Do You Relate from Fear, Duty, or Love?

So much of the quality of your relationships has less to do with other people and more to do with who and how you are in relation to other people. What are the attitudes and perceptions that you come from as you interact with others? In truth, you can do a lot to build healthy relationships as you take responsibility for the attitude or emotions that you put out when around other people.

A Story of Three Stonecutters

So let me introduce three paradigms by sharing a story of three stonecutters as told by management guru, Peter Drucker, in his book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, and Practices (p. 341). Someone traveling down a country road approached each stonecutter and asked what they were doing. The first replied, “I’m making a living.” The second kept on hammering and replied, “I’m becoming the best stonecutter in the entire country.” The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

This story reflects three different paradigms from which we can experience life and build our relationships. By paradigm, I mean the mental map or filter made up of our core beliefs through which we interpret events and make meaning out of our experience. Our paradigms strongly influence our life experiences including how we perceive and communicate in our relationships. In fact, each of these three paradigms represents a qualitatively different way of perceiving and interacting with others. Understanding the paradigms can help us improve the way we relate to others around us.

Fear and Scarcity

One paradigm is Fear and Scarcity. When living at this level of being, we are governed by fear and anxiety. Life seems burdensome, even a battleground. We’re motivated by “have to” rather than due to an inherent joy in what we’re doing. Our chief aim is to survive, to make it through another day.

From this worldview, we view other people (at least those outside our tribe) as “unsafe” or even the “enemy” and so we protect ourselves in one of two ways. We may retreat into a passive stance that sounds like “please don’t hurt me.”  Or, we may become dominating and aggressive by sending the message “I’ll get you before you get me.” In either case, we lack trust in others and view life as unfriendly. We adopt a reactive stance towards events and other people.  Our energy goes into protecting ourselves rather than building healthy relationships. And because of the emotional energy required to cope with the stress of fear and scarcity, we may develop health related problems and/or seek escape through various forms of addictive behavior.

Duty and Security

A second paradigm is Duty and Security. This way of living is about obedience and conformity. In fact, we’re motivated primarily by “shoulds” and “oughts.” Although unaware, we’re living a script given us by our parents or greater society.  We believe what we’ve been socialized to believe and feel what we’ve been told is appropriate to feel. We want to be good people and good citizens and do what is expected. We are steady, dependable and technically honest.

In our relationships, we desire to conform and belong. We worry about what others think of us and tend to be conscious of status, positions, and titles. We want recognition for what we do and will build relationships with people who we judge as like us or might help us get ahead but are wary and judgmental of people who are different. We generally don’t like conflict and so the message we overtly communicate is “I won’t upset/hurt you if you don’t upset/hurt me.” In other words, “Let’s play nice.” We carve out a comfort zone and play life safe, although often dogged by underlying feelings of stress and insecurity.

Love and Abundance

A third paradigm, according to Drucker’s story, is that of Love and Abundance. Rather than protecting ourselves or pleasing others, we are proactive and feel like we can positively influence what is occurring around us. Our motive is not “have to” or even “ought to” but rather “want” or “choose to.” We think deeply about some of the big questions of life—What is my purpose? How do I want to show up?  What are the principles or values by which I want to live? From this paradigm, we recognize our own responsibility for creating both outcomes and our experience of life. We feel high levels of self-esteem, rooted in a conviction of our inherent worth and capability.

Because of this worth, we’re able to be more open, take risks and be vulnerable with others. We value others and trust that their motives are good, similar to our own. This leads us to an interdependent orientation in which we feel empathy for others and desire to cooperate more than compete. We prioritize our relationships and seek to build positive relationships. Although we can have difficult conversations, at this level, we feel greater peace and harmony. This doesn’t mean that frustrations and conflict don’t occur. But we deal with them to the best of our ability and then move on to the next life experience. 

Practicing a New Paradigm

The good news is that we aren’t locked into any of these ways of being. As we become aware that these paradigms are underneath our thoughts and behavior, we can consciously choose and, with deliberate practice (and more practice and more practice), change our paradigm from fear to duty or duty to love and, thus, build healthy relationships and experience a better life.

Our relationships flourish when we act from love and abundance. So that is a goal, to catch ourselves in our day-to-day actions and notice the paradigm that we’re coming from and then commit to live a higher paradigm.

