Mind, Body, Soul|Jan 29, 2006 5:24 AM| by:

Man and Society: Human Relationships

Human relationships can be a source of stress, as much as support and succour.  Often this goes quite unrecognised because we habitually associate stress with an external event, usually untoward.  But unlike the animal that is called upon to adapt to the environment and other species, man is called upon to adapt to his own kind.  Group-life is often a support for the animal.  But the same is not necessarily true for man.  No doubt, grouping and association safeguard him from external pressures, — economic, physical and environmental ones for instance.  It can also cushion him against other groups and organisations which are incompatible.  But the group in its own right can generate considerable internal pressure and stress on the individual.  The pressure to conform and perform, the expectations, the conflicts between the individual’s need to grow and the demand of the group are all examples of this.  These social pathologies may not always show themselves in the form of physical illness but they corrode the human soul and can even retard its growth and evolution.

Here we have to recognise the impulse for freedom in man.  An animal accepts the bonds of the group readily enough if its physical needs are met.  But man, forever unsatiated, nurtures inside an incorrigible rebel who is at once the source of his strength and failings.  It becomes his strength when it inspires him to live a lofty ideal.  It becomes his failing when, in a fit of despair and impatience, he turns this innate impulse into a blind revolt against everything.  Degraded and driven by a force for destruction, such an individual may well end up destroying himself or taking a devious turn, mistaking indulgence for freedom.

Individual and organisation

So it seems that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.  External control is necessary as long as man has not learnt the need and process of internal control.  Yet law and administration are not absolutes.  They are even fetters that retard the advance of a group.  If relied on too much, they may give some semblance of external order, but deep below they divest the mind of a true awakened conscience.  Given the first opportunity, the chained animal is let loose.  Breaking free, it runs riot, because for all its law and order, it had remained only a social animal, a part of the herd.  For a true social order, man has to grow from a mere social animal who follows external codes and norms of behaviour, to an awakened man who is inwardly free even when he chooses to limit himself to a particular field of activity.  The work we do is not our identity.  Our outward action is only one facet of what we are.  Our thoughts and feelings, motives and impulsions, hopes and failures, our deepest aspirations and much else that remains invisible to the outer eye, all act as a fuel of sacrifice for the work we do externally.  If the fuel is of high quality, the quality of the work will be naturally good.  If the wood is damp and squalid, the fire will be full of smoke and lose much of its capacity for warmth and heat.

This is a thing we do not always recognise in our dealings with others.  We look at external forms of behaviour and fail to gauge the motive and intention — we try to modify outer action but fail to change its basis.  We codify and classify men by their external work, — labourers and masters, bureaucrats and politicians, soldiers and administrators, and all those distinctions that mankind has developed in its yet unfinished search for an ideal social order.  These misleading identities have to be reinterpreted if we want to create some semblance of truth.  Human beings are not machines of production.  Neither are they nuts and bolts to be somehow fitted into the vast and complex machinery of society.  Man, in his deepest essence, is a soul that assumes a mind, life and body for a work.  That work is not merely done through his corporeal mentality and physicality.  Work, to begin with, is a means for an individual’s growth; the crude beginning in a long quest for perfection.  As he grows, it becomes more and more a means of expression through those still unprepared instruments of mind, life and body.  Seen this way, action is not merely what we do, but also what we think and feel, will and hope, seize and desire.  Every impulse towards an aim, however small that aim may be, is an action, even when the striving is not translated into a concretely visible outer and physical action. The success and achievement of a group or society is then not only in what they have done visibly and externally, but equally and perhaps more importantly, what it has achieved in the realm of thought and aspiration.  If it is only a question of some outer measure then an anthill or honeycomb is a far more remarkable structure than the Empire State Building, given the comparative scale and size of the ant.  The greatness of a Manhattan lies not so much in its size as in the fact that an individual or a group of individuals had dared to dream of touching the skies with the mud of earth.  Equal achievers are those who in the realm of poetry and philosophy, art and letters, music and painting, self-knowledge and self-mastery mate the high heavens with the obscure and unconscious stuff of matter.

