Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Resist the Storm

A wise friend of mine wrote to me yesterday and said that a valuable way to think of relationships with others is to think of them as relationships with yourself. I have been mulling this over quite a bit and thought I would put it out there to see what the rest of you think.

I take her to be saying--and this follows on the discussions we have been having about teaching and the logic of victimization--that if one always looks to the other's behavior, actions, and words as signs of the health of the relationship--the betweenness--then one will inevitably find him or herself regularly unfulfilled. The idea here, again, is that happiness is not to be found in Others. In fact, happiness is not to be found in other things.

Happiness is a more mysterious process. Perhaps happiness is a by-product of engaging in activities that justify your life, that bring you health, and that make the world a bit better. Happiness, therefore, comes to us when we stop demanding it. This theme was explored well in a film by former philosophy major, Jill Sprecher, 13 Conversations about One Thing. In this film, Sprecher borrows quite a bit from Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness.

Back to my wise friend's view about relationships--that one should view a relationship with another as ultimately a relationship with oneself--I cannot help but think that she is right about this. We have so little control over the lives of others. This is abundantly clear in my attempts to mold my daughter's life. Already her personality is emerging with its own ideas, preferences, and attitudes towards things. We have more control over our own ideas, attitudes, and actions.

I do not mean to endorse an overly stoic view of relationships. I am not really a very good stoic. I am too passionate about life. But, I think that the challenges that arise in all relationships, particularly in the student-teacher relationship, invites us to reflect not on how to exhort the needy other to pull his or her own weight, but rather on what is required to sustain us and weather us through the storms of others.

The attraction to be drawn into the dance of anger and the logic of victimization is too great. It requires constant vigilance to ward off this temptation. The student who wants to pick a fight with us because she overwhelmed or frightened is better served by our resolve to "will cheerfulness" in the face of her storming. If we don't get pulled into her drama, if we stand firm and perhaps offer a model of weathering a storm, she is ultimately better served. But to be able to do this is to give up a need or expectation that others need to be someone else to warrant our concern.

Others are who they are. They are on their own paths of becoming and their own rates. Our job is to perhaps be the "resistance" to their more destructive acts. I am borrowing this notion of resistance from both Sartre and De Beauvoir, who argue that our nature, as humans, is to negate what is given and move beyond. In this act of negation, we inevitably run up against resistances--either people, events, or things. And, some resistances might present us with a helpful invitation to reorient our direction.

I wonder if in relating to others by relating to ourselves, we are posing ourselves as a kind of important resistance to threatening projects.

What do the rest of you think?

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