Openshaw is in complete agreement. When the two men enter the outer office, they find that the book has been unwrapped, Berridge is nowhere to be seen, and the large picture window in front of his desk has been shattered as if the clerk somehow jumped right through it. The Rev. Pringle then suggests that he take the book to its rightful owner, Dr. Hankey, for his opinion. After some hesitation, Professor Openshaw reluctantly agrees to this course of action.
When Pringle returns a short time later, without the book, he tells the baffled and dazed professor that he has left it with Dr. Hankey, who wanted to study it for an hour. The doctor had urged that both of them come to see him subsequently. Before leaving, he calls Father Brown and arranges that they meet for dinner rather than for lunch. Apparently Dr. Hankey has also made the wrong decision. Not knowing what else to do, the men proceed to the restaurant where Father Brown is waiting for Openshaw. As soon as they get there, Pringle quickly puts the leather bound book on a small table.
The professor agrees, and Pringle departs with the book. When he turns back to Father Brown, Openshaw finds the priest talking to the waiter about his young baby who had recently been sick. In surprise, Openshaw asks how Father Brown has come to know the waiter, and the priest casually replies that since he comes to the restaurant several times a month, he occasionally converses with him.
Collection Book Intimacy, Transcendence, and Psychology: Closeness and Openness in Everyday Life
The professor, who eats at the restaurant five times a week, suddenly realizes it has never occurred to him to ask the waiter anything about himself. This train of thought is disrupted when he is called to the phone. This is followed by an eerie sound, and then the phone is silent. When the professor returns to his dining companion, he tells Father Brown the whole story of the five men who vanished, adding that he is most puzzled by the disappearance of Berridge because he was such a quiet fellow.
Father Brown matter-of-factly tells Openshaw that he has conversed with Berridge on those occasions when he was waiting for Openshaw at his office. From these conversations he also has learned that Berridge likes to collect odd items of little value. He appeared. Luke Pringle. And you never noticed your own clerk enough to know him again, when he was in so rough-and-ready a disguise. Father Brown points out that Openshaw paid so little attention to Berridge, thinking of him as little more than a calculating machine, that he could not describe him to the police.
Moreover, he knew so little about his clerk that he would never have guessed he was capable of staging an elaborate prank. On the outside it carried a warning, in three languages, of dire consequences for anyone who opened it. On the inside, there was nothing but blank pages! Why would Berridge stage such an elaborate prank? And Openshaw is big enough to take in what the priest tells him and laugh at his own foolishness. Therefore, we might think of ourselves as rather like Father Brown who, unlike the professor, takes time to get to know people on a personal basis.
That is, we can think about this story in terms of the first level of analysis, discussed earlier, considering it just in terms of the particular incident and specific characters. But, if we think about it more, we have to acknowledge that all of us overlook other people in our lives, those who wait on us in restaurants, work for us, or serve us in some other capacity. And it is not just that we overlook those people with whom we have a functional relationship, such as our employers or employees.
How much attention do we give to those people who are most significant in our lives and with whom we have a personal relationship? How open are we to them and they to us? How curious or interested do we allow ourselves to be? Here we are at the second level of analysis, thinking of this phenomenon of overlooking others as it occurs for all of us and in various situations. The professor did not realize he knew so little about his clerk. He thought he knew who this man was: the quiet clerk who did his work and would not dream of opening a brown package, let alone set in motion an elaborate production that would thoroughly unsettle his employer.
Yet what the professor believed was not entirely erroneous. His clerk did work diligently, was relatively quiet, could be described as ordinary looking, and did wear spectacles. But what Openshaw did not see—the sparkling, humorous eyes, his soul, as Chesterton puts it—was really at the heart of the matter. In this story, it is the action of the person who is overlooked that brings about a change in perception and thus a transformation in the relationship.
And surely it is no exaggeration to say that the relationship has been transformed. However much Berridge remains the clerk and Openshaw the professor and employer, we can assume that Openshaw will not be able to look at and overlook Berridge in the same way that he had previously. It is not just that the clerk became somebody else—the Rev. Instead, for a short period, the context of their being together altered fundamentally. Berridge, disguised as the Rev.