Our ‘Self’

The problem of stress in human relationships arises from this fundamental ignorance of our true self and nature.  In our true self, of which we are usually ignorant, in ourselves as well as in others, we are each a soul, a portion of the divine Self — concealed and secret (as in ordinary humanity) or self-revealed (as in the saint and sage).  The concealment and revelation are done through the instrument of Nature which in an average human being, is complex enough to defy simple understanding.  We reflect in our natures both an atavism of past habits and associations and a future struggling for higher capacities.  The present is caught between the two.  An animal lives dumbly in the present.  His past is merely a habit of response.  It doesn’t limp through a haunting shadow of which it is painfully conscious.  Its future is a thin strip of minimum wants.  That’s why one finds a mechanical consistency in animals.  In man, the very complexity of his nature prevents this consistency. A coward in one part of the nature may well be a hero in another.  Unaware of this totality, we rashly judge others based upon our limited associations and interactions. A certain amount of plasticity and flexible variation is Nature’s boon to man, dispensed as an allowance towards his need for conscious growth.  Apart from this fallacy are our own projections and expectations based on our limited self-view and world-view that falsifies our comprehension of others.  Others too, unaware of the true self, often react and respond to our own projections, and so justify our false view.  As a result, we misjudge and end up in quarrels and disruptions more often than a mere temperamental mismatch might explain.

In our relationship with others we assume one of two false positions —

i.   That we are always right and perfect and others are wrong.  So we keep correcting other people’s world-view to conform to our own while we ourselves remain shut in the narrow shell of a few opinions and presumptuous ideas of life.

ii.   While we believe others to be quite imperfect in knowledge and understanding (compared to ourselves) we expect them to be perfect and flawless in their actions.  We want them to understand that we can err but seldom allow a margin of error for others.

This defect in our interactions develops at a very early stage.  As soon as the child begins to look around, we bombard him with ideas of right and wrong, good and bad.  We point out at each step all that is wrong in him, without truly showing the way out.  The child, afraid of making mistakes, refuses to explore and grow.  To jeer at a limping man is to make him a cripple for life.  He may never learn to walk again. Or else, the child in an eagerness to please and appear as a good child, learns to hide his difficulties from others and often himself.  He assumes a facade of socially acceptable behaviour and beneath lurks all the darkness and tremors of the subconscious which he has not worked through.  These elements can at any time erupt through the fragile barrier of the outer nature and disrupt his balance with vehemence and violence.  By pointing out his defects too often we only succeed in making him believe that he is nothing but a bundle of defects.  What we have to understand is that defects are not so much defects as a budding element of nature on its way to full blossoming.  Misunderstood, it appears an error of nature.  Rightly seen, it is the seed of a future perfection. Cut it off and you also cut off the possibility for growth.  Suppress it forcibly and you only succeed in locking up the entire creative energy.  To understand, gently and carefully guide, give it direction and show it the way of its own deliverance is what is required.

Happiness vs growth

This applies not only to a child but to all human relationships.  The stress towards mutual happiness and mutual security has to give way to mutual growth.  And it is this growth that gives true happiness and not what too easily passes off under the name of Love, which in its common usage is nothing but a cheap and short-lived thrill.  If collective growth and progress be the aim and ideal of all human group formations, it has to be a growth that does not grow by devouring others.  To devour is to eventually isolate until finally the spirit of devouring devours the devourer. What then is the intended growth and the process of achieving it?  One simple way is to ignore the darker side and encourage the positive in everyone.  To be truly effective this must start at an early age.  Once positive elements are strengthened, apparent difficulties in the nature can be understood and handled much better.  Often enough, they simply drop off or change into their true quality. Often too, we discover their true significance revealed then in a greater light.  We even see that all failings and errors only led and paved the way towards our growth.  Seeing in this way, we become quite naturally generous towards others.  We also see that much of the facade that passes off as good and virtuous is only a dumb inability, a fixed habit like the kindness of a deer and faithfulness of a dog rather than a living, vibrant, conscious virtue.

Relationships therefore, have to change from a negative, accusing and blaming, mutually destructive basis, to a new positive and mutually creative foundation. A deep relation of friendship, where one looks upon the best in another, would surely go a long way to diffusing much of the unnecessary tensions that can arise.  Psychologically, it would mean that the centre of the relationship must change from the vitalistic-physical to a more mentalised-psychic and if possible, spiritual basis.  For, in the spiritual, all antagonisms are reconciled.  The variations are embraced and accepted in an enlightened sense and not merely tolerated by the mind.  It would naturally mean an overall change in the centre from which we relate with others.  As long as our interests in life are centred around vital-commercial things, as long as we are preoccupied with the body and its preservation, it is difficult to change the basis of our relationships.  An overall and fundamentally radical change is required in our aims and interests.  It is our inlook on ourselves that determines our outlook towards others.  What we see in others is largely a projection of ourselves.  A man of courage can more readily recognise courage in others than a coward.

This then is the best way of taking the stress off our relations.  It is by changing ourselves from within that we can think of improving our relations with the world.