Picture a busy restaurant during the lunch rush. It’s in an old, industrial section of Charlotte in the mid-1970’s south. Noisy, the smell of well-used grease, a feeling of “I don’t want to see this kitchen”, is pervasive. But Arno and I are there for lunch. No matter
that the waitress is busy and rushing around, Arno had to engage her and find out about her life. Oftentimes the waitress would actually stop and seem to appreciate the interest shown for her and her life.
Early on in our conversations, Arno said, “We use each other.” Like with many of his statements, I was a little shocked. While it was true when I thought about it, saying it out loud would have been frowned up on in my world. But this was part of Arno’s teaching style, a little shock value helped drive home points that would otherwise be passed over.
None of us lives in isolation. We are part of the fabric of the whole of humanity. We exist in relationship, without it there is oblivion. Were it not so, isolation would not be about the worst punishment imaginable. Shunning or excommunication from those who matter to us wouldn’t seem so inhumane. Being kicked out might otherwise seem like liberation from the tyranny of the majority.
Community is essential to our existence. Relationship, according to theologian Martin Buber, is the essence of life. He said the Divine flows in the interplay, the give and take, between me and you.* When we come together as equals, dealing with each other as human to human, that flow can occur and thrive. When we approach each other person in our roles, hiding behind rank or status, we create an inequality in the relationship. Inequality always chokes off the energy flow.
“Projection makes perception” goes an old psychological adage. I can only see out there what is within me. If I don’t have it in me, I won’t recognize it out in the world. When I see a friend or lover behaving in a way I don’t like, I’m finding fault or feeling a sense of lack, not only with them, but within myself. On the other hand when I see my partner in this cosmic dance “perfect-as-is” I’m also feeling that way about myself. We use each other as mirrors into our own psyches.
If I want to see the best in myself and develop qualities I admire, there is no better teacher than the person I’m interacting with in any given situation, if I’m willing and able to be myself. It may feel risky to step out and be authentically me, but this step is the true secret of healthy relationship. Mutual authenticity, using each other in the best sense of the term, is a key tool for enjoyment of life and for our growth and development.
*See Buber’s famous book, “I and Thou.”