It was within these new circumstances that the impetus for a transformation emerged. Had Father Brown suggested to Openshaw that he pay attention to honest, ordinary people prior to this whole dramatic episode, his words would likely have been without effect. There would have been no shared experience to give meaning to such a suggestion, no disruption of the taken-for-granted assumptions resulting in humility and new learning.
Here we are getting closer to, if not quite into, the third level of analysis where the question becomes the nature of human beings, their consciousness, and relationships. This point was brought home to me some years ago when I at first failed to recognize someone I knew quite well. I entered a movie theater, and the usher who took my ticket greeted me by name. My concern, up to that point, had simply been to orient myself—the theater was relatively dark and I was not wearing my glasses. Little did I expect that I would meet anyone there, least of all an usher, who would know me.
All of a sudden I was in the embarrassing position of being addressed by someone who obviously knew who I was, and whom I did not recognize. There she appeared, this person herself, right in front of me. She was a former student for whom I had a great deal of respect. Once her name registered, so also did her face, and I immediately remembered the last class she had taken from me and something of her interests.
Had we met on campus, I would have recognized her immediately. The first chapter in this book addresses the vital role that the particular contexts in which we interact with people play in sustaining our habitual perceptions of them and, conversely, in creating opportunities for coming to experience them in deeper and more intimate ways. Intimacy conjures up images of close relationships with friends or family members, for example. However, as we know, these relationships are not necessarily intimate in the etymological sense of having to do with the inmost part of oneself or the other.
The following story provides a strong example of what I mean by intimacy. Denise,14 a young woman, wrote of how she came to see her husband Gary in a new way after four months of marriage. During the first Christmas after their marriage, this choir was invited to sing at a special dinner dance, and Denise decided to attend.
This was one of the first times during their marriage that she saw Gary outside their home—they rarely went out, because of limited funds. Denise described the change that occurred in her view of Gary as follows: Tonight. I not only saw Gary in a new setting, but I saw him in an entirely new context.
Not only was he my husband—he was the [choir] director, he was an accountant, he knew and he had respect from all these people with whom he worked everyday and I saw Gary in an entirely new way. Maybe I saw him as his own person—as an individual and how he relates to others instead of as only how he relates to me.
I can remember carrying with me throughout the remainder of the evening the strangest feeling, that in a sense, I had met someone new. It may sound corny or trite to say this, but in some odd way it was true. I suppose that on that evening I came to realize that you can never really discover all there is to know about another human being who holds real significance for you, even though you live with that person and interact with them every day. The change in context provided Denise with the possibility of coming to a new appreciation of her husband. In one of a series of interviews with the journalist Gitta Sereny, Speer describes how his attitude toward the whole war effort changed in the spring of as it became obvious that the war was going to be lost.
Walter Rohland, one of the industrialists with whom Speer had worked closely and become friendly, urgently appealed to him not to resign. Who else, Rohland asked, could deter a desperate Hitler from pursuing a scorched-earth policy as the Allies moved into Germany? The specter of Hitler ordering the self-destruction of Germany took Speer aback. But for the first time, I think, I stopped thinking of myself and thought only of our country—of the people. You know, all those terrible months in , when on my many trips I saw so much destruction, can you believe that I never thought of people then?
Of what it was doing to them? I only thought of my damned factories. It was as if imagination had died in me. As Sereny suggests, the immediacy of this threat to members of his own family might have helped Speer to at least begin to imagine the horrible reality of further destruction of human life. Unfortunately, we do not have to turn to Nazi Germany—or wartime, for that matter—to find examples of how readily one loses sight of other persons as persons, a lapse that has terrible consequences.
A recent example comes from the sphere of globalization and economic assistance, so called. The following is his pithy analysis of what enables the staff at the IMF to carry out such policies. He notes that the IMF in contrast to the World Bank does not have staff living in the countries where they do business. Rather, IMF representatives fly and in and stay at luxury hotels and then fly back out after a brief visit. Such experiences set the stage for the development or deepening of closeness. This chapter deals, in a sense, with the loss of intimacy. How one responds to and attempts to come to terms with disillusionment is a key issue that is explored in detail.
