“SB: Warmth. It’s what is missing from Robin Hansen’s “insight”. And the interesting thing about this is it seems (from watching some of his interviews) that he does not know this. All his knowledge has kept this region dark to him.
CB: I tend to focus on ideas over people too. Warmth is really caring more about people, that they have value beyond what they offer you. Sometimes it takes people that live in their heads a long time to learn that lesson, using by finding someone that loves them beyond their ideas. But, some never find it. You make a really good point here.
SB: True, and a nice realization (about what warmth is). I have noticed something else too, though. Ideas and concepts can also be delivered or communicated with warmth. Some speakers accomplish this. But many do not… their information is sprayed forth coldly and analytically, sometimes even like a kind of psychic weaponization, if you know what I mean.”
I started to think that there were two dimensions in play. On one dimension, it matters how something is communicated. I tend to be blunt and not as diplomatic as other people might like, and my wife is often saying to me: “You can say that, but you have to say it nicely.” What she means by nicely is that I need to say it in a way that leaves more room for the fact that I could be wrong and the other person right and that even if I am saying something critical, I still like and respect them as a person. Saying something like, “That’s a bad idea and you are a bad person for thinking it,” doesn’t do that.
I saw a tweet recently that shed some light on why this is important, focused on small talk:
So, we are spending 20% of our time in social interactions, and the primary purpose of these interactions are not sharing ideas but serving as testimony that we like one another well enough to spend the time together. What we discuss is mostly irrelevant.
But, “social commitment” implies something more. It’s not just being a “fair-weather friend” who is pleasant to spend time with, but it also implies that, to some degree, a relationship that can be relied upon in difficult times.
If we want to think of the question in terms of relationship archetypes, you might parse it as:
- Ideal: pleasant to spend time with and can be relied upon
- Fair-weather: pleasant to spend time with but with limited reliability
- Difficult friends: not pleasant to spend time with but reliable
The key here is that the thresholds of what constitutes reliability are a sliding scale. Every relationship has limits and what people need from them vary a great deal from individual to individual. For example, someone may be an introvert who, when they want companionship, want it limited to a few friends. Others want to be the life of a party, which means being at a party with more than a few friends.
Context also matters. When experiencing grief, even the life of the party doesn’t want to be at a party. Part of being reliable is being able to context switch, and be in the mode appropriate for the moment.
There’s also the problem that our capabilities change over time. A person with dementia is often both unpleasant and reliable. But, how we are with them also reveals something about the kind of person we are, when we interact with them. So, these relationships are important, not only to the person with the illness, but because it holds up a mirror to our character and reveals facets of ourselves we may not have been aware. Chances are those will be deficiencies, a lack of reliability we were not aware of or limits which we didn’t know we had.
Beyond the personal, it also reveals something about other types. For example, sociopaths are fair-weather friends. They want reliable relationships but don’t offer reliability themselves. Difficult friends want to be liked and to like the people around them, but they don’t show these qualities to others.
Warmth, broadly speaking, might be how we respond to these gaps. Can we be pleasant to the unpleasant? Can we be reliable to the unreliable? Where are our limits? And, are they more or less than some perceived norm?