The power of positive bonding

By AJANTA GOSWAMI
 
 
ajantaMoney, Fame, Power is what humans often seek in finding happiness.
 
 
On the contrary as one ages and matures one realizes that – positive, caring, accepting social relationships that can bring out the best in an individual, is what usually bring about that sense of satisfaction, pleasure, pride, fulfillment….however way one defines happiness.
 

It was A—-, the first boy in our class at medical school, who first mentioned this concept. In one of our many discussions about life he said. ‘All humans have this strong need to be liked and valued. If we can see the good that is present in people and bring out their best, through our friendship with them, the word ‘unhappiness’  will disappear from our vocabulary. And when they feel that love and appreciation they are more open and  willing to return the favor. Connecting on positives, that is the way to go in making this world a happy place….think about it Ajanta’.

 

A profound concept for sure.

I never thought of basing my relationship with people-because I bought out the best in them or they brought out the best in me. Indeed at that time many of my friendships appeared to be based on negative energy. We were good friends because we griped, we complained, we commiserated together about politics, religion, medical college related stresses  and or other people in our life like teachers, relatives, friends etc. I suppose we all enjoyed spending time together gossiping and/or in idle chatter. None of us seem to hate each other. On the contrary I was very happy and content with all my of friends.

Late that night, lying in bed, I pondered  over our conversation.

 
1.What constitutes good side in people….values, traits, principles, talents, creativity? It was such a nebulous concept to comprehend. Like anything else maybe it meant different thing to different people. I was simply not sure.
2. Next was the even more complex question -how do you bring out only the best in anyone?
3. Finally after going around in circles I told myself -who has this kind of time anyways?
It felt that ample effort and time will have to go into building such meaningful positive friendships.

In medical school one commodity we were all short of was…time, time and time!

‘Being extremely smart A—– may not have to study as hard as me’, I reasoned. “He very likely has more time to invest in this kind of friendships.  As for me I have no time to spare. I therefore will have to be satisfied with my negative friendships. Besides they are fun, requires no efforts and has served me well so far. Maybe when I have more time I will rethink this issue, but for now – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

 Having made a decision I turned over and promptly fell asleep

Several years later when I got into the field of Child Psychiatry this positive bonding concept made its re-appearance in the model of ‘Strength based assessments and interventions’.
Look for potentials that can be used to overcome shortcomings.
Look for the inherent good and bring them out to the front.
Emphasize capabilities and resiliency.
Dial down on negative labels.
Be a collaborator in care.
The following were some of the mantras I used in handling the special needs children and the families that I saw in my clinic.
All based on positive, accepting, empowering interactions.

Isn’t that what A—- told me? 
I recalled my past conversation with him in wonderment!
He might not have used the research lingo. But a couple of points that researchers and practitioners developed  and which serves as a the foundation for guiding and implementing strength based practices in our professional arena, is what A—– and I  discussed that many years back.

 
1) An absolute belief that every person has potential and it is their unique strengths and capabilities that will determine their evolving story as well as define who they are… not their limitations
2) Positive change occurs in the context of authentic relationships. People need to know someone cares and will be there unconditionally for them. It is a transactional and facilitating process of supporting change and capacity building–not fixing.
 

 If the other person does not value, cannot appreciate or often makes one feel worthless, than that is how one will be. On the other hand if the other person views them in a positive light, values their input, sees their strengths, one tends to gain confidence, their self esteem / self worth rises and they become happier and productive human beings. They are no longer bogged down by their shortcomings but rises up despite.

I could wrap my brain around the concept of ‘positive interactions’, much better this time around. As I started implementing this concept in my clinic with my patients I witnessed many  positive turn-around. Maybe not in all but certainly in many. It was indeed a  very thrilling and gratifying experience.

But the  fatigued harried me still had no time to invest in my personal friendships / social relationships on a day to day basis. Because as I had anticipated these positive interactions took considerable time and effort – first in figuring out the inherent strength and goodness in people and  second even more time in modulating my own responses in bringing out these positive emotions and traits in them.

Being a full time career woman, a full time wife, a full time mother….I simply had no time to spare for personal/social friendships.
Moreover  one  can also  understand that friendships in later life are very different than the friendships of the school and college days. 

Why? Because

1.You have many more social, career and family obligations therefore  investing time in personal friendships is usually the first to be sacrificed.
 
For the immigrant there appears to be a couple more added factors
2. Coming to a new country you tend to move a lot in the initial years, which means making new friends with folks that are quite different than what you grew up with, every few years.
 
3. Finding folks with similar interests and mindset is also often limited..because of  the group size or fewer socialization opportunities.
 
Indeed during these years
You become friends because you work together
You become friends because you are in a board or a committee together
You become friends because your kids are friends
You become friends because they come from the same part of your Old Country
 
And investing in these types of friendships or social interactions to be more precise, were not a priority at that stage of my life.
Time was a very valuable commodity and had to be piecemeal-ed in a meaningful way!!!
I therefore lead a dichotomous life. A professional life where I analyzed and implemented strength based relationships with my patients and a personal life that had many socially neutral relationships. I turned over and slept most nights…too tired to give much thought about social interactions.
Maybe when I have more time…
 
 
Final scenario
We move to Muncie and meet our pleasant neighbor Donna, who I consider to be my American mom. One afternoon over tea and cookies Donna talked to me about establishing ‘;positive social relationships’; in getting the best out of folks, in doing good for this community. 
De-ja-vu! A— speaks yet again via Donna this time!
She encouraged me to develop positive social bonds. “It is not that difficult or time consuming Ajanta. It is a matter of changing your mindset to see and harness the good in all.”
 
As I started working with her in different committees, I was amazed to find how very easily she brought out the best in all the folks surrounding her. Rather than looking for strengths to overcome weaknesses I saw her tap in what for lack of a better word I call ‘creative potential’. I don’t mean special talents – like music, arts, sports. These are gifts, therefore are easy to express and easier to harness. ‘Creative potential’ could be something as simple as humor, vivacity, enthusiasm, discipline, self control, skills, verbal skills….qualities that are present in  us all  but in varying degrees. Qualities that most folks don’;t see as an asset. Qualities that most folks take for granted.

 

Wherever she went Donna brought out the best ‘creative potential’ in an individual.
She listened well, made kind comments and gently redirected if things became stressful. She above all radiated love and acceptance.
Indeed she made each one of them feel special, capable, talented via her positive social interactions.
In return they offered her generously …of their time, their energy, their talents, their commitment.

 

As we planned and implemented numerous community events together, Donna taught me, guided me in tapping into the ‘creative potential’.
I learned first hand from a great master. Each event had its share of stress. No questions about that.
But the outcome overrode the stressful process every single time.

 

Why? 
Because the events created and implemented by the toils of ‘creative potential’ brings about a strong sense of satisfaction to all that is involved in the event. We bond over magic, we create magic and we experience magic when we look at the face of our attendees / participants.
A win-win situation for all.

 
As for me.
I finally understood the ‘POWER OF POSITIVE SOCIAL INTERACTIONS’.
Happiness begets happiness .
This is for you A—–you were so right!

Ajanta Goswami

Ajanta Goswami

Ajanta Goswami MD, has been living in Muncie, Indiana for the past 16 years. She, and her husband Gautam and son Sujoy consider themselves to be "Hoosiers with an Assamese heart". A Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist by profession, Ajanta is actively involved in many community projects pertaining to prevention of Child Abuse, and in promotion and acceptance of diversity population living in the heartlands. She has received numerous community and citizenship awards in the past several years for her work in these fields. Of late she has started a column called "Middle age and restless" in capturing the angst of an middle-aged immigrant living in the States.