TouristsWithin seconds of meeting someone for the first time, you have already determined the basis of your interrelationship with that person. If they are dressed appropriately for the situation; if they smile; their posture; whether they look you in the face or not – you will have determined how you will respond to them. Basic interrelationships control behavior.

*Interrelationship (noun): A logical or natural association between two or more things:

I’m making a deliberate choice here – I’m not speaking of a relationship, but rather how we make associations about people rapidly – interrelationships.

I once had to interact with an individual that I instantly did not like – and I couldn’t understand why – but I kept it hidden because I was in a professional situation.. It wasn’t until we were in a week long class together that I had time to really consider what it was about this individual that caused me to distrust/hate them. Then it came to me in a flashback – the 17-year old me being told to go to the back of the FAD mart because there was someone I had to talk to. There I was confronted by a union representative who told me that I would be in Thousand Oaks that night or I would be out of a job – the meeting was an indoctrination meeting for union membership. My distrust/hatred for unions dates from that instant. And guess who looked just like that union representative – and was the union president for the command I was assigned to? Fortunately, we were to become good friends and worked together very effectively.

We all have a “front” – an appearance that we want to world to see. After all, we all have something that we want to hide from the world. Whether it’s nervousness in speaking before a crowd or entering a room full of strangers, we wear a shield of appearances. The fashion industry is built on this “need.” It helps us to control the interrelationships.

Most of the time, interrelationships allows strangers to function with relative smoothness in the multitude social situations we face every day. Interrelationships are the rules that govern how we interact when there’s no background to the situation.

Most of the time interrelationships are helpful – but they can and are abused by those who willingly seek to harm and hurt others – such as the confidence man swindling money from a widow, or a Dylann Roof entering a Bible study class. The widow will remark later that “he seemed so nice.” We are conditioned to extend courtesy and friendliness to strangers because that works best – most of the time.

Which creates a problem. Being swindled or having your Bible study class shot up are very emotional events – and it’s their very intense emotions which cause us to change – unless we deliberately choose not to change.

It’s the difference between reacting and acting. Reaction is the instinctive response performed without thinking – it’s crawling into a shell and refusing to interact with others because of the hurt. But to act requires that we first recognize the situation, then consider what our options are and what we want to respond with, then finally acting in accordance with our decision. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is a great example of acting instead of reacting.

So what we need to do is be aware of the interrelationships that we use and affect our initial impressions. It requires that we slow down and work to determine the why of our feelings instead of reacting.


*The American Heritage® Roget’s Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.