Chapter 3 looks at one possible direction to coming to terms with disillusionment, namely, a movement in the direction of forgiveness. At its core, the experience of forgiving another is an experience of coming to acknowledge the basic humanity of the person who has injured us; implicitly, it also involves a deepening acceptance and recognition of our own humanity and fallibility.
If so, how is this possible, and what are obstacles to such an understanding? We will see that the answers to these questions take us back, from a different angle, to the experiences discussed in Chapter 1. While the first four chapters focus on human experience and stories, on what it is like to be disillusioned, to forgive, to see another as if for the first time, and to see the basic humanity of the person who is disturbed, the second half of the book raises some broader theoretical issues and questions.
Chapter 5 provides an overview of the phenomenological tradition that provides the method and guiding philosophy for this study of human experience. As we have seen, this tradition is concerned, above all, with doing justice to the ambiguities and nuances of human experience. In contrast, I argue that our openness to possibility means that transcendence is at the very heart of our humanity: our experiences of intimacy as well as forgiveness and other related phenomena testify to the reality of transcendence in our lives. Those readers who would first prefer to know something of the basic approach taken in this book are encouraged to read Chapter 5 before starting Chapter 1.
Otherwise, the chapters are most readily understood when read in sequence. Lewis1 But sometimes stories are all we have. Sometimes they are all we need.
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Jeffrey Smith2 Introduction T he experience of genuinely being seen by another person is one that we deeply long for. What could be more wonderful than being recognized for who one really is by a lover, parent, or friend? And yet we are also keenly aware that becoming visible to another is risky. Think of a time when you were feeling vulnerable, ashamed, or even terrified at the prospect of being seen—even by someone who deeply cares about you, let alone someone who would judge you.
We go to great lengths to protect ourselves by hiding from others and from ourselves many of our deepest thoughts, feelings, and inclinations. Yet, while we hide, we also keep an eye out for someone who might care about us and value our point of view, or, to use a psychological term, someone who might empathize with us. As the psychoanalyst Phil Mollon has written, in the presence of empathy we may feel safe enough to expose and express who we are,3 but perhaps still with a sense of trepidation. The reverse side of this experience is that of becoming fully present to and seeing another person in his or her depth and complexity.
More importantly, they gave me a new way of looking at the world. It is both strange and regrettable that such experiences are barely addressed in the psychological literature. For example, L. Baxter and C. Bullis have interviewed partners in romantic relationships to determine what they regard as turning points in the movement toward greater intimacy. To gain a deeper understanding of such moments of epiphany or recognition , I have solicited first-hand descriptions from a variety of people, asking them to either write a description or tell me their story in an interview.
Based on the assumption that we really know who the other person is, we are often quite inattentive, even if not as dramatically as was Professor Openshaw with regard to his clerk, Mr. One undergraduate student wrote an especially moving account of such a turning point. The incident she described, which took place when she was thirteen, brought about a transformation in her relationship with her mother and changed both of them. Mary was the second of three children in a large family. She had a very close and yet sometimes difficult relationship with her mother.
Together with the other two young children, Mary spent much of her time with her mother, especially before she started school. These were largely enjoyable times. However, unlike her siblings, Mary did not run away from her mother when she became upset. As the years went by, it became increasingly important for Mary to defend herself against the accusations her mother directed at her during moments of anger. Moreover, she was concerned about the effect these episodes of anger were having on the family. For years mother and daughter lived almost as the best of friends. It was longer than I had been alive.
I looked at her amazed, and the monster melted into a frustrated middle-aged woman who began to cry. I understood. I started crying too, and she cried harder because she realized that someone understood her problem. We still fight, but we listen to each other through our anger. It is nothing like our helpless, frustrating, stagnant fights of old. Few things in life seem as inexorable as these recurrent patterns of dispute and tension from which we seem unable to find any means of escape.
