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In Sight of Ourselves: 7. Synchrony (November 30, 2001)

Synchrony… I'll bet that's a word you've not heard before. I'll say it again… synchrony. Sounds a lot like the word "symphony." Actually, that's not a bad comparison. Synchrony describes the most beautiful thing in the world: two people in such harmony that each subtly mirrors the emotional behavior of the other. The word is used most often to describe rapport between loved ones and their children.

A father holds his baby securely in his arms. He looks down at his baby girl and smiles. The child begins waving her arms. In response, the father smiles again and moves his head as he tells her, "Oh yea, you're daddy's little girl." The baby smiles back and begins to coo. The father responds to her vocalization with gentle movement while looking at her with a happy expression. They go back and forth in this way, in a joyful, unrehearsed dance of love. This is synchrony. For a few moments, father and daughter join together as partners in an emotional symphony.

Why is synchrony so important? Psychologists know that a secure attachment between a baby and at least one loved one is a fundamental requirement for emotional health. Growing up to care about others, to have a conscience, and have personal responsibility for one's choices, depends on having a profound connection with another human being during their earliest years. This connection provides the necessary foundation children will build on for the rest of their lives.

All children need to fall in love with at least one person who has fallen in love with them. Synchrony is a way of recognizing the value of another human being. A child has an emotion. Maybe she is sick and is frowning with pain. She sees her pain reflected in the face of her mother. Or she is happy and excited and sees that enthusiasm reflected in the face of a grandfather. This tells a little baby: I know what you feel, I feel it too. We can share this emotion for a moment. In a similar way, the baby's reaction is a confirmation of the loved one as well. "I see you," the baby seems to say. "I am reacting to what you share with me." Synchrony takes place naturally. You cannot fake it. But you can see it if you carefully watch this give-and-take between adults and children.

Synchrony occurs between adults too. The next time you are together with a friend, step back for a moment in your mind to see what is happening. How is each of you reacting to the other? If one of you frowns, does the other's facial expression change? If one of you is sad, does the other's face show pain? If one of you changes posture, does the other shift as well? For example, you might realize that your arms are crossed as you talk just like those of your friend.

Other things are happening during such moments that cannot be so easily seen. If you care enough about someone, your heart may beat in tune with the other, your very breath in harmony with the breathing of the other. This experience makes us feel that we truly belong.

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