Q: What makes a Human, Human?
A: The ability to relate!
Relationships are the integral part of our life. We are born in relationships. The ability to relate with others around us separates us from animals and makes us humans. Does that mean that animals do not have the capability to relate? Animals do relate with other animals around them but they do not have to make a “conscious” effort for it. Relationships in animals are more or less regulated by nature. Their relationships are “naturally” breed-centric. Though, with some human interventions they can be “conditioned” to exhibit certain characteristics which otherwise they wouldn’t. The scope of conditioning and deviation from their natural conduct, in case of animals is very limited, in comparison to humans. In fact, we currently find it quite debatable, what is “natural” for a human being! Relationships in a particular breed of animals are almost consistent, it means all the animals of a particular breed are found to relate in almost the similar fashion and their relationships can be studied with external observations. We can talk with a lot of certainty about the nature of relationships in a particular breed of animals. Question which comes here is — are we able to talk about human-human relationships in the similar manner? The answer is a big NO.
In case of human beings, every human being seems to be fulfilling relationships in his/her own ways. If we consider entire human race as one breed then our relationships cannot be studied in the ways we study animals. Every human being seems to have a different understanding of human relationships. Our understanding and fulfilment of relationships is highly influenced by our gender, language, environment, education, experiences, culture, economical and political conditions and all the things we are exposed to in our entire upbringing. For example, if I am brought up in an environment in which I am made to believe that people of a particular religion/ sect/race/ideology are not good then I will not be able to relate with people of that religion/sect/race/ideology. Those who “fit” in such acquired notions of ours are generally the people we like and are able to relate to. Those people who do not “fit” into these notions, generally we do not like them and we are not able to relate to them. Our notions of liking and disliking are major contributors to our relationships.
However, even our notions of liking and disliking are also not consistent. They keep on changing with time. Today we may like somebody, but tomorrow we may not. Similarly today we may be appreciated by somebody for certain qualities, but tomorrow we may not be. Relationships based on liking and disliking are not consistent and we generally expect consistency in relationships. There are a few questions which come at this juncture:
- What relationships really are?
- What are the expectations and feelings involved in relationships?
- How do we have consistently fulfilling relationships with others? And
- How mutually fulfilling relationships influences our happiness, evolution, society and nature?
Discussion on all these aspects is the subject matter of this book.
With whatever understanding of human relationships we have, all of us can observe one thing in common that we wish for good, fulfilling and satisfying relationships. When relationships are going good, we feel happy and when they are going bad, we feel sad. We want our relationships to go well, but most often they don’t, and that becomes the cause of our sorrow. There are several reasons for relationships to not go the way we expect them, like wrong basis of relationships, relationships being given less priority than what they deserve, several conditionings which we have accumulated in our entire upbringing interfering in them, lack of understanding of expectations and feelings in relationships and several others. This is one of the major hypotheses of the book that we wish to have good relationships with others around us, but we are not able to build them due to “our own” lack of understanding of ourselves and the nature of human relationships. If this understanding of human nature and relationships is set right, then our relationships can be set right.
To understand human relationships, there is a need to understand human nature. Without understanding human nature, human relations cannot be understood. It is the nature of a human being to relate with others. To have good, healthy and warm relationships with others around, is a natural desire in a human being. Whether we are able to fulfil this desire or not, is a different issue, but we wish and hope for good relationships with others around us. The key to good relationships is “Acceptance”. We want acceptance in relationships. To have good and mutually fulfilling relationships with people:
- We want other person to accept us,
- We want acceptance in ourselves for other person and
- We also want acceptance of ourselves in ourselves.
All the three kinds of acceptances are necessary to have mutually fulfilling relations with people. Acceptance of the third kind is the most important one. Accepting oneself is at the base of accepting the other person. Without accepting oneself, one cannot accept others. The more one is able to accept oneself and others, the need to gain acceptance from others keeps decreasing, and one keeps becoming more and more unconditional in relationships. “Unconditional Acceptance” for oneself and for other person is the demand and also the basis of any consistently fulfilling relationship.
Acceptance is a heavily loaded word with several ideas. Understanding “acceptance” requires understanding of several more ideas like Trust, Respect, Mutual Understanding, Affection, Care, Guidance, Gratitude and Love. All these terms are closely connected to each other. For example – without trust, mutual understanding and respect, there cannot be any acceptance and/or a relationship. Trust and respect are the foundation values in a relationship. The unfortunate thing is, we want to be trusted, we want to be respected, we want to be understood, we want to be accepted unconditionally, but we ourselves lack the capability to trust, respect, understand and accept others. We do not want others to put any condition on us, but we ourselves put thousands of conditions on others in a relationship. This is the root cause of all the relationships related problems we see. This idea of “Unconditional Acceptance” is elaborated in great detail in the book.
There are several feelings in relationships. Not all are dominating in all the relationships. Some feelings are dominating in some and others are dominating in others. For example, feeling of gratitude is dominating in Teacher-Student relationship; Feelings of care and guidance are dominating in Parent-Child relationship. Different kinds of relationships have same base feelings but different dominating feelings and different dignities. Inter-gender relationship is also one of the important kinds. There are two chapters in the book, dedicated to inter-gender relationships. They cover the aspects related to Male-Female relationships and Sexuality. Male-Female relationships and Sexuality have certain issues which generally do not arise in other relationships. All these issues related to inter-gender relations and sexuality are discussed in these two chapters.
Relationships are not only limited to feelings, emotions and fulfilment. They have a very important role in our other dimensions of life as well. They are not only important in our personal life, but also play a very important role in our professional life, in the society we live in, the way we interact with nature and also in our spiritual growth. All the dimensions of our living are closely connected with each other; they interact and impact each other. There is an intricate and fragile relation between all the dimensions of our living. Failure at one dimension leads to disaster at others.
Relationships are very important for building a harmonious society. A society cannot be conceptualized without the feeling of “Mutuality and Relatedness” among the individuals who constitute it. Without mutuality and relatedness, a set of individuals will be called a crowd with contracts but not a society. A society is an institution which provides following three things to the constituting individuals:
- Security of livelihood and respect,
- Environment for building better relationships among themselves and
- Sufficient time, space and opportunities for the evolution of all the faculties of all the individuals.
A human being is also related to Nature. Relationship with Nature is not much focused on, in our mainstream books, but is very important to be understood in order to understand human nature and human relationships. The way we see Nature, it impacts Nature and also us. It is seen that those who are closely connected with Nature, have better human-human relationships as well. Nature has a lot to teach in all the aspects of our living.
A human being is an evolving being. One grows materially, emotionally, socially and also spiritually. Spiritual growth is also closely connected with human relationships. Relationships have the power to de-condition us, challenge our pre-conceived notions, challenge our egos and make us realize the things which otherwise may be very difficult to understand. Every relationship is like a mirror which helps one seeing one’s True Self. If one has the zeal to see oneself and grow spiritually, then relationships could act like great mirrors. To fulfil a single relationship consistently with mutual fulfilment is more difficult than climbing the Mount Everest. All these aspects of relationships are discussed in the later part of the book.
Finally the conclusion is, “Relationships are Just There!” in all the dimensions of our living. They are indispensable. We cannot do away with them. They are our need, our basic characteristic, and our basic identity. As we shall see in the coming chapters, we cannot make or break the relationships; we can only recognize their ever active presence.
(I had written this article as an introduction to the book, I was requested to write by Hay House Publishers (http://www.hayhouse.com/) on topic “Relationships”. I couldn’t find time to write it, but here is what I had written earlier.)