But, of course, the next time we are drawn in exactly as before, our good intentions reduced to empty and impotent gestures. Previously, I have referred to the necessity of understanding change in terms of the context within which it occurs. But the concept of context reminds us that our actions are not determined by outside factors independent of our relationship to them.
Context is not the same as the situation as it can be described by any competent observer. Within the tradition of phenomenology, context refers to the situation as it is given to the perceiving person in terms of the explicit and implicit meaning it has for him or her. For this realization to have occurred, something in me must have shifted such that I listened to this man in a different way from before, now noticing features of his expression and speaking that on other occasions had eluded me. Rachel started her story by stating that this person, Wayne, sounded a lot like his brother, Michael, and even resembled him physically.
Both Michael and Rachel tended to worry about Wayne, thinking of him as a young kid who was apt to get into trouble because he was carried away by his enthusiasm. One evening Rachel went over to visit Wayne because she had spoken to him on the phone and he sounded discouraged.
She had arrived at his apartment and, as she was looking through his refrigerator, hoping to find something for the two of them to eat, the phone rang. For that second I seemed to see what he was and what he could become. A strong man given to excess which could be controlled when he found what or who he was looking for.
Rachel was well aware that it was not the light by itself that brought about this shift in how she looked at Wayne. But, we might say, the light falling on his face in such a striking way provided the means for her to take in what she was now ready to acknowledge—more of the fullness of his humanity, his existence as someone who had his own hopes and desires.
She had the opportunity to observe him, not in relation to herself but as he spoke to someone else, and, at that moment, she saw him differently and in a more three-dimensional way. Again, context is a term that emphasizes that the situation and person must be understood in their fundamental interdependence rather than as separate units. That is, the notion of context refers to a situation in terms of the personal meaning it has for the individual responding to it.
She took in what her mother said in a new way, imagining how long twenty years is, recognizing that it was longer than she had lived. She overcame or transcended the egocentricity of adolescence, not by disregarding her own point of view but by acknowledging it and thereby going beyond it. Such a shift is not, one would assume, possible until preadolescence.
Rather, it appears that the deepest awareness of another is simultaneously personal and objective. This interconnection of the personal and the objective is also evident in a related set of descriptions that I have gathered. For the last six years I have asked graduate students in one of my classes to write a description about coming to understand another person more objectively and realistically.
These students have described changes in relationships with clients, colleagues, spouses and other family members, neighbors, and friends— people they knew well and people they had met recently. In each case, the student described a relationship where he or she had a commitment to, or at least an ongoing interest in, the other person. As she got to know her colleague better and learned something about her personal life, she recognized that this controlling behavior was an expression of how desperately out of control her colleague felt.
Her behavior was not directed at the student as such nor was it a fixed behavior pattern caused by some internal trait. Rather, this was how she attempted to cope with overwhelming problems.
Teaching phenomenology through highlighting experience
Such a process of ongoing struggle and engagement is typical of the over one hundred descriptions I have collected over the years from these graduate students. The situation was not about her and what she had done wrong—it was about her mother and her frustrations. In a sense, Mary moved alongside her mother, seeing something of the world in which her mother lived. She wrote that she had been very close to her mother and had spent a great deal of time with her, and that for the most part these times had been enjoyable.
Perhaps her mother had hoped that some day Mary would in fact understand what her life had been like. In any case, a foundation had been created for the emergence of such an understanding through their mutual involvement and the time they had spent together in activities and in conversation.
Feeling really understood by another person is not something that we are apt to take for granted. Only with a few people do we have the sense that we are really being listened to, that the other person is genuinely attentive to what we say and what we mean. We live in a world where it seems that everyone is rushing from one appointment to another and where we rarely give full and sustained attention to a fellow human being. Why is it so important to be listened to? The answer may seem obvious: we feel valued when someone pays attention to us and what we have to say.
But there is more to it than that. A psychological study conducted by Adrian van Kaam helps us to more deeply appreciate what is involved in feeling understood. My intention here is not to summarize all aspects of his analysis but to focus on several dimensions that are especially relevant to what happened between Mary and her mother.
