The following article is excerpted from The Eight-Circuit Brain: Navigational Strategies for the Energetic Body, forthcoming from Vertical Pool Publishing in October, 2009.
The point of love between lovers is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good relationship is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky. — Rainer Maria Rilke
I and Thou — "Relationship" vs. "Relating"
Social intelligence does not depend so much on our capacity to do, feel or think, though all these attributes certainly come into play when we socialize. Our social intelligence expresses how well we relate with other people. What does this really mean, to relate? If we do things for another, are we relating to them? No; they don't have to be present for us to do things for them. When we have feelings for another, are we relating to them yet? No, not unless they are also feeling what we're feeling. When we think of someone, are we relating to them? Only in our minds. To the extent we assume that any of these modes of doing, feeling or thinking means we are actually relating with another person, we can unwittingly delude ourselves into fabricating something often labeled as a "relationship," even if no actual relating happens! There is no such thing as a "relationship." We are either relating with each other or we are not.
I use the word "relationship" as a symbol of convenience to represent an attachment to someone or to a need structure — a simulation of relating — expressing more self-involvement than any process of actually relating with another person. Real relating comes easier for some than for others. Consider the doomed romance of lovers who profess powerful feelings for the other, can't stop thinking of the other, and do all kinds of things for each other, while treating each other poorly or badly. When one lover or friend leaves the room, the relating ends. Though one may start missing the other or start fantasizing about them, the actual real time relating ended, despite all of our thoughts and feelings to the contrary.
This process of relating refers to real time, in-person interaction where physical, emotional, verbal, and social signals can be experienced firsthand, unlike internet "relationships" that depend solely on text, images &/or audiobytes. The behavior of relating recognizes the presence of another person and responds to that presence in present time. Philosopher Martin Buber's vision of relating, "I and Thou," reflects this well. According to Buber, human beings may adopt two attitudes toward the world: I and Thou or I and It. I-Thou is a relation of subject-to-subject, while I-It is a relation of subject-to-object. In the I-Thou relationship, we are aware of each other as having a unity of being; we do not perceive each other as consisting of specific, isolated qualities, but engage in a dialogue involving each other's whole being. In the I-It relationship, on the other hand, we perceive each other as consisting of specific isolated qualities, and view ourselves as part of a world which consists of things. I-Thou is a relationship of mutuality and reciprocity, while I-It is a relationship of separateness and detachment.
We relate through our behavior and by the way we treat each other. When enough actual relating has occurred between people, social bonds naturally develop allowing us to safely assume that the relating will probably continue; maybe not in the same way but that it will probably continue. True relating can be a creative and even spiritual event when it sustains a spirit of improvisation and play (can any true relating ever be planned?) towards substantiating interactions of emotional and intellectual depth and the promise of doing things together. What crushes the spirit of spontaneous social interaction more than anything else may be the oppressive forces of unchecked or repressed guilt, self-consciousness, and bogus modesty.
Morality, Ethics and the Spring-Action Mechanism of Guilt
Unchecked, repressed, and overwhelming guilt may be the greatest impediment to genuine relating. Guilt inhibits the flow of spontaneity that actual relating demands. Guilt binds consciousness to the past while corrupting our capacity to be fully present with another person. Guilt distorts our personality with excessive self-consciousness that embarrasses us and leaves us feeling socially inept. Left unattended, guilt doesn't go away but turns into resentment and finally, a toxic emotional sludge. Guilt sucks. Guilt sucks the life force right out of your body.
As long as we suffer from a guilty conscience, we cannot truly relate openly and directly. Before social intelligence can be increased, guilt must be dealt with. If we think we don't feel or have any guilt we may have effectively repressed it and if so, an unconscious guilt complex may be pulling our strings. Some of us manage to escape guilt through the toxic magick of the psychopath. Others temporarily alleviate their guilt by pretending it's not there. What is guilt? Guilt expresses a negative emotional reaction to betraying someone's moral or ethical code that we have been conditioned to care about.
