July 21, 2019 | 92° F

STROTHERS: Taking control of social circles promotes good relationships

Opinions Column: The Network


“You cannot change the people around you, but you can change the people that you choose to be around."

Some years ago, the cell phone company AT&T had a “who’s in your circle?” campaign. This campaign allowed their customers to gain instant access to the people closest to them. If your mom was your BFF, you could talk to her for free. If your roommate was your “go-to” person, they could be in your circle as well. In essence, this campaign showed the importance of relationships and the power of influence.

The cool thing about your circle is that it allows for an instant connection, and most importantly, you have the power to control it.

As a child, parents are almost always asking questions about who your friends are. They want to know the who? What? When? Where? How? And why? And to be honest, this can sometimes be very annoying. But as you grow up and become more mature, you understand that these questions come from a place of care and concern.

Could it be that our parents understood the importance of "your circle" way before this cell phone company? Could it be that our parents were actually right and it took wisdom and experience for us to get it? Nah.

The truth of the matter is, our circles are very influential and very telling of who we are or who we hope to become. You know the saying, "birds of a feather" … But, how do you develop or create this circle? And once it is created, how do you maintain it? As human beings, we are almost forced to be social creatures. It is expected that you have friends and associates, and that you develop a network. It is also assumed that you automatically know how to build relationships.

What if developing relationships was similar to riding a bike? You don’t know it unless you are taught it. But once you learn it, you never forget it.

Here are a few tips to building healthy relationships:

1. Be your better self. You may look at this and question the phrase being used here. As opposed to just being yourself, you should seek to be your better self. In relationships you want to be comfortable enough to be yourself, but uncomfortable enough to allow yourself to grow. You should always be in a position to challenge who you are and those around you so that you are always growing to become the best you possible. Your circle should want you to change for the better. If they are constantly holding you back, then you need a new circle.

2. Maintain consistent communication. Relationships cannot develop or be maintained without communication. Whether it is a quick text, a phone call or a visit, the dialogue has to happen. And it should be consistent. Why do you think "your circle" was created? Because they understood the role and importance of communication.

3. Give more than you receive. We have been socialized to have this "what’s in it for me" type of attitude, but that is not beneficial for healthy relationships that should be mutually beneficial. Stop asking the question of what can this person do for me? Instead start asking, "What can I do for this person?" In essence, you reap what you sow. If you sow love, you will receive love. If you sow hurt, you will receive hurt. If you sow joy, you will receive joy.

In practicing these things, keep in mind the value of your circle and building relationships in purpose.

It is from these relationships that we seek to develop strong ties and connections. The research on social capital helps us to understand how strong ties allow for new perspectives as well as emotional support, whereas weak ties do not. If we are not able to develop these close relationships, our circle will not reach its fullest potential, according to Granovetter in "The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited." As Putnam distinguishes in "Bowling Alone," we have to decide whether we have bridging or bonding social capital.

Are we simply building a bridge in our relationships to get from one place to another? Or are we maintaining a bond that creates opportunity for long lasting exchanges?

You have the power to choose your circle. I challenge you to choose wisely.

Atiya Strothers is a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate School of Education. Her column, "The Network,” runs on alternate Fridays.


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Atiya Strothers

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