ON TASK VERSUS RELATIONSHIP
I’ve spent the week in a back country hut with a group of type A friends, most military. We have been spending some big days in the mountains – skiing well over 2000 meters of elevation gain per day. Inevitably, the discussions turn to group dynamics, because as with any group, conflicts develop. Some want to ski big days every day, some want to summit peaks and forgo good skiing for ticking off peaks, some want to just relax and enjoy the amazing scenery.
We began talking last night about how decisions can be made with 2 different foci: task or relationship. There certainly is a time and a place for both – task oriented behaviours focus on accomplishing something, even if it hurts others, while relationship oriented behaviours focus on the needs of each individual in the group, even if it means compromising on the completion of a task. In my job as a flight paramedic, there are often times when it is imperative to be task oriented; and in the mountains, there are also times when it is imperative to focus on the task, especially when safety is at stake.
But what if the most important task in all of life is relationship? What if all of this – work, accomplishments, time in the mountains, skills – what if all are meaningless without relationship? Tasks are concrete, and easy to focus on; I have certainly made big sacrifices in my life for the sake of my paramedic career. I have made sacrifices to facilitate time in the mountains bagging peaks, and at the time they seemed worthwhile. But accomplishments, careers, first descents, skills – do not keep you warm at night, and certainly do not keep you company when life is dark.
Eric Fromm, in his masterful book ‘The Art of Loving’ talks about active and passive people. Active people are often seen as those doing things – buying, selling, building, creating; skiing, climbing, racing bicycles. Passive people are often seen as those who spend their time in inaction – writing, thinking, praying – those not accomplishing tasks. But Fromm points out that it is the motivation behind those things that is paramount. If a person is active because he is driven by an addiction, a compulsion – something he is not aware of, then he is in reality passive in his life – simply responding to his addictions or desires. But if a person chooses to be – to be still, to think, to write, to invest in himself – then he is in reality far more active, expending far more energy and will make gains in his life.
For me, I have often woken up, checked the forecast – it’s a powder day, so I go skiing, because I love skiing. No friends on a powder day – right? But recently I have been focusing on relationship – on the things that really matter. So I spent an afternoon today perched on a mountain ridge watching the ravens circle below me, until the alpenglow spread over the mountains like warmth after good sex– just sitting, thinking, praying, writing. I have realized that the driving factor in all that I do is in reality – relationship. I participate in these sports because I love them – but what I really am craving is to be a part of the community that develops around these things. Community and relationship are far more important that any accomplishment.
I have realized, too, that those I truly respect at work as flight paramedics – those who truly are masters of their craft- have this figured out. They are able to focus on both- being task oriented, driven, focused – but still pay attention to the relational needs of those around. To acknowledge the fear in the eyes of the brand new resident who is way out of his league with the crashing trauma patient we have; as well as acknowledging the fear in the eyes of the family member crying silently in the corner. To be task oriented and rapidly stabilize and move the patient, but leave all those in the room feeling heard and understood.
I’ve been adopting this as a group leader – if I am relationship oriented, then it does not matter if we summit or not. It makes it easy to not push for an extra run, and makes me realize that If it is relationship that I am truly seeking, the activity that I am participating really does not matter. The task IS relationship.