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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

broken windows

The broken windows theory has intrigued me for some time now, especially when I read somewhere (I'm sorry I cannot give proper credit) how it was applied to human relationships. Basically, the broken windows theory says that the appearance of an environment affects the way people treat it. For instance, if a neighborhood is littered and run down in appearance, people will feel free to toss their litter on the ground or leave a door broken. This attitude, in turn, invites other forms of misbehavior and increases crime rates.
When I read about this theory as applied to relationships, the author was saying there is a relationship between how you treat your inner house and how others treat it. In other words, if you allow your windows to be broken, others might feel free to smash your windows or bust a door frame. You might even invite them to trash your inner space with you. In talking about this with a friend, he said, "but not everyone will break the windows. Some will help fix it."
That was profound for me. It didn't occur to me that people make choices about how they treat their environment and also in how they treat other people. I've always blamed myself. Perhaps something being in a broken state makes it more vulnerable because it is attractive to the type of character who would cause even more destruction, both in environment and relationship.
It made me appreciate the people who have empathy and compassion, and made me want to seek those people out. The truth is, we all have some windows that are broken, some doors that are jammed shut, some furniture missing and in disrepair. What if we all purposed to be the safe kind of person who can hang out in someone's inner space and say, "hey, I know that hurts. Let's get a hammer and nails and we can make that better."
It seems I have a pattern of inviting people who harshly judge my inner space, or who I allow a mutual wrecking, and give the wrong messages. My friend's message was impactful for me because it showed me a way out of my shame for having "broken windows" and gave me hope. Not everyone breaks your windows, my dear.
I think this applies to women who get in situations where they feel like they give too much in their relationships, and get little in return. It's true that men and women differ in their approaches to their emotions, but things like kindness, empathy, attentiveness, acceptance, tolerance, and presence are gender-neutral. Either you show up in each other's broken houses and make things right, or you don't. Give all your gifts and furniture away, and give it away to a person who will give you something better in return. It all sounds so idealistic, doesn't it? But I think on a basic level give and take and improve and heal is how it operates.

What about the houses that are beautiful on the outside, but cold and sparse on the inside? They do not welcome with warmth. There is not much happening, but their windows don't appear to be broken. Theirs is an illusion...the illusion of caring yet the caring is superficial and there is not much of real value offered. 
Interesting, isn't it? And I'm sure the metaphor could be carried on and on...it helps me pay attention to how I treat others and myself. 




2 comments:

  1. I like the metaphor very much. And I like your friend's response also. We do make choices. My dad always said, "Leave a place better then you found it." So now I say, "Leave a person better then you found him/her."

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  2. Yes, I have heard this too. And that in and of itself is a debate, but I think it means to add to and enrich another's life, rather than taking away. Houses are resources. Destroy a person's resources and you take much away from them. Give them resources and I think the effects are exponential.

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