Lately, I have been contemplating how to live deliberately, how to contribute to my community in a meaningful way. As an INFJ, my tendency is to either invest in everyone I meet or to hide from everyone I meet. There’s rarely a natural in-between. Investing in everyone is emotionally exhausting, draining, and unhealthy. But so is hiding from everyone. I can neither pour out the entirety of myself to everyone I meet nor sequester myself in my basement away from all living things until my being shrivels into a self-centered raisin-looking thing.
My contemplations have brought me to the point where I have begun to wonder how to identify my community, or my circle of influence. Once I can identify my circles, or spheres, then I will be able to live within them while not overstepping boundaries.
To identify my circles, I first have to identify myself.
And I am many things.
These things all shape my life, my perception of it, and how I live it.
While the mixture of these things (and more) make me uniquely me, they are individually not unique to me. There are many people in Hagerstown. There are many graphic designers. Lots of Christians, lots of women, you get the picture.
This is it. This is how, despite being radically different people, we can all relate to one another. This is how we form communities. We seek out people who are similar to us, to make connections and form relationships. Sometimes the search is conscious, but often we make connections on the fly as part of our everyday lives, based on the discovery of shared interaction.
As I said earlier, I’ve been calling these shared interactions “spheres of influence.” It just makes sense in my mind. It’s like this: our entire lives are a giant Venn diagram. (It’s not a perfect analogy, but work with me here.) In my estimation, there are three main circles in this diagram: location, knowledge, and beliefs. Where all of these things intersect is where we are.
Our locations – past and present, specific and general – are often the first step to forming relationships. We meet people at metro stations, in lines at grocery stores, in our schools, in our churches, in our neighborhoods. We meet people on vacation and on business trips. In these instances, often our first point of connection with another person is that we share a locational history with them.
Our knowledge further connects us with others. Our vocations connect us with other people who are in our line of work along with clients or customers who hire us to work for them. Training we have had that may not be directly related to our jobs creates another point of contact for others. For instance, I am a singer and musician, although neither is involved for my job. But this knowledge I have of music theory and practice enables me to connect with others who have the same knowledge.
Our beliefs are a stronger connection still. We build communities based on beliefs. Churches gather according to their shared religious, social and political beliefs. Non-profits and other associations form based on social agendas. Our entire political party system is based on large groups of people sharing similar views on government.
But more than these three – in fact, I’d say that encompassing these three things – it is our experiences that bring us together. The experiences we’ve had ourselves, how those experiences affect us on a day to day basis mentally, socially, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and how we communicate those experiences with others.
So, how does this help me in my quest to more meaningfully communicate with others in my community?
It is easy for me to be overwhelmed with the desire to help. To learn, to insert myself into situations.
But now, when I am faced with the opportunity or desire to become involved in a situation, I think first about my spheres and ask a few questions.
Is this a problem or a person I will encounter locationally (whether physically or online)? (Often this turns into, “Does this person or situation have frequent interaction in my life?”) Do I have knowledge that can help me impart wisdom? Does this person share my social, religious, or political beliefs? Do we have shared experiences?
Those questions help me set emotional and mental boundaries for myself. For instance, as a moderate independent with no real horse in the race (combined with the lack of intimate knowledge about politics) I avoid a lot of stress and pointless debating.
But these questions also challenge me to be more involved in areas where I have not been.
Recently, I told you all that I am a survivor of sexual assault. I did not do this to elicit pity or advice. I did it because in the past year or so, I have come across so many who share not only the experience of an assault but also the feelings of intense pain, fear, and shame – the desire to keep these things secret lest more pain, fear, and shame be heaped upon them. And in learning that I am not alone, I have begun to heal. I have found healing in words of understanding and encouragement from others, and thus I add my voice to theirs. I cannot in good conscience keep silent about something so important that has affected me so drastically when I know that by talking about it, I can help ease the burden of another. It’s difficult. Deeply personal. Painful. But I believe it to be necessary – and given some of the personal responses I have received, it seems that my goal is being achieved in some measure.
I know that this explanation of spheres of influence and living within them is by no means exhaustive. It’s just how I have worked to figure out how to best interact with people in my day to day life.
What about you? What might your spheres of influence look like? How do you set boundaries for yourself while living in community with others?