

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