06/19/2013 04:29 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2013

Connections Personally and Politically: One Night Stands or a Real Relationship

It is often an important moment when we step back from our relationships and see how we are relating to one another. To look at ourselves at times and really examine how we deal with others in our lives both professionally and personally. This is true whether it be in our friendships, our families, our workplaces or in our most intimate connections with partners. And a big fundamental question is: Are we building a connection as a relationship or is it a transaction?

Let me explain. When you approach a connection, is it primarily about what you can get out of it, what would be good for you, what you need or want, or some benefit you can get? Is it more of a quid pro quo exchange? I am giving this; therefore I need to get that. Is it about what you need in the moment so you can feel better or accomplish something you want?

Come on, be honest. All of us have a bit of the above in everything we do. It is human nature. But is the overwhelming basis for your connection a transactional quality or is it primarily about building a relationship with the person? You know it is about a transaction and not a relationship if most of the time when you reach out or connect with someone it is related to something you need or want in the short term.

Building or seeking a relationship with someone, I believe, is about connecting outside of our own desires and needs and really trying to understand that person. And seeking to meet them at their fundamental heart and soul level. It is less about understanding our own desires, but trying to understand the hopes and dreams of another. And it is about building a connection that is more long term in nature, and not a quick short-term transaction. To put it a bit crassly, it is the difference between an integrated commitment and a one-night stand. I am not moralizing here; it is just good to understand what we are doing in our own lives.

We can ask ourselves in our dealings with another, Is what I am doing about me, or is it about the other? Am I calling someone to check in because it makes me feel better or because it might help build the bond with another? Am I pushing my kids at school because it is something I need, or is it really about what is best for my child? Do I want my children or my partner to succeed because I like the way it reflects on me or is it about them and what their dream is? Do I get on a plane and go visit family or close friends because it is best for me or what is best for them? And keep in mind, many times it can be both simultaneously.

And while this is all so very true in our personal lives, it is also true in politics, even at the level of the president. In the New York Times today I was quoted as saying that President Obama dealt with folks inside and outside Washington as more of a "transaction than a relationship." I was referring to how he relates to people in politics and when trying to get policy through Congress.

So much of his connection has been about what he needs from Congress. He goes to a senator or a congressman when he needs something, whether it is a vote on a bill or a nomination or something else. His primary dealings with Congress have been transactional in nature and not about building a relationship separate and apart from what he wants from them. President Obama makes the calls or goes to the meetings when a short-term need is identified and it is in the moment. He doesn't build the connection separate and apart from the transaction.

And in many ways he has dealt with the American public the same way. He goes out and gives speeches when he needs something, whether it's to push a politician to do something or try to build momentum on behalf of a policy goal. By and large he doesn't connect with the American public as part of building a long-term relationship based on the dreams and hopes of 300 million Americans. The president operates on a transactional basis with the public just as he does with Congress. And the public is beginning to figure this out and lose respect for the president. The public wants a committed relationship of trust and respect, not a series of one-night stands.

As I said, I am as imperfect on all this as the next person, but I am trying more and more to be clearer about my motivations, and hopefully over time to be more and more about relationships of integrity and less and less about transactions. I am trying to ask myself if I am seeking something out of this for myself, or am I really interested in the other for his or her own sake.

And no matter one's history, if your desire is more for a relationship than a transaction, then a person or a president can turn this around today. The first step is a fuller understanding, of ourselves, our motivations and what we are seeking, and of the other and what they are seeking. And hopefully for your sake and our country's, we can build on that understanding toward the dreams we all hold and a vision for the future.

Cross-posted from