Monday, November 3, 2014

Cultivating Personal Relationships with Impersonal Elements

          There are two usual kinds of relationships, and one special kind that I want to talk about. The first usual kind is identity, which is one’s relationship with oneself. While other people and things are inextricably involved in one’s identity, the identity relationship could still be considered intrasubjective-- it’s just me and how I go about being me.
The other usual kind of relationship is intersubjective, which takes place between two people. I want to highlight three modes of intersubjective interaction in decreasing order of intensity:

  • Reaching out: People can be proactive about the other, do things for them, think about them, and approach them to engage.
  • Response: If addressed, people can respond.
  • Regard: If addressed, people can be present and aware. This last category might seem negligible, but regard is important enough that we strongly prefer to share our thoughts with people (even when we’re not looking for their feedback) rather than with walls.
          These categories would seem to exhaust all possible types of relationships, but I have been finding myself more and more wanting a third category, to refer to the relationships I have with non-subjects. For now I’ll call these relationships without regard (would love something catchier).
I do not believe that any of these entities know that I exist, and many of them don’t know anything at all. None of them reach out, respond, or regard. And yet, here are some things I find myself in relationship with:
  • Death
  • Love
  • Nature
  • Earth
  • Life
  • The Whole
  • Judaism
  • People no longer alive
  • Fictional characters
  • Celebrities
          All but the last three I would label “Abstract/Institutional” and the last three are labeled “People out of reach.” Here is what I get from them that I want to think of as the basis of relationship:

  • Relativity: My identity and intersubjective relationships all exist relative to the more abstract/institutional elements. I find/explore/expand my identity and relationships through them.
  • Resonance: I feel a connection with these people, and I continue to find my life enriched or living in response to them. While I am not an active presence for them, they are still an active presence for me.
          With the abstract/institutional elements, I’m finding myself wanting to build a richer relationship with them. They are major elements in my life, and so I feel… compelled to relate to them directly, to address them. I don’t feel satisfied simply experiencing the relativity and the resonance. I want to use “Thou” (or, less archaically, You) with them. And I want to do so in a way in which it’s clear that I don’t expect an intersubjective relationship. It’s for this reason that I don’t call any of them “God.”
          I think that’s all for now, but it feels like an important step. This third category of relationship creates an opportunity for secular spirituality that isn’t personal reflection or interpersonal dialogue but rather, a reaching out to larger elements.

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