Relationships, Bundles of Relationships

Over the past several years – actually it’s probably been over the past several decades – I’ve been increasingly interested in “relationships.” This topic has arisen in previous posts. However, I’d like to explore this topic briefly, but in some depth here.

When I bring up the topic with my students, the immediate reaction is that of “boy friend – girl friend” relationships, but this is only one part of the notion of relationship. We have relationships within ourselves. In fact, everyone, each living thing, is a bundle of relationships. Every living organism is made up of bundles of biochemical, biological, and other patterns of relationships. As human beings, we weave our bundles of relationship even further. We have relationships to ourselves. Sometimes these relationships are positive and sometimes negative (ranging from aspects of ourselves we find embarrassing at best to self-loathing). Obviously, we have relationships to varying degrees with other people. We also have relationships to our physical and social worlds and to our natural environment. And, then we have relationships to the world of ideas. And, we all have the potential for relationships to something beyond ideas that reaches to the depth of our humanity, which some may call spirituality.

Gregory Bateson thought relationships should be the primary focus of schooling. In fact, he thought we needed to change our View of the world from seeing the world and people as separate “things” to seeing everything as interrelated or as bundles of relationships.

Over the past year, I’ve been trying to see my own students as bundles of relationships and to relate to them in terms of “relationship.” In schooling, the tendency is to see students as “objects.” K-12 teachers may sit in lounges complaining about students, labeling them, and creating a kind of “anti-relationship.” In universities, the tendency is to keep students are arms length (or more). So, my attempts at actually relating to my students started with inviting students to come to my office and talk near the beginning of each semester. In some meetings, very little conversation occurred, while in others the conversations took on many different characteristics. At the beginning of every day, I think to myself, “I’m going to be nice to my students today.” It’s a different way to start than thinking about all the work I have to do, how far behind I am, and whatever else is happening around me. In class, I try to see each student as patterns of relationships that are not all that different from my own patterns of relationships. I try to focus on how we’re connected, rather than focusing on my own “academic” agenda.

I’ve also realized how “what I have to say in class” really isn’t all that important. It’s how it’s being said in relationship to each individual. So, if I don’t cover what “I” think is important, it really isn’t such a big deal. The connection, the relationship is what is important. My communication of my own relationship to them, to others, to children, to the physical and social setting of the classroom, to the natural world, and to the world of ideas is what is important.

About Jeff Bloom

I'm a Researcher with and am on the Advisory Board of the International Bateson Institute and am a professor emeritus with the Department of Teaching & Learning, College of Education, Northern Arizona University.
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