Saturday, 10 October 2015

The untold key to building satisfactory relationships

Every few years, investigative reporters uncover scandals of some religious or social movement which, under the pretence of improving the world, serves only to enrich its leaders. This sort of exploitative phenomena are not new. Abundant examples of similar cases can be found in sources from previous centuries.

A large problem

Why do these abusive situations repeat themselves so frequently? What allows those harmful schemes to attract thousands of victims in different countries and historical periods? The response lies before our eyes: individuals feel alone and want to belong to a closely-knit group, even if that entails paying the highest price.

Men and women wish to be part of a community. We all desire to feel needed and appreciated. In a harsh city environment, a polite sentence or gesture may constitute a shocking act of generosity. Even self-serving, abject flattery can work once in a while in situations that have become so dehumanized that people are starving to hear a few nice words.

Isolation creates psychological vulnerability, which, on many occasions, turns into long-term dependence and subservience. Sociologists have come up with sophisticated theories to explain why people fall prey to heartless manipulators, but do we need a long chain of reasoning when direct observation can provide the answer?

The fundamental cause of such pernicious relationships is a false theory of friendship. It is a fact that, from infancy to retirement, men get together, talk, and cooperate. Although we see friendships begin everyday and fail every hour, in advantageous or disruptive conditions, we seldom take the time to reflect how the process works.

The wrong response

When it comes to making friends, commonplace advice has become integrated in the dominant culture to such an extent that it reigns uncontested. Traditional guidelines have been recycled and rehashed without much regard to veracity or scientific proof. Here are some bromides that are often served as entrée, main course, and dessert:
  1. Smile to random strangers.
  2. Do not express unpopular ideas.
  3. Avoid making controversial statements.
  4. Listen to others and never contest their views openly.
  5. Do not attract undue attention.
  6. Show interest in whatever stories people choose to tell you.
  7. Be flexible and avoid making clear-cut statements.
  8. Do not antagonize others by bringing up sensitive subjects.
  9. Cultivate small talk and avoid criticizing people.
  10. Do not embarrass others by pointing out obvious contradictions.
The list could be extended to comprise a hundred commandments. The issue is to determine whether those recommendations lead to friendship or to something else. What are the results of following such advice?

A flawed philosophy

Exhortations to avoid personal conflict may be meant to protect your career, but they possess a fatal weakness. Their effectiveness in hiding your true opinions becomes, at the same time, the poison that prevents you from developing any kind of deep, satisfying, involved personal relation.

Rational people do not choose their friends amongst those who avoid firm commitments, appear self-effacing, and sugar-coat their remarks. Playing down your personal views in order to please strangers will certainly minimize the amount of conflict in your life, but it will also render you invisible to potential friends, that is, those who share your values and convictions.

Being yourself is the untold key to building satisfactory relationships. If you choose to dissimulate your interests and beliefs for the sake of conformity, you might be accepted by a certain community, but only as an empty human shell. Is it worth it to give up your personality in order to enter a space where you essentially don't belong?

The rational approach

From time to time, when a situation so requires, it may be advisable for you to refrain speaking out your mind. Those cases tend to be exceptional in modern society. As a general rule, a man is better off by letting his philosophy inspire his words and gestures so that others can see him the way he is. In practical terms, this is what an open attitude entails:
  • Reserve your acts of kindness for people you like.
  • Do discuss about ideas, principles, and ethics.
  • If you believe that you are objectively right, take a clear position.
  • Remain open to examine evidence that contradicts your views.
  • When you make a mistake, apologize, and learn for the future.
  • Be polite, but if someone tries to force something upon you, just say no.
  • By pointing out contradictions to people who are willing to listen, you might prevent a catastrophe from occurring.
  • Seek truth and steer clear of insincere people. Liars are the sort of persons that you don't want to have in your life.
  • Choose deep, involved conversations over nonsensical, time-wasting trite.
A realistic theory of friendship begins with a commonality of interests and values. A life filled with empty social engagements is tantamount to an endless nightmare from which you never wake up. Seek out people who appreciate profound discussions and share your rational beliefs.

Offer consistency between form and substance and fly high the flag of your convictions. Be yourself and you will not fail to attract your perfect social match. True friendship is what binds those who share the same road and move forward in the same direction.


Image: Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2015.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books