Prioritizing WhiteSpace

One of the reasons we've moved to daily as opposed to weekly blog posts is to trim down the overall length of posts. But earlier this morning, as I was researching for this morning's blog post, I came across a sentence that just really walloped me right in the face. The kind of sentence that makes you pull a Neo from the Matrix. You know...

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So I just need to get out all these thoughts. It may take a while.

Here's the sentence: "Most teams are too busy to become less busy." I would even push that a step further and say that most people are too busy to be less busy. Or, perhaps, most people are too busy to figure out how to be less busy. This is a problem for Not Easily Broken Ministries for two reasons, and we need to address these reasons and this problem if we're going to continue eliminating conflict and creating justice in marriages around the world.

Our society does not equip us for the skillset of relationships.

Truly, I cannot explain this. I do not understand it. I skimmed an article this morning, titled, "After Years of Pushing Bachelor's Degrees, U.S. Needs More Tradespeople." And I sat there genuinely thinking to myself, who cares if we have more academics or tradespeople, more white collar workers or blue collar workers, if the world they collectively create is filled with people who can't figure out the fundamentals of how to treat each other? Because human beings are, by nature, social creatures, socialization is something that we have learned to take for granted. Even when we do try to take a more proactive approach, we're not intentional enough with the identification of the skills involved - probably because rarely its rare that anyone bothers to articulate them. I'll be the first to cop to this. We enrolled our daughter in preschool at age 2, because she desperately needed the socialization. And it's certainly been helpful. It improved her verbal skills, her table manners, her eye contact, her willingness to share - all of which are great things for her to be doing! As parents, when we encourage her to share or not to hit her sister or to try to solve problems creatively, we are, at a very basic level, encouraging some of the skills she needs to be successful in relationships. But we're not really identifying them. We're not pointing out the value of practicing communication, cooperation, goal setting, teamwork, critical thinking, patience, or empathy - which, by the way, are just a handful of the skills contained in the set that we must master if we're going to become proficient in relationships.

At a certain point, we assume that kids have outgrown our need to shepherd them through these basics, and we rely more and more on schools, peers, and pop culture to help them navigate what it means to be in various kinds of relationships. When they begin to struggle in having relationships, we say things like, "It's just a phase," or "nobody really fits in in high school." Our collective societal development as relationship-havers stops well short of proficiency, I think, when our most prolific educators have some of the most deeply flawed and least examined relationships imaginable. But what if real relationship experts developed curriculum that was taught in our schools (read: better schools) right alongside algebra, chemistry, European history, and physical education. What if we learned to value relationships to such a degree that you could actually achieve a Bachelor of Arts in Empathic Sciences? What if we began to look at trades in terms of how they enhance intimacy? It seems like an impossible task, to overhaul society this way - because of the second problem.

Even If Society did equip us with the skillset, it doesn't give us the space necessary to exercise it.

This morning, my wife woke me up with a kiss. It was a quiet, wintery morning. The children were still asleep, and so we just laid in bed and kissed. Tired and sleepy as I was, and as much as I would have loved to sleep longer, it was a lovely, sweet way to greet the day. Then my daughters' bedroom door opened and my eldest screamed, "Moooooooom!" Quiet morning over. Kissing done. Time to do the productive parenting thing. Go potty. Change diapers. Get dressed. Brush hair. Brush teeth. Serve breakfast. Make the child actually eat breakfast. Let the dogs out. Make coffee. Try to drink coffee in quiet place. Be attacked by dinosaurs. Be attacked by children pretending to be dinosaurs. Get bottle for baby. Morning nap. Wife and daughter go run errands. Take shower. Get dressed. Start researching this blog post. Start writing this blog post. Pause for more research. Find gif. Find photo for Facebook post. Wife comes home. Eldest has been crazy. Baby is waking up from nap. Wife has migraine. Wife goes to lay down. More dinosaurs. Baby beats XBox with toy. Stop baby. Write more. Kids going crazy. Wife making lunch. Now I have a headache. Need to eat. Baby pinched her fingers. Break to eat so wife has back up. Finish blog later.

I've been awake for five hours, and I intentionally exercised relationship skills for about ten minutes of that. That is an awful ratio - but I imagine I'm not the only one. This, I'm sure, is the baseline for most of us. In fact, this is actually a relatively slow and easy day for us, and I imagine a lot of you read that list thinking, "Hmph! You should see my day." Like the practical applications of the Pythagorean Theorem, the historical reverberations of the Stamp act of 1765, or the chemical impact of salt vs. sugar in a recipe, emotional and relational competence might have been something that we were taught and studied at one time in our high school years (in my idyllic educational system, anyway), but where would we have time and motivation to thoughtfully apply that knowledge if it wasn't our specific job to do so? There is just too much to do in the day. The beginning of every task is a chance to put your body on autopilot so you can think about the next thing that needs to be done.


So what the heck do we do?

Well, I have two ideas. The first is to identify, articulate, and define the crucial skills that we must master if we want to be good at being in relationships. This list will, on our first pass, very likely not be exhaustive - if you can think of any others, please feel free to leave a comment below. You can download the list here. Print it, laminate it, frame it, get it tattooed on your thigh so you can really ponder it when you're going number two (which, let's face it, is the one time of day we all take a little time to breathe).

The second is that we have to learn how to create what Juliet Funt calls "WhiteSpace." Juliet is the CEO of WhiteSpace at Work, an organization that teaches companies how to integrate the principles of WhiteSpace into their work. These principles are equally valuable at home, though, and can be just as readily applied there. In fact, applying them there is even to the benefit of your employers. This is from WhiteSpace at Work's website: "Around the office there’s lots of talk about the importance of balance. But one layer down, the deeper message is often just the opposite — that we should sacrifice at home in favor of our jobs. Folks often feel they have no choice as they multi-task with email at dinner or pull out their laptop for the evening shift... In the course of our learning journey we’ll help your folks calm the domestic busyness, trim personal schedules and revise digital habits that are obstacles to intimacy. Isn't it time to give your team the gift of a rich and balanced home life? Help them learn to turn off at home, and they will return to work the next day with vigor."

Admittedly, our family knows the value of WhiteSpace, and struggles to create it just as much as anyone else. This is because, as I said at the beginning, we're just too busy to figure out how to be less busy. So we're taking the plunge with WhiteSpace at Work (and at home). We're going to start one of WhiteSpace at work's courses and we'll be chronicling our journey with WhiteSpace here, so that you can learn from us as we learn from them. If you feel like what we have to share is valuable, feel free to jump on board with WhiteSpace yourself. Just click here to find out more about them and sign up yourself.

Paul MoralesComment