While I was talking with my leadership coach, Dave Ozios, about living systems, I happened to see that directly behind him stood a large upright cubby cabinet. Inside some of the cubbies were personal effects, photographs of previous LEAD 24/7 cohorts, hand tools, and other historical oddities that Rodger likes to collect.

No two cubby items were the same, but despite their differences, they combined to create a pleasing visual effect. But if I walked up to one of the cubbies and removed an item or replaced one of the group photos with a cat meme from the internet, what would happen?

Obviously the effect of the visual would change. It might feel less harmonious or become humorous rather than nostalgic.

The cubby items were just inanimate objects, lacking the complexity and nuance of living systems. Yet changing even a few items in that cabinet would impact the whole in unpredictable ways.

Unfortunately for me, what’s easy to see with Rodger’s cubby items is less obvious in the realm of human relationships.

Relational Cubby Myths

As an entrepreneur, I’m most often taking my learnings from class and coaching right to the home front. The living systems chapter and my subsequent coaching conversation brought to mind lots of ways in which I have treated relationships with my immediate family members as though they existed inside of relational cubbies—completely independent of each other and unaffected by my interactions with other family members in their own little cubbies. 

Here are a few myths from my very own Relational Cubby Land:

  • In Relational Cubby Land, a disciplinary action with one child does not make my other children avoid me until I’m cooled off.
  • In Relational Cubby Land, a disagreement with my wife does not cause me to be sullen and moody when the kids want to play a board game.
  • In Relational Cubby Land, my decision to stay up later than I should in no way impacts my patience with children who’ve overslept the next morning.
  • In Relational Cubby Land, a child that’s stressed out over an “it’s due tomorrow!” school project does not make our dinner time hurried and stressful for everyone.

From Relational Cubbies To Greater Awareness

As a leader, husband, and father, I want to grow into what Edwin Friedman calls a non-anxious presence. My challenge then is to remember that my family relationships all touch each other and affect each other, and that I need to grow in three areas (at least!) of awareness:

  1. I have a limited amount of patience and self-control. When I’m drawing from that well to attend to one relational challenge (anxiety in the system), I have less reserves to draw on the next time. I need to care for myself (rest, nutrition, exercise, silence, etc.) or I’ll have nothing in the tank from which to draw.
  2. Mitigating the anxiety caused by changes in our relationships, whether I perceive those to be positive or negative changes, will require me to listen attentively, and to develop a willingness to own how my reactions and responses are impacting those closest to me.
  3. As others are processing through change and the anxiety it causes, I don’t need to take their reactions personally.

The living system chapter will be one I come back to time and again, and I hope the myths from Relational Cubby Land will help you to become more aware of how you might be compartmentalizing your relationships as well.


Image by lovelihood. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.