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Relationship Conflicts and the Dangers of Short-Term Thinking

I often think about how and why we say and do hurtful things — usually to the people whom we care about most deeply — in order to get a short term gain. Even though we may get a short term payoff, very often it comes at a price that can manifest negatively for a long time down the line.

When this topic comes to mind, I’m always reminded of an experience I once had in my travels.

Some years ago while exploring in Tibet we passed an enormous high altitude lake called Lake Yom Drok Tsu. I was told by our Tibetan guide that this lake was considered sacred by the Tibetan people and that many pilgrims came long distances to walk around it and partake of its beauty. He also informed me that there were no rivers feeding the lake but that it was fed primarily by snow, which was plentiful at that 15,000 ft elevation.

Lake Yom Drok Tsu in Tibet
Lake Yom Drok Tsu in Tibet

My guide then began to tell me, with a sense of trepidation and sadness, what I thought was a very instructive story. He said that he had heard that the Chinese government, who controlled the region, was considering building a hydroelectric dam at one end of the lake to harness its ample power. This by itself was alarming to him, but the greater disturbance was that, since the lake was primarily snow fed, it would basically be a one-time power source that would essentially drain the lake. I do not think this has happened yet but it left an impression on me that I have integrated into my work as a counselor and coach.

I often have the opportunity to work with people who are in conflict with one another, and periodically these conflicts remind me of the Lake Yamdrok-tso episode. I think about the short-sightedness of a one time drain of a magnificent high altitude lake with deep significance to many. Making a decision to drain the lake for a relatively short term advantage, in one arena, that in turn would likely cause significant long term hurt and violation in others.

How differently might we behave if we trained ourselves to take a wider and longer view of the ramifications of our words and actions in personal relationships? Would the short term benefits of “draining the lake” be worth the long-term consequences? I tend to advocate the long view because the benefits of adopting a long-term perspective in our lives are many.

Recently I was encouraged after reading an article in a Patagonia Clothing catalog (of all things) that said they were studying companies who had received recognition for being around for a minimum of two hundred years (or more) to see how they performed. Patagonia was intending to take a long term view of the way they conducted their own business because they realized that what they do now will have long term consequences in a variety of directions. I admired their approach in the article and their business practices, and it was very refreshing to stumble upon such a great example of long-term thinking.

I think that much of this approach can be wisely applied to how we govern ourselves with one another. In my experience this approach takes dedication, vision, courage, humility and self discipline. It can be a bit daunting but very worth the effort.


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