Closeness and Openness in Everyday Life
It means that one feels understood as an individual by a fellow human being who is actively attending to what one is saying. Within this context of safety, there is the possibility of an experience of a deep personal relationship with the listener. Van Kaam is suggesting that in connecting with this other person and feeling accepted and understood by him or her, one also experiences a communion with the larger world that the person represents.
What the other person represents varies, of course, depending on who this person is and how one views him or her. The key point is that this experience of being understood by another person often has a meaning that extends beyond this particular event. Feeling understood by her daughter gave her a profound sense of relief and, eventually, led to a change in the overall direction of her life as she started to work with other women in similar circumstances. That is, these shifts bring with them something genuinely new while they are also rooted in the history of the particular relationship.
The Central Character of the Experience I have discussed, in some detail, one particular story of interpersonal transformation. Based upon careful reflection on all of the accounts I have collected, attending both to what is expressed implicitly and to what is stated explicitly, I have concluded that the fundamental character or structure of the experience can be described in terms of five interrelated constituents or themes: 1 surprise and wonder, 2 participation in the perspective of the other, 3 recognition of separateness, 4 awakening of the self, and 5 a horizon of hopefulness.
These themes are distinct and yet inseparable. That is, they can be discussed one by one while each one is inextricably connected with all the rest. All of our experiences, and most evidently those that involve fundamental changes in our lives, are inexhaustible in their richness. Nevertheless, we can illuminate central features of phenomena by approaching them from different angles, holding up to the light one aspect at a time.
Simultaneously, we should acknowledge that there is always more to be said, and that truth and a deeper understanding are served by a variety of perspectives and approaches. For each theme I use specific stories as illustrations. This does not mean that the theme fits only the stories mentioned, but rather that the particular story or stories selected exemplify the theme in question especially clearly and vividly.
How could he be angry with me? How dare him. These questions raced through my mind in a matter of seconds. I stopped everything and gave Davey my full attention and responded. Shake hands! This is my baby talking to me. Only babies do that, and I am not a baby. I realized then, and from that point on, Davey had a right to react in his own way, to objecting to the way I do things. He had a right to express himself whether it would make me happy or sad, because he was an individual, a person in his own right, that was learning to think a little on his own, and feeling concerning certain subjects.
It implies that they looked back and realized that they had been in the dark, unaware of the depth of the other person. Moreover, by definition, light is both that which we cannot help seeing unless we close our eyes and that which makes seeing possible. Thus, we can see that surprise is intimately connected with the theme of awakening of the self. That is, habitual patterns of perceiving and responding give way to a freshness of experience and to a deeply personal and spontaneous reaching out to the other.
This reaching out does not come about as we make a deliberate effort to bring about a certain kind of transformation. Carmen was sitting at a table studying, having no anticipation of what her son would say to her. As she listened to her son, she responded to him from a very deep level within herself, a level much deeper than that of her conscious will.
Davey had asked something of her that was much more demanding than helping him with his homework or some other task. The philosopher Martin Buber has written compellingly and insightfully about the way we are challenged to grow through our relationships. The former describes those interactions with others that are primarily functional in nature, that is to say, the relationship is a pragmatic one where the other is seen as a means to an end. Our business relations are within this mode, but the I-it relationship also is part of our dealings with friends and family.
For example, parents invariably experience their children as a distraction, at least at times, and children often look at their parents in terms of what they will or will not do for them. The I-Thou relationship occurs when two people encounter each other in a radically open and mutual way, when each person is present and available to the other, and when the other is an end in himself or herself rather than a means to an end.
Such an encounter arises through grace in the sense that it cannot be willed, controlled, or predicted. However, this does not mean it happens involuntarily. Moreover, we have to be free from the force of fear and habit to respond genuinely and creatively to the new and unique in a particular situation. It would be just as true to say that in responding to the unexpected in the situation, one finds a new measure of freedom.
