A New Kind of Family: 2 — Five Core Social Skills

Five Core Social Skills


For the moment, let’s assume that the willingness to help build a family or team capable of withstanding the pressures of a transformational journey is already in place. Let’s say this journey resembles a mission to send men and women into space, with willingness being the fuel which catapults the crew into orbit and then allows them to maneuver the spacecraft once orbital velocity has been achieved.

Setting aside this evocative metaphor, what specific crew-building skills are needed if this new kind of family is to thrive? Below are five candidates. Some have been developed here more than others. All still need work.

Common Table—The communion of shared food stretches down through the family meals of childhood, to the infant at its mother’s breast and the umbilical intimacy of the womb, and even deeper, to mythological memories of manna and sacramental bread. To prepare food for one another, then, stirs powerful associations.

Choosing to show up for meals, despite the occasional grumpy mood or captivating project, is likewise a gesture of caring. For mealtime is, quite literally, a forum, and our common table is therefore both the primary gathering place for our family and the loom upon which the remaining binding spells may be woven.

Emotional Rapport—We don’t have to always like the people we’re living with, but we do have to learn to love them. To paraphrase scripture, while it’s no big deal to love my friends, it’s a sizable stretch to love my enemies—those playing adversarial roles in my therapeutic dramas.

But whether enemy or friend, how do I learn to love you? What skills help me develop emotional rapport? Conversation. Music. Massage. Working and playing together. The formal or informal sharing of meditation, dreams, and prayer. There are plenty of opportunities, once the need (as well as the shadow) have been acknowledged.

Conscious Projection—The third skill lies close to the heart of why we came here. “You see and feel what you expect to see and feel. The world as you know it is a picture of your expectations.” We project ourselves onto everything and everyone around us, as though onto a vast theater screen. We see the world not as it is, but as we are.

To verify this premise, viscerally and experientially, requires a mutational leap of awareness. A second great leap occurs as we introduce lucidity; as our projections become conscious. Offering such projections back and forth to one another wisely and well is a vital and delicate art form.

Creative Problem-Solving—If interpersonal conflict is unavoidable (as the first underlying assumption suggests), then how may we best respond to these inevitable conflicts as they arise? Ideally, we employ conscious projection, readjusting our expectations and perceptions until we have  internalized our adversaries and transformed our problems into opportunities.

Somewhere in between being able to fully actualize this skill, on the one hand, and remaining locked in a downward spiral of fight-or-flight, on the other, lies creative problem-solving.

While the terminologies of various problem-solving techniques differ, the basic process is the same. First the needs and feelings of each person involved in the dispute are ascertained and validated. This helps clarify the problem. Then everyone commits themselves to finding and implementing a mutually acceptable solution. And the solutions which emerge out of such a process are, more often than not, elegantly synergistic.

Peer Coaching—How does a community choose to govern itself? There’s the dictatorial mode, in which a leader says, “Do as I say.” Or where the community as an entity says, “Obey these rules.” Then there’s the “anything goes” mode, in which everyone does their own thing and you have an environment with no common goals or standards and no accountability.

Having flirted with both extremes, we find that neither is palatable. Peer coaching, the final of these five crew-building skills, offers a third option. For coaching honors the importance of goals, standards, and accountability, as well as the necessity for personal autonomy and self-motivation.

Developmental coaching lays the foundation for peer coaching. Still later we internalize this process and learn to coach ourselves. Becoming proficient in any of the four binding spells touched on above only happens as we become competent practitioners of peer coaching.