We step into love and abundance as we recognize our interdependence and desire to interact with others from respect, openness, compassion. We are also willing to trust others and so make ourselves real and vulnerable. Even in the business world this is possible. I don’t mean for this to sound kumbaya. It isn’t about making sure everyone feels good but it is making sure that you are coming from a good place as you interact with the people around you.

It isn’t Automatic

However, I get that living this way isn’t automatic. For example, it isn’t difficult for me to see how an individual who grows up in poverty, deprivation, or corruption would see life through a filter of fear and skepticism and interpret the behavior of others as self-serving. This would naturally lead one to self-protection (please don’t hurt me) or aggression (I’ll get you before you get me).

So living from love and abundance isn’t natural for many people. And yet by taking responsibility for yourself and claiming ownership of your relationships and practicing new and better strategies or ways of relating to others, you can begin to not only experience your relationships differently but even create better, healthier relationships.

An Analogy

Let me offer an analogy of a garden hose. Most of us have people in our lives that we genuinely care about. Let me liken that to turning on the hose and dousing this individual or that individual, those in your circle of love, with water. You selectively douse certain people and not others.

Living from love and abundance, on the other hand, is like turning on the hose and then holding your thumb over the end of the hose so that there is a spray of water that touches anyone within your radius. 

Love is really the same way. It has less to do with this person or that person and more to do with who and how you are. As you choose to come-from respect, friendliness, empathy, and goodwill anyone within your personal radius is going to experience your respect, friendliness, empathy and goodwill.

What You Put Out

And, I believe that a law of the universe is that what you put out is what will come back. Not everyone, but most people are going to reciprocate respect and goodwill because that’s what we all want to feel in our relationships. We prefer to be around people who are positive and buoyant. We admire these people and gravitate towards the people who show us respect and friendship and even kindness. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree. It doesn’t mean we won’t have to sometimes work things out. Nor does it mean that there aren’t some bad people out there, who will take advantage of you. I’m not suggesting that you be naïve.

But I am saying that you’re going to be much more successful if you exude friendliness, respect, empathy, goodwill, etc. It starts with you. Where you come from is what comes back to you. You build healthy relationships by keeping the focus on yourself, your part of the relationship.

An Experiment in Intentionality

So I want to invite you to do a little experiment. It’s really an experiment in intentionality. Consider, for the remainder of this day (or tomorrow), what you want to put out. What do you want people within your radius to experience from you? What do you want them to feel in your presence?

Now turn that into an intention statement that sounds like, “I choose to radiate …” You might come up with two or three different statements.

Then take just a moment and feel this statement. Visualize yourself coming from this place. And then go out into the world and create this in your relationships.

Finally, circle back at the end of the day and reflect on how it went. To reinforce the experience, consider writing about it in a notebook or your journal. Then share your experience with the rest of us by making a comment below.

Of course, you aren’t limited to today. Go through the same process tomorrow and the next day. If you like this exercise, you can make it part of your routine each day. Or, you can come back to the exercise whenever you’re facing a particularly challenging situation or event. What feeling state do you want to radiate as you go through this event? Turn it into an intention. And remember that others are responsible for themselves, their moods. They won’t always reciprocate. That’s okay. You’re doing this as a way of taking responsibility for yourself. And much of the time others will reciprocate. Feelings are contagious. You’re in the process of building positive relationships.

Build Healthy Relationships Course

I also want to make you aware that you can learn more about how to improve your relationships by enrolling in my new course, How to Build Relationships of Empathy, Trust, and Goodwill. In this course of 1 hour and 45 minutes, I offer 15 lessons and dozens of strategies to build relationships based on love rather than fear or duty.



  1. Russ Kyncl

    Another great post, Roger. I have a couple of songs for you, both by the group Cloud Cult (not a religion). They are on Youtube. The first is Chain Reaction. The second is Breakfast with my Shadow. Enjoy.

    • rogerkallen

      Thanks, Russ. I had not heard of Cloud Cult so took a listen. Very interesting sound, so many different instruments. Meaningful lyrics.

  2. Sp

    Radiate. Family tends to communicate with who I was in the past or conversation from the past in the present. Friends I will reciprocate support only for friends to get a rx from moi meant to be unpleasant. I’ve learned i can’t help anyone. They have to go thru what they need to go through. Thank you Dr Allen greatly appreciated & right on time.


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