NCSC speakers unplugged: Jim Martini

At the National Catholic Singles Conference, Jim Martini will describe relational skills and offer ideas for developing them which can benefit relationships.

What can you tell us about the right hemisphere of the brain and why it’s important for behavior?
Someone once asked, “What must the martyrs have believed to give their lives?”  Brain science tells us that this is actually the wrong question.  Belief resides in the left hemisphere of the brain.  The left hemisphere is the weakest part of the brain.  As stress and strong emotions increase, the left hemisphere shuts down.  What we are left with under these conditions are structures in the right hemisphere which are more concerned with relationships.  There are four primary areas in the relational part of the right hemisphere (in RARE Leadership we call these the joy elevator).  They can also shut down under stress.  The deepest part of the relational right hemisphere is the attachment center.  It never shuts down.  The question it asks is “whom do I love?”  So the right question to ask about the martyrs is “Whom did they love to allow themselves to give their lives?

The application to behavior, character and transformation into the Image of Christ, flows from this example.  Our culture has been influenced by the Enlightenment.  We often think that good information and good choices are what are needed to form our character.  What got dropped out of the equation is the body, emotions and community.  These are important ingredients for transformation.  It is necessary to practice relational skills in community.  Certainly, grace through the Sacraments is essential.  But God seems to have chosen to work through the natural and the supernatural.  Grace is His part, acquiring and strengthening these skills in community is our part.

What is relational maturity and how does it make us more attractive?
The overall indicator of adult level maturity is the ability to take care of oneself and another at the same time.  There are many individual tasks that we learn on our way to reaching adult level maturity.  One example is being attuned to others and their feelings. It’s important because if you’re going to develop successful relationships you have to know what the other person is thinking. In a conversation it’s very helpful to know when your listener has lost interest in what you are saying, before you go on and on.  It’s helpful to know when you’ve been talking too long and it’s time to ask the other person to tell you more about them.   Another helpful task on the road to adult level maturity is being comfortable with reasonable risks, attempts and failures. In my talk I will focus on three levels of relational maturity consisting of specific skills learned at the infant, child and adult stage. The skills accomplished at each level form a foundation for the next level with the ultimate goal being mutually satisfying relationships with others. This checklist is a kind of map that will help singles move toward the destination of relational maturity.

What are the categories of skills that are essential for relational maturity?
The first category we talk about in RARE Leadership is to remain relational.  One way is by practicing appreciation.  Remembering something we enjoy or for which we are grateful will help get the relational part of our brain working again. The more we practice experiencing and remembering appreciation and gratitude, the more easily we will be able to recall these experiences while under stress.

The second is acting like our true self. If we haven’t developed the character of Christ, we will act like someone else. If we haven’t seen examples of acting like our true selves, we won’t know how to act in certain situations or we’ll do something natural but not godly. We grow by watching others do things and hearing stories of their successes and failures.

The third category is the ability to return to joy and recover when things go wrong. When we’re in the middle of sadness, hopelessness/despair, anger fear disgust and shame, we need to learn how to return to the baseline of joy and peace. Again, the key to growth is finding others who are better at it and hearing how they experienced it and got back.

Fourth is enduring hardship.  As we practice, and our community helps us grow into the various stages of life, we are able to endure ever greater levels of hardship

How can singles working on growing in relational maturity so they can build community and lasting relationships?
The first step is identifying areas where improvement is needed from a checklist I’ll provide at the talk. The next step is coming up with a plan to begin growing and brainstorming about people who excel in an area you’ve noted for improvement.

How do relational skills affect how we live our Catholic faith?
Finding out about these skills makes all the difference in how we live the great commandment to love God and love others.  Relational skills enable us to work with one another and God. All these relationships are impeded or strained–or aren’t all they can be–if we don’t have these skills. They enable us to love God and others better.

In Hebrew, the word often used to describe God is hesed. This is frequently translated as loving kindness.  A fuller translation for our time might be attachment love.  This indicates love that is very sticky, bonding us so deeply that we can’t imagine a circumstance that would separate us. Relational maturity enables us to experience and share hesed more deeply. Friendships and marriages thrive on hesed.