The presence of the other solicits a responsiveness and openness from the self, as is clearly the case for Carmen. In so doing it renders inaccessible, irrelevant, or at least significantly incomplete previously taken-for-granted or habitual ways of interacting with and perceiving this person. Thus, it becomes understandable why in many instances we do not really allow ourselves to see, or to respond to, the full implications of what we start to become aware of in another person.
Yet, as she nonetheless allowed herself to hear what was being said and to affirm Davey as the person he was becoming, her love for him grew. She realized that Davey was not just her son but a separate human being who had thoughts and a perspective of his own and desires that might well conflict with those of his mother.
It is very much in evidence in a description written by a college student, Sheila, who told of her developing friendship with a fellow student, Sr. Lois, who lived in the same dormitory as she did. The growth in their relationship came when Sheila had a serious conflict with a teacher who was also a nun. Fearing that Lois would side with a fellow nun, Sheila did not tell her about the trouble she was having with this teacher. We began to tell each other about school and this particular teacher. She told me her feelings about the situation, and I accepted them as from her and not as influenced by the convent.
Subsequently, Sheila went on to talk to Lois about an issue that previously she would not have discussed openly with any nun, showing how much she had come to trust Lois: I told her things about my relationship with my boyfriend that I would never have discussed with her before. I just knew these were her own opinions, something she had always believed.
The response of the other was not what she feared and was more than she had hoped for. It is much more fundamental than being surprised to learn, for example, that our friend, whom we know to be an avid chess player, is also a keen swimmer. The notion of wonder points to the nature of that by which we are surprised. But what do we step into when we step beyond? In the following excerpt, he approaches this question by means of an intriguing account of how our relationship with someone we tend to take for granted may be disrupted: Here is this well-known countenance, these modulations of voice, whose style is as familiar to me as myself.
Perhaps in many moments of my life the other for me is reduced to this spectacle, which can be a charm. But should the voice alter, should the unwonted appear on the score of the dialogue, or, on the contrary, should a response respond too well to what I thought without really having said it—and suddenly there breaks forth the evidence that yonder also, minute by minute, life is being lived: somewhere behind those eyes, behind those gestures, or rather before them, or against coming from what I know not what double ground of space, another private world shows through, through the fabric of my own, and for a moment I live in it.
I am no more than the respondent for the interpellation that is made to me. To be sure the least recovery of attention persuades me that this other who invades me is made only of my own substance; how could I conceive, precisely as his, his colors, his pain, his world, except in accordance with the colors I see, the pains I have had, the world wherein I live? But at least my private world has ceased to be mine alone; it is now the instrument which another plays, the dimension of a generalized life which is grafted unto my own.
It is in the world that we communicate, through what, in our life, is articulate.
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It is from this lawn before me that I think I catch sight of the impact of the green on the vision of another, it is through the music that I enter into his musical emotion, it is the thing itself that opens unto me the access to the private world. As in this example, we may be having a casual conversation with a friend, not paying much attention either to what we are saying or to his reaction.
Now we are aware that this person is really there, looking at us. Of particular interest here is that in this example, the world, the thing itself to which the other is attending, is ourselves. There is the uncanny feeling of being exposed as well as sensing the perspective of the friend as something quite tangible, something directly sensed, even if it is not visible.
We are aware, for a moment, of being both the perceived and the perceiver, as we share, in some measure, in the perspective of the other who listens to and responds to us. Vanessa had been watching her brother diet for a number of weeks so that he could remain within a specific weight class on his wrestling team.
I decided then that I had to go to a wrestling match and see what it was all about. Then she describes the wrestling match: After seeing the first three boys wrestle, I began to understand. Wrestling is a team sport, but first it had to be an individual sport for each guy is on his own. I now began to see Sonny as a person in his own right.
Jackson, he was one, a part of others giving all that can be given out of them. Trying not to match muscle with muscle; but using every ounce of wit and strength in order to win for the team. As I watched Sonny wrestle, I saw him as a new person. Moreover, he lost and for the first time I saw him cry. At this match I saw my brother become a person in his own right with disappointments to bear. According to the German philosopher Max Scheler, the deepest level of recognition of another comes to the person who loves him or her.
