experiments, instruments & measurement book

Power in Numbers


By Tamara Gropper

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear about the work of Dr. Niobe Way, author of Deep Secrets: Boy’s Friendships and the Crisis of Connection (Harvard University Press, 2011). She has spent the better part of her career studying boys’ relationships with other boys in particular on the edge of, in the heart of and towards the end of adolescence.  What she shared both challenged my assumptions about boys and confirmed what I know to be true – that boys experience deep and rich connections to their closest male friends, connections that intensify during adolescence only to wane as they are expected to mature and go out into the world on their own.

As Dr. Way read aloud the words of adolescent boys, words which rang with love and trust and commitment, she also cited numerous studies that link healthy relationships to health and long life.  One in particular stayed with me.  It involved the perceived difficulty of a task.  Apparently, in multiple studies a person’s perception of a task shifts depending on who else is literally standing close by.  If asked to climb a steep hill with your best friend next to you, the hill hardly seems steep at all. If asked to climb a steep hill with a total stranger or even a new friend, the hill appears much more daunting if not impossible to ascend.  This got me thinking about the emphasis we’ve placed on learning grounded in caring and purposeful relationships.  Not only does the learning reach deeper when experiencing it with people whose stories you know, with people who you know to care about you, but also you are likely to take on more challenging explorations because they won’t feel as challenging.   It also helps explain why some congregations see opportunities to innovate as just that – opportunities, not challenges that can’t possibly be met.  No one person can make the kind of far-reaching, sustainable change the Coalition of Innovating Congregations strives to create. But, bring along a few good friends, colleagues who know you’ve got their back just as they’ve got yours and just watch the wheels of innovation turn – slowly at first and then picking up steam as the status quo gives way to innovation after innovation after innovation.

Dr. Niobe Way reminded me that when we make room in our congregations for deep relationships to flourish – learner to learner, educator to educator, parent to parent, and on and on – we tap into our most powerful resource, the deep and abiding strength of community.

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