Morality and ethics: two terms commonly confused to mean the same thing. I understand morality as any code of conduct inherited from society, family, and church/religion that defines, sometimes in black and white terms, what exactly constitutes bad behavior and good behavior, a good person and an bad or evil person. Each of us was raised and conditioned by the morality of those who acted as our parents. Whether they were genetically related or authority figures in foster homes, the church, state prison, the orphanage, military school, etc., these moralities share a common reward and punishment system. Violate the code and you are punished by feeling like a no-good shit, ie., you eat moral guilt. Conform to the code and you are rewarded by feeling good, ie., you eat moral pride.
Ethics, as I use this term, express an internal code of conduct developed by making a series of tough decisions based on our personal assessment and judgment in determining the right course of action. When I say "right course of action," I mean according to the individual making the decisions. As these tough decisions continue being made, a personal ethos eventually consolidates and forms the bedrock of our conscience. When we learn to abide by this code, our conscience becomes a guiding principle in our lives. The degree to which we do not define and live by our own ethical codes is the degree to which the guilt complexes inherited from external moralities continue their grip on our psyches. To your own conscience be true or continue regurgitating the moralities of society, family, and church. Developing a real conscience is obviously not for everybody. Not everybody is ready to take a stand and speak their truth, regardless of whether or not it finds agreement with the consensus.
Spontaneous vs. Mechanical Guilt
I see two basic types of guilt: spontaneous and mechanical. Spontaneous guilt stems from violating your own ethical code; mechanical guilt stems from violating family, societal and religious morality. Both guilts can feel similar with the exception of one significant difference. Spontaneous guilt happens before you violate your code, while mechanical guilt happens during or after an external code is violated. See for yourself. The next time you feel the onset of guilt, ask yourself if it's happening before the intended act or behavior, or during and/or after it. When the feeling of guilt arrives before taking action, you know you're about to do something that you personally disapprove of. The warning signal of spontaneous guilt also means you have not been punished yet. When the guilt happens during and/or after the act, it is too late; there was no warning. You have been punished.
If you proceed to violate your own code of ethics, you will probably feel remorse and regret for betraying yourself. If you violate an externally-imposed moral code, you will probably feel the automatic oppression of a punishing guilt. Mechanical guilt comes from violating a code that you did not create yourself and that was manufactured by external sources. Mechanical guilt can be traced back to family, societal and religious morals that we passively and unconsciously absorbed without ever questioning whether they were actually true for us or not.
We all undergo similar kinds of conditioning as children until we succumb to its machinations or rebel. Yet it may not be enough to just rebel if we do not replace the old robotic morality with a freshly minted code we can live by. Defining your own ethical code constitutes a creative act. This is why betraying your own code produces spontaneous guilt and not the mechanical guilt resulting from violating an externally-imposed, pre-fab morality assimilated long ago that you may no longer believe in, or never believed in the first place.
Family guilt keeps the kids in line and close to home with the ties that bind. Some of us suffer more family guilt than others. These are the late-bloomers in life whose burden of excessive family guilt complexes require more time to sort things out and differentiate themselves from the matrix of clan identity. For some, these ancestral moral traditions serve them well and there is no need to change anything. For others seeking liberation from the ties that bind, the way out is through the gauntlet of defining your own code of ethics and demonstrating the audacity to live by it. As we define and live by our own ethics, we step outside the boundaries of consensus morality and risk social banishment with labels such as "criminal," "artist," "hooligan," and "misfit." Those who continue fighting and rebelling against the established dominator moral culture risk persecution and scapegoating by the enforcers of herd morality.
Fighting against "the man" or "the machine" proves as futile as a fruit fly caught in the web of a giant spider; whatever we fight against absorbs us. Those who wake up and wise up to a more progressive revolt have discovered what is actually worth fighting for. Whatever is worth fighting for defines the good fight. When we know what is worth fighting for, there is no point in wasting our time and energy fighting against anything or anybody. As for me, the good fight amounts to fighting for consciousness itself and its unfettered expansion. As consciousness expands, we perceive more reality. As we see more, we are better informed about what we actually care about and what we honestly don't care for (trying to care about everything ends up caring about nothing). Unfettered expansion of consciousness evolves into conscience, a code that guides us according to our vision, not the unconscious dictates of inherited moral considerations.
©2009 Antero Alli
Image by exper, courtesy of Creative Commons license.