By watching him conduct a choir performance, she has gained access to a significant aspect of his world. If we participate in the perspective of the other, if we are there alongside of the other, we are still present as ourselves and the other as himself or herself. As the phenomenological psychologist Amedeo Giorgi has stated, one cannot have access to the viewpoint of the other in the same manner as that person. But she is sad at his loss, not her own. Emmanuel Levinas, a French philosopher whose work focuses on the interpersonal and its ethical implications, argues that the self-other relationship is irreversible.
How remarkable it is that an intimate relationship opens up a new world for us. We learn that others attend to and care about aspects of reality different from those we do, just as they view the things around us differently than we do. The issue of separateness deserves further discussion. On the basis of our own experience, we know about the wondrous as well as the commonplace, and sometimes troubling, aspects of our relationships with those who are important to us.
There are those moments when we feel very close to another person, and yet, before we know it, the other slips away and a distance suddenly opens up between us. In addition, however fully we appear to know or to appreciate the other, he or she always exceeds the grasp of our knowing and eludes the bond forged in special moments of understanding.
We want those moments to reoccur, and they may, but not at the time and in the form that we expect and, clearly, not at our bidding. Because moments of closeness and of deep contact are not lasting, and because separateness may often seem to be more like separation, some writers have taken the position that we are fundamentally alone. Indeed, there are all sorts of gaps and barriers between people—misunderstandings, stereotypes, fears, and suspicions—that may be partly overcome. But the intrinsic distance among us also serves as a connection and draws us together.
Buber has argued that what distinguishes human beings from animals is our capacity for setting things at a distance. It is the reality of this distance that allows us to enter into a relationship with what we experience as being independent and separate from us. Setting things at a distance and entering into a relationship constitute for Buber what he calls the principle of two-fold movement of human life.
He wants to emphasize that we can neither possess other people—however much we may try—nor fully understand them. Others are in some way elusive even when they are fully present to us and we to them; they reveal themselves to us and yet they are not transparent. The world in which we live is largely a shared world, but each of us approaches it in a distinct way.
But this is part of what makes relationships possible and desirable. We cannot have genuine conversations with ourselves; instead, the call of relationship is precisely a call for us to move beyond ourselves. Awakening of the Self The recognition of the other has two sides. In these moments, we are far more receptive and responsive to the other than we are ordinarily. In contrast to such states of awareness, it seems as if we had previously been sleep walking.
As I said previously, ordinarily we are restricted by long-standing but barely noticeable habits of action and perception. She was willing to move beyond her previous conception of who he was, and, implicitly, she was willing to be changed by what she learned. Even if the other person is unaware of our presence—Gary was directing the choir, and Sonny was focusing on his opponent—we are responsive.
That is, we are moved by what we see, and we realize that our previous conception of the other was largely false or inadequate. When we are receptive in this way, we are responding from a deep level within ourselves—a level that is heartfelt and that involves our most basic values and concerns. In this sense we are awakened not only to the other but also to ourselves and what ultimately matters the most to us. Receptivity is often equated with passivity, with simply registering or receiving what is already there.
But this is by no means the only or the most authoritative meaning of the word. In being receptive to her son, Carmen moved creatively. As she responded from the depths of her own thoughts and feelings, something new was brought into the world in terms of the nature and quality of their relationship. In being receptive and responsive, the self changes, the image of the other alters, and the relationship changes in ways that were unanticipated. Linda, a psychotherapist, gave a particularly striking description of this sense of awakening when she told the story of how an intense conflict with a colleague was resolved.
She had instantly taken a dislike to Heather who was hired at the social service agency where Linda had been employed for several years. On the first day that they met, Linda got a strongly unfavorable impression of her new colleague. Heather came across as an aggressive, manipulative, and condescending person who gave Linda very little room to be herself. Heather spoke so quickly and insistently that Linda felt she was no more than an audience.
