While we often hear Srila Prabhupada’s statement that “our relationships should be based on love and trust,” we don’t often expand on how this can be created and maintained. One process I have found helpful is something we teach in our relationship seminars, namely the practice of checking the balance in the “Emotional Bank Account” that we have with another person—do we have a surplus of positive emotions, or are we overdrawn, in the red?
This is a metaphor that Stephen Covey [The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People] first came up with to describe “the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship.” This statement really piqued my curiosity and interest in his work, and after scrutiny, dovetails nicely as a support to putting into practice Prabhupada’s aphorism. Just as we have bank accounts to keep our money in, we also have “bank accounts” to store our “emotional capital” or the energy that sustains or strains (if it becomes depleted) relationships.
We could also consider this capital like a trust meter, and trust is the basis of reciprocal loving dealings. Very few people love unconditionally, but most of us require more positive interactions (deposits), than negative ones (withdrawals), to stay, or be happy, in a relationship. Since relationships are between at least two people, everyone involved needs to make sure that most of their exchanges are positive and loving. Otherwise the relationship won’t last, or at the very least will be problematic, troublesome, and superficial.
We can think of having a positive balance in our emotional bank account with another as not taking the relationship for granted, and putting time and energy into it, while taking note of how we impact them. We all know what we like and don’t like in a relationship and in consideration of their natures, we can do our best to not be neglectful. Meaningful appreciation opens the heart, while negative criticism closes it. In a general sense, making positive deposits involves being kind, honest, caring, forgiving, affectionate, and friendly, while making withdrawals involve the opposite, or being unkind, disrespectful, uncaring, inconsiderate, insensitive, or even mean. We may note that it takes a few deposits to counteract one withdrawal, though if we have a high positive balance we can deal with occasional withdrawals due to our human frailties.
While Mr. Covey has analyzed six ways to make deposits, which we will go over next, of more importance than our actions is who we are, or the spirit we put into everything we do and say. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes: “Who you are is screaming so loud I can’t hear what you are saying” [Emerson] Or in modern times we say that a person should “walk their talk,” or have integrity, which is Covey’s fifth, and perhaps the most important way to make emotional deposits. We need to be in integrity within ourselves in order to have consistency and fairness in our dealings. His six ways of making positive emotional deposits are: understanding the individual; attending to little things; keeping commitments; clarifying expectations; showing personal integrity; and apologizing sincerely when you make a “withdrawal”.
1. Understanding the Individual
In order to understand others, we need to understand ourselves as far as possible through personal growth work, introspection, and serious spiritual practice which includes intense prayer to bring our personal darkness (unresolved “stuff,” or issues) to the light of our awareness, and to rise above it through the grace of wisdom and purification. Being acquainted with our biases—lenses or filters—and faults, as well hearing and being inspired by the glories of the Lord and His pure devotees, helps us have the humility to accept differences with others, accepting their faults, while emphasizing their divinity and sincerity. We must study the idea of subjective reality and how we all see and measure the world, and behavior, in different ways.
2. Attending to the Little Things
We have heard that “the devil (or angel) is in the details.” As many small brush strokes make up a painting, so our life is made up of many small acts that color our life and its relationships as either beautiful art, or random, unattractive, spots. Kindness, affection, consideration, and smiling service selflessly given in our everyday activities goes very far in keeping our emotional balance strong.
3. Keeping Commitments
This is closely related to integrity, and means that our words can be trusted, and we stand by them. We live in a time of great lying propaganda, the quest to look good, and an obsession to win and be the best at all costs. This has ripples in everyday life in the idea that the “end justifies the means.” Being truthful and honest is definitely being threatened by the poor example of leaders, and social pressure for results. The last leg of religiosity mentioned in Shrimad Bhagavatam is truthfulness, so it is important that we make a personal example of making our words match our actions, and stand for truth. In addition to keeping our word, commitments also mean being on time and doing our expected duties.
4. Clarifying Expectations
Many marital difficulties are caused by unexpressed, conflicting, or ambiguous expectations concerning roles and goals. Ideally expectations are discussed before marriage, but unfortunately, more than often than not, they aren’t. In the illusion of loving oneness during infatuation (first stage of relationships) it is often assumed the couple is on the same page in every aspect of life, or we think our spouse is supposed to be a mind reader and understand our desires and expectations. Therefore, it’s essential to take the time to share expectations and create a working plan for acceptable duties, roles, and what you want to accomplish individually and together.
5. Personal Integrity
As I have already shared, this is perhaps the most important item, upon which all the others have to be saturated. Integrity is the basis of trust, upon which stands our ability to love and share. Though we may love someone without trusting them, we won’t really have a relationship. Someone of integrity can be counted on to adhere to their principles and word.
6. Sincerely Apologizing when one is Wrong, or has made a Withdrawal
It takes a balanced and secure person with strong character to offer heartfelt apologies when mistakes are made, and it is obvious that we acted wrongly or hurtfully. Not apologizing will make a bad situation worse, but apologizing along with sincere regret can actually become a deposit.
Please consider the above points as food for thought and expansion as we attempt to base our relationships with others, and specifically with devotees, on love and trust. Make it a practice to check on your emotional bank account with loved ones, and/or those you lead, or serve. All meaningful and healthy relationships need to have a positive balance. Steven Covey’s book is helpful and could be adapted to read, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Devotees,” without much endeavor–just add the 8th habit of a service attitude to Krishna and His devotees.