We Are All Onions



I’ve noticed that most interaction between people is a “surface level” type of interaction. We ask how it is going and might talk about a few things like the weather or the latest news. This type of interaction is the most common I see. I assert that there’s much more to each and everyone one of us than just “how’s it going” and “how’s the weather.” I’ll share what I believe is underneath the surface layer of each of us, and why getting to know people beyond the surface layer is beneficial for leaders and managers or someone looking to make new friends. Finally, I’ll share why it’s so hard to get past level two with anyone.

I categorize each of us as having 5 layers. As you go down to a new layer, it becomes more scary and risky to talk about it. At the inner most layer, there may not be anyone but ourselves who understands what goes on there.

Layer 1: The surface

The surface is what you see when you watch a person for the first time. It’s also what happens in casual conversation. Go to a restaurant and just observe people. You’re only seeing the surface (unless you are eaves dropping on some of the conversation. Then you might get a glimpse into the deeper layers – though I’m not advocating this behavior :))

Layer 2: Our interests

This might include our hobbies, what we do for fun in our spare time, where we want to go in our lives, what are goals are, etc… Generally, once people get to know each other after a short time, they are comfortable sharing these.

Layer 3: Our ideas and philosophies of life

This might include our political party, religious association, beliefs about money, etc… In anonymity via the internet, it’s very easy to talk about these. But face to face with people you work with or know only at layer’s 1 and 2 is a whole different dynamic. It’s risky to show your hand about your political party or religious beliefs. I’m a good example where I know that not everyone around me shares the same beliefs I do. And sometimes it’s good not to go around preaching your views at this layer – at least not all the time, except with those you care about, even if the views are different.

Layer 4: Our most intense life experiences

This can include intense past relationship experiences, traumatic events, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, a rich spiritual experience, and more. Often, these experiences aren’t every day occurrences – at least not in my life so far and that’s probably OK. These experiences tend to overflow my brain and require a great deal of time to digest and recover from – both the good and the bad experiences.

Layer 5: Our wants, beliefs, and desires that are often deemed too risky to share with anyone else

There can often be a price for sharing this layer with someone else. I wouldn’t recommend sharing it with just anyone. I believe, in fact, that most people keep this layer in their own private mind because the sharing of it and the fallout that might occur could be too much to bear. Even as I write this article, I can’t be specific about any example’s of what might makeup this final layer due to the risk that some might think some of those example’s are what I want or believe. But I’m pretty sure that any reading this can think of what in their own mind constitutes it. And thus I admit I too am bound by level 5 being too risky to share – at least publicly.

One of the people I admire who shares all his onion layers publicly is Steve Pavlina. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I greatly admire his courage to so openly and honestly share every last detail about his thoughts, experiences, and views on life.

Why we don’t go beyond layer 2

I’ll reiterate from my last post about the truth of the matter. Life is like a video game, except we can’t load our saved game. I admit to having reservation and probably cowardice in my ability to be open about everything I think. I’m trying to do better here, but it’s also because there are no do-overs. What’s done is set in motion and set in stone.

The benefits of moving to deeper layers

As a leader or manager, getting to know people and having conversations with them beyond layers 1 and 2 is one of the ways to gain trust and loyalty. When you share some of the deep thoughts and experiences in your mind and listen to someone else do the same, it’s an almost spiritual experience and a bond is formed. I’m noticing this at work with some of the good friends I’ve made there and the same thing happens with my wife Heidi when we are talking about something intently. I know for sure that I have gained influence with these people at different levels – and not in a manipulative way, but in a mutual expression of sharing, collaboration, and love. And this, in and of itself, is at different levels for the different people I interact with both here at home and at work.

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