The fault in our relationships

Today’s topic of reflection is relationships. Relationships are basic components of our lives as highly social beings. Probably most of us are part of several relationships at the same time, but it can often be hard to glimpse behind their thick layers. Frequently, relationships are extremely complex and can easily become a source of great pain. I was wondering how people unconsciously cross this invisible bridge between happiness and the point where their relationships are mostly filled with heavy feelings of sadness, anger, frustration and shame. Any kind of relationship, either with family members, friends or with a partner can, at any given moment in life, seem like an inescapable labyrinth that weighs down on you. You can, all of a sudden, find yourself in a relationship that seems absolutely broken, in a lonely place where the person who used to bring the most joy to you is now floating on the parallel bank of the same river. If in the past you used to walk hand in hand, in the same direction, reaching for the same goals, now you feel alone and misunderstood. Or worse still, you feel like you are not being cared for or listened to attentively. It is a strange situation dominated by feelings of isolation and disconnection even though you might be sitting right next to other people. At this point, any attempt at communication is a complete failure because you and the other person in the relationship are on different frequencies. It is almost like you both want to transmit a message and receive a message and you do your best to put together a concise message that can communicate your feelings. However, you fail because you are using distinct communication mediums. Say, it is similar to one using a phone and the other using an email. It ends in a connection error.

I started to brood over relationships after watching a few Romanian short films (available on http://www.cinepub.ro with English subtitles, if you are interested). These shorts portrayed exactly a tangled spiderweb of painful and damaged relationships that suddenly explode and discharge cruel words and agonizing sounds. We can all agree that this type of extreme communication is damaging, but once in a while it sweeps over us, almost like a cold taking us by surprise each autumn. Sometimes, humans reach their limits and they need to release all the anger, the frustration, the anxiety, the shame, the bitterness, the despair, the jealousy, all the feelings that have been piling up inside of them. When we arrive at the point of utter fragility and desperation, our relationships become so dramatic that the tiniest of things can set us on fire. It is not about what has been said or what has been done, it is just the last blow, the icing on the cake or a mere raindrop added to a violent inner storm.

Dramatic portrayals of characters and relationships in the short films: a woman choosing solitude over attending a New Year’s Eve party because her friends invited her in the last moment and she felt betrayed (ask: what are your expectations of a friendship?; what is your conception of friendship?); a couple blaming each other for tiny mistakes or sudden actions during tense external occurrences; siblings fighting because of an unequal distribution of responsibilities in the family; an overprotective father and his daughter keeping secrets and fighting for her freedom; disagreements and shouts between spouses on how to treat their child; a man expressing his anger over the fact that he feels unsupported by his wife, daughter, brother and parents; a woman being ignored by a husband who is so taken with reading a newspaper and feeling invisible in her own house , etc. All these intense portrayals of relationships and the feelings that arise inside them illustrate examples of thwarted communication. We could argue that they are intensified or dramatized in order to create more artistic films. However, I suspect that the shorts can have such a strong impact on the viewers exactly because they feel so real. I can identify the intricate details inside my own relationships and in the relationships of people that surround me. The ultimate feeling that arguments, fights and miscommunication bring to an individual is that of isolation. Imagine being in a dark cave, completely alone! You are withdrawn from the world at that moment. It is as if your partner, friend or family member is not concerned with your feelings at all. You feel as if no one listens to you, or rather that they appear to be listening, but your words do not reach them.

Each of us have been, are or will be at some point in a situation where the way we communicate is not functional anymore. Our desires, needs, wants, goals, feelings and thoughts dissipate in the air and the person near to us seems so distant, so removed from ourselves. Maybe communication is not the problem, but rather our connection. The fact is that maybe we need more time to look within ourselves to find solutions, to listen more attentively to our feelings  instead of looking to the other person for solutions and advice. In a way, we are very self-absorbed and everything is about we, we, we…how we feel, how we suffer, how overwhelming the feeling of loneliness is, how bad was our day, our week, our entire year. Maybe it is better to start taking small steps for improving the connection in the relationship by doing pleasurable things together and by actively listening to the other. I believe that we have, in general, become so selfish that we don’t really know how to actively listen to people with an open mind and heart. We listen in order to reply and to advance our points of view. Let’s direct our attention towards our inner selves! Let’s listen and understand more!Let’s identify our painful feelings at the incipient stages and express them in a thoughtful and loving way! Let’s try to deal effectively with the fault in our relationships!

