We visited the Philippines for the summer every five years starting when I was three years old. I didn’t have any cousins in the U.S. (until about age 10), while I had dozens of cousins in the Philippines. To give you an idea, my mom’s two sisters had 20 children between them, and her first cousin that we stayed with on our visits had seven sons.
It surprised me that even though I lived 8,000 miles away in America, my Filipino cousins that lived within the same country or the same city (or even the same household at times), rarely saw each other until we came for our five-year visit, especially when our gatherings were so much fun. We would eat and laugh and tell stories, and then do it all over again.
My mom brought everyone together because she was trying to see them all in a few short months, and those summer reunions showed me how much fun bringing people together to connect could be – and I got hooked.
Despite my introversion, my secret goal is always to try to gather unlikely groups of people together to connect. When I lived in Los Angeles, I worked at an international patent and trademark law firm. At the time, I was dating a house DJ from East L.A. and my best friend was a Filipino “brother from another mother.” These were three very different circles of life. My fondest memory was getting them and their friends (senior attorneys included) to hang out at the same bar together to celebrate my birthday.
It brings me joy when people see each other outside of their one-dimensional personas and realize that regardless of our differences we are all connected.
Connecting people goes beyond family gatherings and birthday parties though. About a year ago I started exploring a growing field called organizational design. I met with an expert and after she listened to me explain my frustrations with trying to bring people together to deepen an organization’s impact, she said, “You are a systems thinker.”
I immediately began googling systems thinking. She explained that I need to get good at showing people what I see because they don’t see and value connections the way I do. Soon after that conversation, I happened to listen to a podcast interview of a local community leader, and he suggested the book Thinking in Systems: A Primer as a resource for building transformational relationships.
The book is technical and based on research from MIT’s Systems Dynamics group, yet I couldn’t stop smiling when I read the examples. It was like meeting someone for the first time and feeling a profound recognition. They saw the deep value of interconnection, like I did, as a peacemaker, and they had the research to back it up.
This line from the book hit a nerve. “No one understands all the relationships that allow a tree to do what it does. That lack of knowledge is not surprising. It’s easier to learn about a system’s elements than about its interconnections.”
I saw why the community leader thought it a good resource for building transformational relationships. It’s easier to learn about elements than interconnections. Building relationships is not easy. It requires digging deeper. Even if it is not easy, I would still much rather go deep with the hope of being transformed – not only in relationships with people but in my relationship with the world and God.
Film Footnote: Trask Radio. The movie Working Girl starring Melanie Griffith has a connecting moment that I relate to often. In the movie, Griffith's character plays a secretary that comes up with an idea for a client based on connecting people through three articles she reads. This marketing blog post gives a great synopsis.