November 02

Staying Inside Our Relationships

This is my final post in a series exploring what it means to “stay on the inside of life.” What we are exploring is some of the philosophical/psychological challenges of extreme objectification. When the world turned from the bleakness of the middle ages to the brilliance of The Enlightenment what led the way was a radical new ability to objectify the world. What was being discovered was the capacity to turn the fleeting immediacy of lived experience into ideas and concepts that could be spoken about, worked on and then applied back into our lived experience.

The endeavor of science, which was birthed with the Enlightenment, is about breaking lived experience into quantifiable concepts like weight, velocity, etc., and then manipulating those concepts to make predictions about past and future events.

An unanticipated consequence of all this objectification is that we soon got so good at it, that we made objects out of all aspects of life – including our selves. One of the results has been a growing sense of fragmentation and isolation from our own self. This sense of separation from the world and from ourselves is one of the maladies that existentialist philosophers were attempting to cure.

Our relationships with other people are another thing that we have learn to objectify and separate from. When we are inside of our relationships we experience those relationships as a sense of “we”. The pronoun ‘we’ implies more than just you and me. It implies something shared between us. It implies that we are together in some essential way.

Inside of a ‘we,’ we are together. There is an implied sense of commitment and continuity. If ‘we’ look around when ‘we’ are with our friends or our family ‘we’ see a “we” and “us.”

When you look around and you see a ‘we’ there is a particular feeling of being an identifiable whole. We are on the inside of that group. When you look around and see ‘them’ you have moved to the outside of the group. Now the ‘we’ is an object over there that has become a ‘them.’

Play with that distinction in your mind. Imagine people all around you, or go somewhere to be around people, then look around and see them as ‘we.’ What does it feel like to be inside of a ‘we?’ What does it feel like to be part of us? Then look at the same group, but turn everyone into ‘them.’ What does it feel like to be on the outside of a ‘we’ looking at ‘them?’

Staying on the inside of our relationships changes the way we relate to the people we are committed to. Whether it is a spouse, a family, or just friends – I contend that real relationships are those that we are committed to staying on the inside of. In a real relationship we make the commitment to being a ‘we,’ no matter what happens.

There can and will be challenges in every relationship and too often our habit is to step outside of the relationship when the going gets tough. When we step out of the ‘we’ what we create is an objectified ‘them’ over their. If, when we are having difficulty in our relationships, we step outside we will usually identify the source of the problem as ‘them’ whoever they are.

We have gone from ‘we have a problem’ to ‘you have a problem’ or ‘they have a problem.’ We have stepped outside of the sphere of shared accountability and responsibility that exists in a ‘we’ and have pushed the blame over there onto ‘them.’

I certainly would never say that this kind of objectification of ‘the other’ didn’t happen in the middle ages…it certainly did. I wonder though if the ‘us/them’ boundaries of that time were mainly those fixed by kingdom, religion, and class.  Today we have taken the art of stepping in and out of relationship to new heights. We can randomly draw and re-draw the ‘us/them’ boundaries in our lives over and over again – often to suit our own needs.

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