In my experience, everyone has one dominant value that drives most of their choices. For some, frugality is the value that guides their decision-making. For others, it is convenience and efficiency. For many, it is the desire to get the very best for their kids. Yes, most of us also have secondary and tertiary values that also influence the choices we make, but I think most of us have a gut instinct that is heavily influenced by one dominant value, maybe two.
My highest value, the one that drives my decisions, is relationships. In everything I do I want there to be a relational payoff. Questions like Will I meet people who I will be able to see again?, Does this activity embed me further in existing relationships?, and How can I match up my friends and acquaintances with each other? drive my choices. Most of the time, this is at a subconscious level. I am acting according to my value of relationships without even realizing it.
For my husband, the dominant value is honoring the earth. He is driven by questions like How will this affect our planet? Will this thing I am thinking of doing harm the earth or help it? So, when we chose to not buy a second car and have him ride the bus to work instead, it was mostly about his deep love for creation. For others, that decision would have been primarily about saving money. The financial savings is an (enormous) added bonus for Rick, but it was not his primary motivation.
Our dominant values are highly influenced by our parents and the homes we were raised in, of course. To call my parents relational is an understatement. They are the type of people who have never met a stranger, only people with whom they have not yet had the chance to become friends. Now in their 70s, they are still making new friends and “networking” for the sheer joy of it.
Rick was raised in the country on six acres. His brothers and he were each given their own tree house and their own garden plot to tend. In his early 80s, my father-in-law is still cultivating an acre-sized garden every year. Cherries, lettuce, and peas, oh my! This type of upbringing gives a boy a deep love of the earth and its beautiful capabilities.
Thankfully, our dominant values work well together most of the time. Very often, a choice to prioritize relationships is also a choice to honor the earth. For instance, when when we chose to buy a house in walking distance to the elementary school, for Rick this was primarily about using our legs instead of gasoline. For me, it was about the fact that walking to school ensures you bump into your neighbors and see the other school families day in and day out. I have had to forfeit this interaction now that two of my kids attend a school that is too far to walk to. I have felt the loss keenly.
When we put our kids in the community Rec & Ed soccer league, not only are we saving gas (and time) by not driving to games all over the state, but we are going deeper in local relationships as the teams are composed of kids from our neighborhood school and coached by their parents. When I chose the local YMCA as my gym rather than a chain fitness center in a strip mall, I chose a location that not only could I bike to but also one where I would run into people I knew.
As we make choices according to our dominant values, we necessarily have to let other values go. To have the type of highly relational walking neighborhood we want, we had to let go of convenience and to lower the value of frugality. (And I recognize that we were in a position to be able to do this. Not everyone has the means to choose what type of neighborhood they want to plant themselves in.)
What do I mean by letting go of convenience and frugality? These types of “walking neighborhoods” are made up of older, smaller houses that are often more expensive. So, good-bye mud room. (Sob!) Good-bye homes with updated bathrooms, and good-bye spacious kitchen! Good-bye attached garage.
But hello neighbor whom I bump into on my walk to the coffee shop! And hello other families with kids the same age who walk past my house every day and who play soccer with mine. And hello fellow school parent whom I run into at the gym. And hello sister of my next door neighbor who happens to work at that gym. And hello to my neighbor whose older daughter babysits for my kids, whose younger son is in my daughter’s class, and who goes to church with some of our best friends.
Hello to a relational net that is strong enough to hold me and my family both on an average day and during a time of trouble. When my husband is gravely ill or when I just need to borrow a couple of eggs, there are people nearby to call on for help. It is in the overlapping relationships and repeated interactions that the weaving gains strength. Each connection and each interaction add a new length of rope. Sometimes I use my weaving as a safety net, and other times as a relaxing hammock. All this sewing creates a very strong and versatile piece of netting.
UPDATE: We recently got to swing on a someone else’s strong hammock. Five years ago, when we moved to our town, we chose to buy a house just a few blocks from close friends. These friends have been dear to me since my early adulthood when I sought them out as mentors. Their kids were in our wedding as our flower girl and ring bearers. Knowing the benefit of having our kids interact with them and their kids who were then teenagers, we prioritized living near them. The house we were watching across the street from them never did go on the market, so we settled for one four blocks away. Our children enrolled in the elementary school where theirs had a decade before.
Last weekend, the daughter in this family got married. My flower girl was now a bride…and my daughters got to be her flower girls and junior bridesmaid!
We had come full circle. Years of building this friendship across the generations brought us to this moment of deep meaning.
The joy did not end there. At the wedding, we saw friends of this family who had become our own friends over the years. School connections, church friendships, work relationships all mingled. Our friends’ hammock is very, very strong, and it has been a privilege to swing on it with them, as they have opened their relationships to us. It is this type of community, both deep and broad, that I am trying to build.
Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2015, 2017.