Garth Brooks, Warrant, Jason Mraz, The Foo Fighters, Donny Osmond, and even Pink Floyd have paid homage to the analogy of burning bridges. And who hasn’t burned a few bridges in her own lifetime–whether intentionally or unintentionally?

I’m not sure how or when, but somewhere along the way, I came to believe that with few exceptions, burning bridges was a pretty bad idea. I’ve deliberately and severely cut ties with a few people for various reasons; if the person or relationship is very unhealthy and/or harmful to me in some way, burning a bridge may be the best way to put permanent distance between me and that person or situation. But by and large, through much observation and experience, I’ve learned that you never know who you’re going to need down the road. If you’ve burned the bridge connecting the two of you, you won’t be able to get help or benefit from that person or relationship any longer.

I believe strongly in the power of networking. By networking, I mean REAL networking. Building lasting relationships. Showing concern and interest in others’ lives. Extending help when help is needed and when I’m able. I don’t mean collecting business cards and telling people, “we should do lunch!” but never following up. I haven’t perfected the skill of networking, but I’ve certainly grabbed hold of it and attempted to apply it to all areas of my life, not just to work relationships and professional settings.

I’ve watched countless disgruntled people act out and leave work situations in disarray to get back at co-workers or bosses. I’ve witnessed (and been on the receiving end of, unfortunately) friends pulling tantrums, behaving immaturely, or repeatedly neglecting to be responsible and courteous. I’ve observed many people who treated their family members by shamefully lower standards than they treated other people (or even strangers)  in their lives.

What’s the result?

Almost always, those disgruntled former employees don’t leave a pleasant taste in their employers’ mouths. Do you think the employer feels led to sing their praises when potential employers call checking references? I don’t think so. What happens to those friendships? They usually slowly fade away when the person on the receiving end of the bad behavior realizes she is exerting considerably more effort than the other person and grows tired of doing so. And how about family situations? Even if ties aren’t completely severed, they’re usually frayed and worn painfully thin, making every holiday or get-together somewhat uncomfortable.

I can think of multiple times in my own life when leaving bridges intact proved beneficial to me.

Me and my former co-workers

I recently was blessed to be reunited with my former sponsor in a recovery program I’ve been part of for five years. When I relocated to my hometown a few years ago, it was no longer feasible to continue our sponsorship relationship (for either of us). I harbored some hurt feelings over the dissolution of our relationship, but ultimately, I knew it was best for us to end it at that time. Less than two years later, after praying about it, both of us feel at peace with reconnecting in this way. This is rare, and it wouldn’t have been possible if either of us had been mouthy, disrespectful, or neglectful of one another in the past. The smooth, calm ending made it possible for us to envision a truly beneficial relationship between us in the future.

Another time, I held a job with the fiscal agent for a large government entity as a technical writer. I honestly found the job to be quite boring. I never had enough work to do to keep me busy, and it was rarely challenging. I did, however, work with great people, and that made the situation bearable. After working there for a little over a year, an opportunity fell in my lap to try my hand at fundraising and development with a non-profit. The position was on an interim basis with the opportunity for it to become permanent if I chose to stay. After just a few months, I knew I needed out–the work environment was somewhat hostile, and I found myself more stressed than I’d ever been before. Because I’d left my previous employer on such great terms, had given them plenty of notice, and had trained others well to take over my tasks without halting production, my former boss didn’t hesitate for one second when I called her and asked for my job back. She met me that evening with a contract and even allowed me to negotiate for a salary increase. I know she would not have been so quick to consider rehiring me if I’d performed poorly or left on bad terms.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that it’s best to treat people the way I want to be treated–to apply the Golden Rule to all relationships. I’ve learned that I can be polite to anyone, no matter how much I disagree with them or dislike them. And I’ve learned that when I do these things, I almost always reap the benefits.

So ask for forgiveness and make amends. Go the extra mile to maintain smooth paths between you and your loved ones. Duct tape your mouth shut when you are concerned that hot angry words might spew out at any minute. Pray before acting. Act as if you care even on the days when you don’t.

You never know who you’re going to need at the next bend in the road.

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