We can divide human relationships into several types. Two fundamental types of relationships are vertical ones and horizontal ones.

Vertical relationships are those between older and younger, such as parents and children, or grandparents and grandchildren. Examples of this outside of a family would be the relationship between boss and employee or teacher and student.

Horizontal relationships involve those between members of about the same age or position, such as brothers and sisters, husband and wife, friends, co-workers, neighbors.

In a vertical relationship, those in the senior position (grandparents, parents, teachers, other adults) possess some authority over those in the junior position (children, students, etc.). This does not mean that those in the senior position are “better” than those in the junior position or can boss them around in a mean way or mistreat them. It simply means that the seniors have more experience and wisdom, and so should be respected. Also, it means they have a duty to guide younger people with care and concern.

In horizontal relationships, we can think of people as being either on our "right" or "left" side, rather than above us. Horizontal relationships can be thought of as "two-way" because both parties are more or less on the same level and they relate in a mutual and equal fashion.

In vertical relationships, it is often the senior who gives the most to the junior and does the most to keep the relationships going. The junior's job is to respond as much as possible. Like a horizontal relationship, a vertical relationship is also a two-way street, but it is assumed that the person in the senior position has more to give in the relationship and that the junior has more to receive.

In many cultures, special words or titles are used to show the senior or junior position of people in relationships. This helps them understand how they should relate to one another.

Some relationships involve a combination of both vertical and horizontal. In some groups we may be led by a peer because he or she is more capable and experienced than us, such as the captain of a sports team or chess club. These relationships have a clear order but, unlike those of the absolute vertical type, they can change with time. It may happen that in the future or in another area, we have greater talent and experience and we become the leader over our peers. Recognizing this helps both sides to treat each other with mutual respect.

Will Rogers' story: "I never met a man I didn't like."

We can also divide relationships into those with people we like and with people we don't like. We easily communicate with our friends and with people we feel some bond with, but we are often reluctant to relate with strangers or to those who wish us ill. But sometimes such relationships turn out to be the best of all. In any case, every person deserves to be treated with basic respect—even those we don't know or like.

American humorist Will Rogers was famous for saying “I never met a man I didn’t like.” What do you suppose he meant by that? Of course, there are always many reasons we can find not to like a person. Rogers was saying that there are also many reasons to like a person—if you really look for them.

Sometimes we decide we don't like people because of bad first impressions, which may not be very accurate. Studies have shown the following to be the most frequent mistakes made in deciding whether we like someone or not:
  • Inequality. We tend to overestimate people who are better than us in a way we admire. For instance, if I am a person who is physically weak, I may overestimate one who is physically strong, automatically attaching to him or her other noble qualities.
  • Personal bias. We have a higher opinion of those who are like us and a lower opinion of those who are not like us. We may not like someone of a different race, nationality, religion, or from a different area with a different accent simply because they are not exactly like us.
  • External impression. We often judge a person by their outward appearance. For instance, we tend to think a good-looking person is also kind and that an ugly person is not so nice.

These mistakes occur because we already have in our mind an idea of the kind of person we want a relationship with. When we meet people, we reach into our "reserves" of desirable images and, based upon first impressions, judge whether they fit one of the descriptions. However, by "prejudging" like this, we may be missing out on some wonderful and rewarding relationships.

Patty's story: "First impressions count."

"We had a three hour ride to get back to the school. I got stuck sitting next to Jasmine, a girl I barely knew. Right away, I thought, "Oh, how am I going to spend three hours being with this person? What could we possibly have in common?" She looked plain and dull. Finally, just to be polite, I asked her what kinds of things she liked to do outside of school. I couldn't believe it. She was an artist. I like art too. We wound up talking about art and music and movies we liked, and the three hours went by so fast. She became my new best friend!"

The best way to relate to people is the way Will Rogers did: like everyone. Treat everyone with basic courtesy and respect, no matter who he or she is and whether you feel like you like them or not. What's on the surface is never the whole person. Make some effort in the relationship, show respect and courtesy like Patty did toward Jasmine. You may find that there is no one you can't like and respect.

A word about diversity

Imagine you are making a drawing of a nature scene. You have only one brown crayon to sketch and color with. That's fine for the earth and trees, but how will you show the sky? How will you show the water? How will you show the different types of flowers and birds? It would be much better if you had crayons of different colors to use.

Diversity makes things more beautiful. Nature is extremely diverse. That is why it is so beautiful and awe-inspiring. There is an abundance of different species of animals and plants.

Human beings are diverse too. We come in different colors, with different personalities, different backgrounds. Sometimes we speak different languages or have different accents. We have different tastes from one another. Yet this is not a bad thing. Instead of seeing people who are different from you in a negative way, see them as part of the wealth of diversity in nature. Each person is to be appreciated for his or her uniqueness.

One thing you can count on: no matter how different he or she may be from you, you have a lot more in common with other human beings than you have different from them.

Exercise: “Two dialogues”

Please read the following two dialogues:

Dialogue A
Harry (tenth grade student): Hey, Jim, what's up? I thought that biology test on Friday was way too hard. How did you do?
Jim (tenth grade student): I thought the test was fair.
Harry: Jim, you must be crazy. That test was way too hard. I don't have all day to study, you know.
Jim: Maybe the next test will be easier for you, Harry.
Harry: Yeah, maybe. Hey, where are you going now? Do you have a coin for a phone call?

Dialogue B
Harry (tenth grade student): Hey, Bill, what's up? I thought that biology test on Friday was way too hard. What are you trying to do by giving your students an exam like that?
Bill Morgan (biology teacher): I thought the test was fair.
Harry: Bill, you must be crazy. That test was way too hard. I don't have all day to study, you know.
Bill: Maybe the next test will be easier for you, Harry.
Harry: Yeah, maybe. Hey, where are you going now? Do you have a coin for a phone call?

Discussion questions

1. Is there anything wrong with the way Harry speaks to his teacher? Note that it is exactly the same way he speaks to his friend.

2. Why is the way we speak so important?

3. What does our way of speaking tell others about us?

4. If you were Harry and wanted to tell your biology teacher that you thought a test was unfair, how would you do it?

5. Do you think that there is a certain order in relationships—vertical and horizontal—or should we treat everyone we communicate with in the same manner?

Questions for reflection

1. Explain the characteristics of a vertical relationship.

2. Explain the characteristics of a horizontal relationship.

3. In what ways are they different?

4. Why do you think we tend to avoid certain kinds of people?

5. What kinds of people do you avoid?

6. What kinds of people are you drawn to?

7. What does the phrase “I never met a man I didn’t like” mean?

8. Should we trust our first impressions of people?

9. Is there someone you know who you did not like at first but, as you got to know him or her, you eventually became friends?