Columns / Discourse / January 28, 2015

Social relationships and conflict: Reflections after “The Way to Love” by Anthony de Mello

I am a pear and I give my slices to my friends, hoping they will eat them and enjoy. I’ve quantified my parts for consumption.

I have let myself become a commodity, invested a portion of my value in whether people deem me worthy. And worse, I saw others as the sum of what I can take from them – happiness, validation, fruit for egos.

I have treated you like I treat my fruit. I saw the pear as it fell from the branch, my mouth filling with juice. But seeds and stem catch in my teeth and I spit them out. This fruit is good for nourishment, forget the seeds that could grow a thousand more fruit. My friends will do this to me over and over and me to them until I realize that they cannot feed me what I am hungry for. I am hungry for contentment, filling that space with the emptiness of approval and attachment.

 As Anthony de Mello writes, this is a condition of “try(ing) to build a steady nesting place in the ever-moving stream of life.” But no person’s presence or approval is ever guaranteed, and seeking this only weakens relationships. When I let my happiness and self-image depend on others, I make myself a slave to my friends and family, inhibiting expression by catering to expectations. As long as I am attached to the other’s approval I am blind to who the other is, what seeds are at the core. I should value you for the simple fact of your existence, not because of anything you have to offer.

In my attempts to make and maintain friendships I have at times fallen into this trap. The consequences are vast: valuing some persons’ opinions over others has left me blind and prejudiced to the rest of the world. Suddenly, this person has more of my attention than all the others.

A metaphor for this is the currency of affection created by social media. Affection has a unit called a “like” which members of a community pass around to another, validating their virtual self-images. The interactions in a friendship become eerily similar to a transaction where each party is satisfying a socially constructed hunger.

 Friendship becomes a good for consumption.

We must be careful not to use affection like this in everyday life. And most of us are doing this to varying degrees. Desire blinds us, tainting the affection we have to offer with our own needs. We are taking pleasure in fruit that will vanish once digested, leaving a hunger for more fruit, which is an illness.

Is the futility of this condition apparent?

Yet this is a product of a cultural belief that social relationships should be one of the ways people find happiness. But this must be internally derived.

Yet I must fill my life with people and I should do so in love. Love doesn’t ask anything, it simply takes the time and energy to see and understand. Love is more than what I show my friends, it’s what I should show to all people, especially the ones who trigger negative feelings in me.

de Mello asks us “to think of someone you don’t like … you are now quite conceivably in the presence of someone who is poor, crippled, blind or lame.”

de Mello says “to look at yourself reacting negatively in this situation and ask … ‘Am I in charge of this situation or is this situation in charge of me?’ É to be in charge of this situation is to be in charge of one’s self.”

Your reaction is a result of your lack of understanding and your reduction of this person to a subset of their bitter slices. The person sitting on the side of the street is no longer just a person, but comes with the label “homeless” and a set of connotations which generate fear and discomfort in you.

But the person you thought of probably isn’t crippled. They probably wronged you (or just annoy you) in some way and you feel that they are malicious. You feel victimized.

Realize Plato’s truth: In most everyday situations, you are better off being wronged than wronging.

Wronging implies internal sickness, a handicap of thought and sight. Understand that your view of this person as malicious is no different than the reduction of the man on the side of the street. Take a moment to show enough love to see that for everything you know about this person there are a thousand seeds you aren’t aware of. You are no longer angry or seeking penance because you understand that wrongs are usually committed in ignorance, or are the result of some other internal hurt or false belief. Now you have an opportunity. If you still believe you have been wronged and action must be taken against this person, you may act out of goodwill. You know that if wronging is an evil against one’s self, then correction is an equal good for the individual. In this way, conflicts can be controlled before they snowball into hatred.

Please do everything you can to see one another. To look past what you think you know about people, past what they can do for you or what they’ve done to you. And when you fail (you will), show yourself the same consideration as you are attempting to show others. This is a process. This is how we reconcile conflicts and form genuine community.

 

Alex White

Tags:  Anthony de Mello Compassion conflict fruit love relationships

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