 

 

A small step for a big change: Rational compassion

Big sister comforts and embraces her little brother to alleviate fears and anxieties

Human nature is a concept that has been debated for thousands of years by philosophers,  and more recently by psychologists, a wide range of scientists, but also by common people. This concept is essential to comprehending our own nature and our purpose on Earth. While there is no common definition or shared understanding of human nature, I believe that empathy is a prevalent characteristic of human beings. Whereas human nature differs substantially from individual to individual and is understood and manifests itself distinctly across countries, cultures and communities, oftentimes there is this shared feature of humans: empathy. We can connect that to the fact that across cultures and borders people seem to want similar things, such as health and happiness, in whichever way they might manifest themselves for the individual. The desire to be healthy might be associated with what the Epicureans suggested of human nature: that it is quintessential to our nature to avoid pain and to seek pleasure. Thus, when witnessing suffering in any perceivable way, in ourselves or others, our instinct is to avoid or to remove the cause of pain. That is a natural reaction because our first response to human suffering is feeling emotionally touched and feeling empathy.

The next thing we could do is to act on the feeling of empathy in a rational way. That would bring us exactly to rational compassion, a concept supported and spread by Paul Bloom through his book “Against Empathy: The case for rational compassion”. We could easily employ our rationality to act on our feelings of empathy if we believe ourselves to be rational beings, as Aristotle claimed. How can we use rational compassion in our societies? How can we apply it to make countries a bit better for their inhabitants? For instance, as Paul Bloom suggested, we could commit to analyzing which charities and NGOs are the most efficient worldwide and start by donating a certain monthly amount to these organizations.

More specifically, how can we use rational compassion in my own country, Romania? First of all, the most useful thing would be for each of us to change the perception we have of animals and people in need of support, money or treatment by educating ourselves and by reading more about manners of contribution to those in need. I believe that in Romania there is a high need of workshops and seminars conducted throughout schools and universities that could lead to future generations understanding that less is more. Give a bit of what you have, renounce some of your material possessions and you can help others lead a better live! What is more, there is a dire need for pupils, students and other categories of people to get involved with charities and NGOs, to learn more about these organizations and to start volunteering. The more direct contact with and the more awareness of societal issues we have, the more we can develop the feeling of empathy and act on it afterwards. I also believe that certain sensitive issues that people misconceive should be publicly discussed in educational environments. Therefore, universities in Romania should learn from internationally famous universities that have a variety of societies for like-minded people. These associations provide students with an adequate space to socialize, to generate revolutionary ideas and to create innovative projects. The student societies we usually lack in Romania and we definitely need are: LGBT and feminist groups, animal rescue and animal protection groups, environmental groups. and minorities’ rights groups. Another thing to do is to use crowdfunding and other social platforms to raise awareness of those in need. For example,  someone can create a webpage dedicated to marginalized, peripheral villages inhabited by Roma people, who are in need of better housing conditions, jobs, education for children, a stable source of electricity, running drinkable water and so on. A considerably numerous group of empathy-led people could take everything in their own hands and alternately go to the village to teach the children who do not have access to school.They could also gather second-hand things and donate them to the people in the village and make a campaign to raise money in order to improve the living conditions of the village inhabitants. Last, but not least, a pressure group can be formed to force the local authorities to deal with the electricity and water problems. This is just one possible example, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of such cases in Romania, from poor children, orphans, lonely and sick elders, abandoned animals to mistreated wildlife and so on. I want to believe that we can act on our empathy and transform it into rational compassion for the better of the country. But what Romania needs most is ‘acting’ and people who would be willing to do something. Unfortunately, most people sit and discuss the corruption and the miserable state of the country. Stop complaining, start doing Romania! Life is not going to give you lemons for your lemonade, you have to grab them for yourselves!