Relational Cultural Theory: The Basis of the Work We Do

I was fortunate to attend an Intensive at the Jean Baker Miller Institute on Relational Cultural Theory for two years.  Much of my work at the State Fair of Texas and within the community is based on this theory.  Relational Cultural Theory “is not forming a separated, independent self, but rather the ability to participate actively in relationships that foster the well-being of everyone involved (i.e. growth-fostering relationships).” Relationships are critical in everything we do.

Dr. Judith Jordan of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute states, “Our entire wellbeing depends on being included, belonging and engaging in safe relationships and contributing to others.” This concept is the basis of growth-fostering relationships and the core of why we do what we do.

In order to have enhanced connections, Dolley and Feedele (1997) state these concepts are helpful in building stronger connections:

  • •Empathy
  • •Mutuality
  • •Authenticity
  • •Diversity

So, how does this relate to building relationships?  In order to build positive relationships, all of these are necessary.  In working in our local community, I find that when I am listening, I am empathic and aware of the pain that residents in South Dallas have endured.  There has been significant neglect and a lack of recognition of the needs that exist.  For the first several months (and even now), I listened to the stories of many in the community, which allowed me to better understand their views and experiences. It isn’t about what’s important to me.  It is more important to understand than to be understood.  Listening to the stories, both past and present, shape how my team and I work in the community. No matter where you live, in every community there are narratives that share history, ideas, hopes, dreams, challenges, successes, passion and pain.

Mutuality is making sure that the relationship is beneficial to everyone involved.  Mutuality is about creating a relationship based on respect.  It is important to respect the other’s way of thinking and their time.  It doesn’t mean that you must agree with everything, but it is important to treat others the way you want to be treated.

Equally as important, is diversity—communities are diverse beyond color.  Communities are diverse in so many ways, even in thought.  In dealing with individuals and organizations in communities, it is easy to focus on the familiar.   It is important that we incorporate both bonding and bridging social capital.  Bonding social capital is connecting to individuals that are similar.  Bridging is being comfortable in connecting to those that are different.  Both of these are important, but bridging is critical.  If we fail to connect to those who are different, we miss information and experiences that are beneficial.  In my work at the State Fair, my team is focused on ensuring that we are doing both.  We want to make sure we are leveraging relationships that ultimately benefit our neighbors.  A few years ago, I conducted a research group comprised of very diverse women in age, ethnicity and religion. Initially, when we started the group, the women introduced themselves by their titles and positions.  After I asked that they reintroduce themselves again without the titles, stories were shared about their lives—the good, the bad and even the ugly.   I learned through my research that in order to create relationships that last, people must have space that allows them to feel safe and comfortable.  In addition, sharing one’s story allows others to listen and find more often commonalities than differences.  Our stories often reveal psychological capital—resilience, optimism, hope, and self-efficacy. And although they were different in so many ways, the human experience connected them.  They all want their children to be happy.  They all wanted to be successful at work.  As a result of these opportunities to engage, the women built trust and then shared their relationships.  Even after all this time, the women still spend time together helping each other in their personal and professional lives.  When people feel safe to be authentic, they will share and build trust no matter the difference.  I urge you to reach out and connect in your community with those who are different.  When this does not happen, we are not tapping into potential resources and building relationships that can become transformative for all involved.  The transformation that is needed in all of our communities only occurs in relationships that include BOTH bonding and bridging.

Relational Cultural Theory is about building relationships that make a difference.  The goal of building relationships is to make sure that we are not creating transactional relationships, but ones that are transformational.  I am excited that in my role as Director of Community Affairs, the State Fair of Texas team is working daily to connect to our neighbors and organizations within the City to make a difference collaboratively!  Daily, I meet with some of the most amazing individuals and organizations and I look forward to sharing some of those stories with you.

Honored to Serve,
Froswa’ Booker-Drew, PhD

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