One joy of being alive, with the opportunity to learn every day, is that we have the chance to be startled and changed by ideas that deeply affect our lives. One simple, wise, or profound idea can lead to an epiphany that changes our lives forever.

One of those transformative ideas comes from John Gottman, one of the world’s leading experts on human interaction. In his book The Relationship Cure he writes:

Complex, fulfilling relationships don’t suddenly appear in our lives fully formed. Rather, they develop one encounter at a time.

This seems simple enough. Each interaction shapes our relationships, but for me the idea is truly revolutionary. What Gottman is saying is that every relationship is alive, and every interaction has the potential to improve or damage our connections with others. Every email, every smile, every roll of the eyes, every act of kindness, shapes our relationships. Further, to move through the day unconscious of the power of each interaction, is to miss out on a great opportunity for good and for personal happiness.

I am far from perfect at staying awake to the power of each interaction–I have a long, long way to go, and indeed the changes I feel on the inside may not yet be visible to my friends and colleagues. But keeping in mind that every interaction brings life or death, has changed the way I relate to others. When I am awake to what I do, I welcome each interaction as a way to strengthen my ties and foster health. I hope that my awareness of the power of each interaction is making a difference for me as a husband, father, friend, and colleague. I will be thrilled if Gottman’s idea can make a difference for a few radical learners too.