The single biggest challenge that has confronted us as humanity is that of relationships.
In this I include the broad sweep of romantic relationships, other forms of love, friendships, general co-existence with each other and our relationship with the planet.
Relationships are tough.
And they are our greatest source of joy.
So what’s going on here? Here are some random thoughts….
a) One, that while relationships are important, we have not learnt to prioritise them.
Again and again work takes priority or we give our energy to easier time wasters rather than go out and make genuine contact. What we say and what we do have this huge gap and it is best captured by regrets of the dying, which mostly have to do with spending more time with their loved ones and communicating authentically.
b) Two, that we grossly underestimate what it takes to make relationships work.
The complexity of a relationship between to sovereign free thinking (and feeling people) who have to share, make decisions and optimise so many aspects of their lives is IMMENSE. It is seriously hard. To my mind it requires ideas from many different disciplines (psychology, economics, communication, philosophy etc) combined with skills that are currently way beyond the average person (like deep listening and negotiations)
c) Three, that we have unrealistic expectations from people and relationships.
We’re flawed. We lie. Being authentic all the time is nearly impossible. And pointless. We have shadows. In our own heads, we are saints. We have an incredible capacity to weave stories out of very little evidence and believe in them as truths. We have sides of us that want to hate, kill and be malevolent.
Yet, we’re expecting the other to be an ideal (including an ideal that has traces of our parents + bollywood + the ‘perfect’ man/woman) and NOT change the parts of themselves that we find pleasing.
d) Four, that life is happening around relationships all the time.
Things change, priorities change, values change. Events come and shape us, our personalities play out, our preferences create drifts. Our relationships exist in this (often) dysfunctional world with all its mess. Event after event, things keep coming up and the day we will have time to catch up never happens.
Moreover, the system saps our vitality — which we need to reach out to others, to watch their backs and stay in touch. It almost seems that ‘my life right now is so tough that I can’t reach out and be there for others’. That is not very likely to change too soon.
Life is short. We’ll die soon. So it’s a good time to catch up.
e) Five, that relationships follow a game-theory like structure. Even if we don’t admit it, love has an aspect of power, of negotiating, or pushing back and setting boundaries. Of being in touch with one’s own needs and having them met by communicating them effectively.
All this works very well as long as both people are co-operating. But the moment there is hurt, and one person defects, it leaves the other person with a choice. What will they do? Will they continue to co-operate and hold space for their partner? Or will the also defect — bring up the past, up the stakes or claim to be offended and upset?
With both people defecting (or playing black as we call it in BRM), we rapidly erode whatever was built in years. We get locked in the classic prisoner’s dilemma and can stay there forever.
f) Six, we dump our stuff onto relationships rather than owning it.
For most of us, relationships become the dump site for our insecurities, our shadows and all that is incomplete about us. Our poor partners are left dealing with this, while we do the same for them. Rather than owning up our own issues and working them out we project them.
There is no better way to understand and work these things through rather than in the crucible of relationships. But to ‘use’ them as a dumping ground is plain unfair. Not happening.
No wonder then, things get messy.
g) Seven, we do not think through the choices we make.
It is hard to take decisions, given the number of variables we have to consider. Then, we do lazy thinking rather than discipline ourselves and think from first principles about what’s important to us, how will this choice pan out and how will things look like if they go really, really wrong.
As a result then, we’re left with consequences of bad choices. And if we don’t learn from our patterns, life has a great way to repeat them till we get the point. And this is also seriously painful.
Thinking together as a culture seems to be even more absent — like we ‘meta’ reflecting on how are we doing as a relationship.
h) Eight, that nothing around us is helping us do this better
Our previous generations have older models of relating that won’t fully work. Around us, tech is pushing us to make the convinient choices and not the right ones. Our carefully built brain chemistry gets rattled at the slightest sign of conflicts.
We aren’t given skills to do this so mostly learn by trail and error, by heart break and by fumbling through. There aren’t enough ways and spaces to clear up baggage that keeps piling up (I feel more than the net debt that the world has raked up, it is the net emotional baggage that we need to work on clearing)
One of my dreams is that we are all woven in a web of deep, intimate and authentic relationships where wisdom mutually unfolds, where our own journey deepens and we become more complete human beings, we connect with ourselves deeper and enjoy the brief and fleeting co-travelling that being alive affords us.
It is a high possibility that Life is one grand love affair. If that is true, then all we are here to do is to love and be-loved, becoming more and more skilled lovers.
More than grand projects of humanity, this small humble one — of healing all relationships in life and being nourished by them, this somehow seems more worthwhile.