The desire to love and be loved, to “know and be known”, to be seen and acknowledged for our unique gifts and contributions, and to feel part of a group who sees us and cares for us, is a fundamental human need. In my frame it is THE fundamental human need outside of physical survival. It is a need that gets fulfilled (or not), every minute of the day through our interactions with people, be they friends, family, lovers, colleagues, or strangers at the check-out counter.
If you agree with this, then consider these questions:
First: Why does nobody talk about this, or even admit it (that their deepest desire is to love and be loved, and to be seen and acknowledged for their contributions)? Why do we (mostly) pursue these needs totally unconsciously, achieving success only by “accident” as it were? Why are our personal relationships, our communities and our politics such shit-shows, more often that not? Why is the “loneliness epidemic” as bad now as it’s ever been in human history?
And second: why is it so difficult for most of us to actually “be” that loving (or kind, patient, generous, present and non-reactive) person whom we aspire to be — the person we know, deep in our hearts, that we can be? What is this cruel and bizarre cosmic joke, that makes it so difficult to actually do the thing we know we want to do, the one thing that would solve the problem, not just for us but for everyone we touch? Either God is a sadist, or there is something going on here which baffles the mind.
In my way of thinking, all these frames are true. This problem (of the difficulty of doing and being the thing that we want the most) is unfathomable and impossible to truly “grok”. We can only hypothesize about this.
It is also true, however, that Western culture doesn’t do much to help us in our journey to becoming authentic and loving human beings. This problem is actually both “grokkable” and solvable. alghough it does take courage. More about this below in the section “the deck is stacked against you — but don’t give up”.
But first: why does God appear to be a sadist?
I cannot give an “answer” to this question, exactly. I can only give you two frames which I find helpful. These frames open up more questions than they answer, but they are still, from my perspective, a good beginning to a conversation around this. A conversation, by the way, which I long to have with more people. I myself, am as much a victim of the “loneliness epidemic” as anyone else. Maybe worse, because of my characterology.
The first frame is that the battle between good and evil are part of the fabric of creation. Neither one could exist without the other, and hence each one only has meaning (or distinction) by reference to its opposite. We can, perhaps, imagine that God-the-sadist’s intention is to throw these problems in our way, in order for us to have the pleasure of solving them and getting back to the party as quickly as possible. There is actually a famous thought experiment called The Experience Machine which demonstrates this fundamental truth: that we enjoy our suffering. We humans appear to be drawn to both the light and the dark.
The second frame is the one given by Scott Peck in his classic book The Road Less Traveled: personal development is an arduous, life-long journey. Were it not so, life would be boring.
But regardless of these “higher truths” (if you can call them that)…
In Western culture, the deck is stacked against you — but don’t give up yet
The ideas in the previous paragraph may be of little comfort when your child dies, your family has suffered genocide, or you yourself face the executioner’s noose for no other reason than the color of your skin. I present these ideas, therefore, with great mystery and humility. I don’t fully get it and it makes no sense at all, really. It’s just not right.
But there is good news here. There actually IS something that you can do about this: you can start by acquiring relational intelligence, and from there start to challenge the cult-psychology that Western culture swims in, and which very few people have any awareness of (although many are starting to raise their voices, most famously Gabor Mate and Brene Brown). I have written a book about this, it’s called Relational Power.
So, why is personal development so arduous?
I have chosen the Authentic Relating and Circling movement as my personal developmental practice and community. I go into the reasons for that choice in great details in Relational Power, and I won’t repeat it here. You have, hopefully, your own personal development practice, community or religion.
I am pulling the next few paragraphs from Relational Power, and asking you to substitute [your practice] for what I am calling here “Authentic Relating”. Authentic Relating is not new, I believe rather that it simply a new — albeit, very effective — articulation of a very ancient idea. Along with a practice community, which is very valuable and probably essential.
The fact remains that is very challenging to be present and loving in an emotionally illiterate culture, a culture that is preoccupied and obsessed with performance and achievement, rather than connection and well-being. A culture ridden with [mostly unconscious] developmental trauma, and dominated by cult psychology. A shame-based culture which is fundamentally and tragically disconnected and ignorant of the fundamental human needs of belonging and impact/contribution. You might ask yourself: What can I do?
This is a problem that is only solvable through courage and vulnerability. You have to model to others how you want them to show up for you. You must “teach only love”.
“Authentic Relating” is usually not easy. It’s not easy because it will fundamentally challenge your identity and your self-concept (which you are probably quite attached to). It may even awaken all your ghosts of fear, self-loathing, self-victimization and rage, or worse, who will come out and demand to be seen and acknowledged by you, whether you are ready to receive them or not. If you can do it successfully, however, it will likely be the most rewarding thing you have ever done.
In Western culture it is a natural human reaction to push away strong emotion of any kind, especially negative or blameful thoughts and emotions, and to respond with judgment and distancing. This is considered normal. As a result, many of us walk around with a lot of anxiety, loneliness and pain that has nowhere to go and which then feeds on itself, creating an even greater feeling of separation from other human beings. Hardly anyone, really, gets the quality of attention that would enable them to shift the painful sense of separation that we all feel sometimes, and that some of us feel all the time. Our interactions with people tend to be quite functional, sometimes even the people closest to us. We tend to put a lot of effort into deeply cloaking our humanity. We are taught that this is the way things are and that we just have to get used to it, and we do our best to put a happy face on it (because we fear that if we didn’t, we would feel even more isolated). And our effort to pretend that everything is okay when it really isn’t, obviously compounds the problem.
But there is good news here, which is that we don’t have to cloak our humanity. We can strive for all of our interactions with people to have truth and care in them, which also, ironically, makes us much more effective in all spheres of life.
The idea of Authentic Relating is to respond to people from an assumption that everyone desires, at some level, to love and be loved, to know and be known, to belong. The need to belong, to be part of a group who knows us and cares for us, is deeply embedded in the context of being human, for the obvious reason that in the tribal culture from which we came, belonging is life-and-death. The need to belong continues to underlie much of our behavior but is rarely something that people talk about or even admit.
The practice of Authentic Relating is to interact with people with the assumption that they want to belong, to be valued and cared of, and to be acknowledged for their contributions. It is a fairly simple and extraordinarily powerful practice that consists, fundamentally, in leading with vulnerability and providing quality attention and compassion to people. It is an exercise that can be done with no prior agreement and which is virtually guaranteed to transform all of your relationships.
Can we end patriarchy?
Such a foolish dream!
And yet I do dream it. And I am not alone.
Werner Erhard says about this:
“We can choose to make the success of all humanity our personal business. We can choose to be audacious enough to take responsibility for the entire human family. We can choose to make our love for the World what our lives are really about. […] It will require courage, audacity and heart. It is much more radical than a revolution, it is the beginning of a transformation in the quality of life on our planet. It is much more radical than a revolution, it is the beginning of a transformation in the quality of life on our planet” — Werner Erhard (full quote here)
Could we really be that audacious?
You cannot end patriarchy (or capitalism, which is its bed-fellow) through political action, really, because no political party anywhere in the world has announced a credible platform. At least not since the Dalai Lama fled Tibet, or Marianne Williamson ran for President. You have to do it through love, or what we call “each one teach one”.
My solution? Well, I write books, and I practice what I call “Authentic Relating on the street”. Meaning that I make jokes, give compliments, ask questions and elicit deeper sharing and connection wherever I show-up, with both friends and strangers. It’s a humble strategy but it’s super-fun for me and usually for them. Read more about this in my new book.
Once again: this is not my idea alone.