How Close Can You Be To Another Person?

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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5 thoughts on “How Close Can You Be To Another Person?

  1. Didn’t Someone, once say, that if you have one or two ‘Friends’ that is all you can expect and having one or two makes you more favored than many!

    We have to learn to be at peace with ourselves, we are, and always will be, the only ones who’s origin is in our minds, and, as such, is the only one we can have influence over and mold to be the person we are happy to spend our time with.

  2. In the future pets and bots will be the only genuine, true friends we will have. As things become more complicated, people will become more complicated and disingenuous—from the layers of obfuscation added to their lives.
    Think back to simpler times: friendships were better because life was simpler; friendship is based on simplicity and candor, not complication and insincerity.
    Have to get used to it, unless one wishes to move to the countryside where life is very hard yet very prosaic. Today’s conservatives are Clueless! They still think cities and suburbs can be friendly religious places; they are hopelessly behind, living in their minds forty years ago in Reaganland.

  3. We are stamped in the womb with a unique DNA and fingerprints that makes each of us a unique individual. No one else, not even an identical twin, shares our individuality. “We have to walk that lonesome valley and we have to walk it alone. Nobody here can walk it for you.” But I like to think we can share some parts of this journey with another kindred spirit.

  4. Thank you for your article, it is very interesting.

    ” In fact others often know you better than you know yourself.”.

    I am skeptical about this. What you mention, I think, applies more to simpler people, i.e. if one is a “simpleton”, then, yes, chances are that other people, IF they are more intelligent, will know the simpleton “better”. But can it be possible that a random person in the crowd could know more about about Socrates, or Russell, or even anyone with just a decent dose of intellect, than the persons themselves? I really doubt it, John. Can a mediocre person, i.e. someone who never made any great enquiries, know you better than you know yourself, who have made enquiries all your life, including about yourself?

    I remember a music tutor in a class asked me if other people could know me, I immediately said “no”. He said: “Well, how can you learn anything about you?”. I didn’t say anything back because back then I was a lot more ignorant and insecure ( the former is a bad thing, the latter not so bad, for as Russell puts it: “Stupid people are cocksure; intelligent people are full of doubts”) , but even then, I immediately answered the tutor in my mind: ” How can you learn about yourself, you ask? I don’t know. All I know is that this should be YOUR job: to know yourself.”.

    Now, if we talk about how we -interact with other people- , here I am the first to say that I have always been completely clueless. But “to know yourself” is a whole other matter than to know how sharp or “dumb” I look when I deal with other people.

    Ironically, most intelligent people have generally been awkward in social interactions. Schopenhauer explains why, very well, and his insight is surprising, since it goes against the generally accepted beliefs. “To know the ways of the world, to be comfortable in society, it is the mark of a vulgar mind, especially at an earlier age”.

    Lastly, of course, I have no problem at believing that experienced philosophers could tell me things about myself that I don’t see about myself. Most of what common people see about you is generally trivial anyways….they will tell you this or that about your clothing, appeareance, you looked fidgety,etc…..mindless pap.

    Thanks, Luigi

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