Human Relationships on a Sliding Scale

Kahlil Gibran 1913.jpg
Kahlil Gibran

We never have perfect relationships with others. We might find that we can discuss sports or the weather with some acquaintances, but any more substantive topics get us into trouble. We might say we can have a “2” relationship with them.

We might also have good friends with whom we can discuss a variety of things, perhaps we are even close with them, but religion, politics, and personal critique are off-limits. We may wish that we could be more honest with them but decide that avoiding conflict over these more substantive or personal issues is wise. With these friends or family members we might have a “5” relationship.

With our closest friends or confidants we might find that we can share almost anything without either party becoming upset or defensive. Still there might be a few personal topics or activities off-limits. Perhaps you have a “8” relationship with them. With our spouses of many years, we might find that they are almost another self; perhaps we have a “9” with them.

You might claim that you have a “10” relationship with yourself, but this is false. We all engage in self-deception, we are all motivated by irrational and unknown forces as Freud taught us a century ago. In fact others often know you better than you know yourself. I’m sure this ultimately has to do with our lack of complete knowledge about the world.

So it’s not possible to have a “10” relationship with anyone—unless you undergo a Vulcan mind meld with them! But is this a good or a bad thing, this lack of complete unity with others? Kahlil Gibran’s poetry seems to suggest it makes for a lonely life:

Life is an island in an ocean of loneliness, an island whose rocks are hopes, whose trees are dreams, whose flowers are solitude, and whose brooks are thirst. Your life, my fellow men, is an island separated from all other island and regions. No matter how many are the ships that leave our shores for other climes, no matter how many are the fleets that touch your coast, you remain a solitary island, suffering the pangs of loneliness and yearning for happiness. You are unknown to your fellow mean and far removed from their sympathy and understanding.

But perhaps it is not so bad either. Gibran concludes his little section “on life” with the following:

Your spirit’s life, my brother, is encompassed by loneliness, and were it not for that loneliness and solitude, you would not be you, nor would I be I. Were it not for this loneliness and solitude, I would come to believe on hearing your voice that it was my voice speaking,; or seeing your face, that it was myself looking into a mirror.

So Gibran thought that separation and loneliness are the price we pay for individualism. But is this price too high to? I didn’t think so when I first read Gibran more than 40 years ago, but I do now. We can be joined or separated. The more we are separated the more individual and lonely we become; the more joined the less individual and more connected we become. In the end we must hope that it is possible to remain a separate raindrop while merging into an ocean of being. (If we are allowed such a metaphor.) Thus we could experience both individuality and unity simultaneously. Perhaps our transhuman descendants will find a way to do this.

But there is a deeper problem here. And that is that we simply don’t possess the intellectual wherewithal to answer these questions. Life remains a mystery despite our best efforts to understand. We must live without answers to many of our queries. In the meantime we should accept whatever relationships we can have with others and be thankful we have them. Without them life is very lonely.

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2 thoughts on “Human Relationships on a Sliding Scale

  1. Transhuman refers roughly to the next stage of human evolution, when humans have moved beyond biological humanity and have become cyborgs, genetically engineered, had their minds uploaded into robotic bodies, etc.

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