Our culture is dominated by the emphasis on the individual hero’s journey to fulfillment, self-expression, and success. It comes at a huge price, leading to social alienation, spiritual disconnect, and mental illness. For we humans are in essence a species whose survival can be attributed to successful group interaction and relationships with each other.
The seeds of this disconnect can be found in the philosophies and theologies underpinning the mindset that led to the industrial revolution in the mid-18th century. Individualism became the core ideology in the United States in the late 19th century heavily influenced by the “survival of the fittest” doctrine of Charles Darwin.
The “lone wolf” hero
The philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, and others had a huge influence on modern economic, political and educational thought. The “lone wolf hero” coming out victorious against all odds remains a central theme in the sports arena, movies, books, and plays.
What is not taken into account is that the hero in real life will almost always have relied on a network of support from others.
It belies the fact that from the day you were born you were fed, clothed, educated, and shaped into the person you are today by your closest associations. In his meditations, the 16th-century English scholar and poet John Donne emphasizes this point with the famous poem: “No man is an island.”
The “relationship crisis” has led to the exploitation of the environment but in essence has its roots in the disconnect to the spiritual self. We cannot solve the environmental crisis without looking within.
Prior to the industrial revolution most of mankind was in sync with the natural world. Even today the still existing hunter and gatherer societies see themselves as an integral part of nature. The natural world is seen as a manifestation of the Creator of which mankind is one part.
Buber: I and Thou
German philosopher Martin Buber in his book Ich und Du (translated as I and Thou) finds that human life essentially finds meaning and purpose in relationships.
In this view, all our relationships ultimately bring us into a relationship with God or our Creator.
In the Christian mystic tradition, it is about finding God within. We are part of the creation matrix and not separate from it.
In the Gospel of St. Thomas, discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, Jesus is quoted as saying:
“See, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father (Saying 3, p. 654.9-21).
This is closely related to the words of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras:
“Man, know thyself: then thou shalt know the Universe and God.”
When you know yourself and especially your shadow you create the foundation for going into an authentic relationship. Most relationships fail because the shadow of the subconscious is triggered by the “other”. This is when ego takes over with typical self-talk such as “my needs aren’t being met”, or “I don’t have space for myself”, and all the other sentences that start with “I need…”
Buber describes the “I and though” authentic relationship as going far beyond two people interacting. It is based on mutuality, directness, and intensity where an “in-between” becomes manifest. The relationship has a greater dimension than the individual contributions of those involved.
When one meets the other as Thou, the unique and separate qualities of the other are acknowledged within the framework of the commonality of humanness.
Buber saw human development within a relational context as social beings who need love and care from others to survive from infancy and throughout a lifetime. Human isolation and the absence of these relationional needs inevitably impact mental health.
Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker
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