Yesterday I reconnected with someone I mentored for a while in the area of customer acquisition and business management. I will call him Josh, out of respect for his privacy. During our mentoring relationship, he was a very young entrepreneur with a great deal of determination and energy to put into his growing company. We only talked by telephone; business via video meetings was not yet a common practice. One of the aspects of telephone conversations that I’ve always found fascinating is that it’s possible to hear smiles and frowns when someone is speaking, possible to hear enthusiasm and disappointment beyond what words convey, and these are ways in which I truly came to know Josh. Words can be misleading, but the nonverbal part of communication often conveys a deeper truth. For good people, though, these two parts are congruent.

What struck me within moments of yesterday’s video-mediated conversation was that Josh remains a very good person: thoughtful (in both senses of the word), humble, open, honest, and conscientious. These are traits that permeate his business dealings as well as his personal relationships. He voices his appreciation of the people who are in his life and who make his life better, whether that is in a loving relationship or with an experienced business confidante. 

One of Josh’s strengths, unsurprisingly, is his understanding of his market—his current and potential customers and their business challenges. Fostering positive relationships is essential. Josh has learned, nevertheless, that it’s equally essential to let go of a customer relationship that is detrimental to the overall business or that is taking too much of a toll on Josh’s energy. I believe that this is a lesson that needs to carry over into all of our personal lives.

Our conversation was an opportunity for me to pause and be thankful for the many people in my life who are good people.

We probably each have our own thoughts about what is most important about the people we choose to surround ourselves with. For me, what distinguishes healthy relationships is that the two people have common positive qualities of character. I find that those qualities relate mostly to how they treat other people and how they maintain self-respect in balance with respect for others. These are people who know which way their moral compass is pointed and strive to face that direction. Most are not conscious of the way they apply their values to their behaviors and attitudes toward others. They don’t stop to think, “I choose to be caring right now.” Caring is such a fundamental part of them that it’s no longer merely a trait that they value when they stop to think about it; it’s instinctive, automatic.

I have not always been surrounded by good people. Over the decades, however, I have come to understand how unhealthy it has been for me when I’ve had significant relationships with people whose compass was pointed in a direction where I did not want to go. I think about some of the relationships I’ve had where I eventually realized I needed to distance myself from that person. More importantly, when the relationship is toxic—actually harmful—I’ve learned to walk away and to do whatever self-nurturing I need in order to heal.

Giving myself permission to let go has been one of the most valuable lessons of my life. This has given me the freedom to appreciate what I enjoyed in each of those relationships while acknowledging that some aspects were too damaging to me—or to both of us—for the relationship to continue.

This morning I talked with a dear friend who is thousands of miles and many countries away right now. We shared video-mediated smiles and laughter as well as serious conversation over the halting video patterns of Wi-Fi-transmitted images. Later, another close friend and I walked along the shoreline trails of a nearby bay, sharing the everyday aspects of our lives and supporting each other through the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of our lives. When it comes to good relationships, it’s integrity and compassion that are the foundation. On days like today, I’m reminded just how precious these people are.