In fact, Linda was so taken aback by what she heard that she found herself unable to express her dismay at the way her colleague had acted. This incident left Linda with an acute sense of discomfort. Afterward she felt as if her office were closing in on her. Nonetheless, she stayed to ask Heather what was wrong and found out that Cathie, a close friend of hers, had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. This friend of Heather was also a woman whom Linda admired and respected. The pain and the vulnerability, the weakness, just being a person with human feelings and human pain.
This day of shared grief was a milestone in their relationship. We let barriers of antagonism, fear, envy, resentment, suspicion, or apparent indifference collapse, momentarily at least, as we respond, creatively and deeply, to the surprising way in which the other reveals himself or herself. On these occasions we realize that our previous conception of that person was unfair, incomplete, or in some other way missing the mark.
It is not just that the content of our conception changes, but that we connect with and come into the presence of the other person as a genuine other, as much more than just a projection of our own wishes or fears. Denise, in coming to an awareness of the separateness of her husband, moved toward a more mature understanding of her relationship with him; Carmen, in affirming the autonomy and individuality of her son, also moved forward in terms of her own development as a person.
I would note, however, that these landmarks can also be troubling or painful in nature. One man I interviewed spoke of becoming aware, after he saw his wife in intense physical pain, of how he had taken her for granted. He had assumed that his wife would always be with him, and it had never occurred to him that she would ever experience physical pain. I was disoriented, that situation had never come up before. After breakthroughs such as these, we go through a process of reevaluating the past, wondering how we could have failed to see what we assume must have been there all the time.
We may conclude that we were too insensitive, immature, or self-centered to really attend to the other person. These reflections, however justified, may distract us from acknowledging the particular circumstances that allowed us to come into the presence of the other. A Horizon of Hope Regardless of the presence of such self-questioning, the experience is one that has hope at its core. For some, it is the unexpected realization of an already existing desire to be closer to the other person.
This was clearly the case with Mary and her mother. For others the experience brings with it a genuine appreciation of the other person, and thereby the desire for further closeness arises. But to fully appreciate what hope means in this context requires further reflection. The philosopher Gabriel Marcel, who has written about hope and its intimate relationship to despair, has given us an especially thoughtful and rich interpretation of this phenomenon. He has characterized hope as arising from participation in life and openness to its ambiguity, in distinction to optimism or pessimism, both of which involve a distancing from the ongoing flow of experience.
Rather than starting with a definition, which could then be supported logically, he uses concrete examples to arrive at a clarification of the essential nature of the phenomenon. He believes that we need to look at hope and despair together because they imply each other despair literally means to be without hope and because the one becomes visible in contrast to the other just as light is always juxtaposed with darkness. For example, someone who has been in despair for a long time may only become explicitly aware of how hopeless she was feeling once she finds new meaning in life. Life is such that despair and hope are both givens.
This is a point Marcel similarly elaborates on when he suggests that optimists and pessimists are equally spectators to the flow of life. In what follows she speaks eloquently of a meeting she had shortly after her encounter with Heather, describing her new sense of freedom and connection: I guess I felt liberated, and I ended up by the end of that session with the client feeling much more in touch with what living and dying are all about, and the temporary nature of human living. As Arthur Egendorf points out, when someone speaks openly to us about something that is difficult or painful for them to reveal, this person is essentially telling us that we are trustworthy, and this is a way of honoring us.
There the presence of hope as horizon may be less obvious. There are no guarantees. There is movement here for her; there is an opening up, and in that opening up and the connection it brings, hope dwells quietly. The reverse also seems to be true. These descriptions point to the fact that to become hopeful about the other is to become hopeful about oneself, even as one is connecting with the other in an intimate way.
In the first type, the initiative of the other person leads to a change in our perception of him or her. In each case, it is not just that the other acts or approaches us, but that he or she surprises us in such a way that we become fully attentive, or, conversely, that the other captures our attention in such a way that we are surprised. One summer morning when she visited her friend, she found that the drapes were still drawn and Elizabeth looked anything but gorgeous as her makeup was streaked and her eyes were red and puffy. Elizabeth explained that she was so distraught because she thought she had finally found a man who appreciated her as a person rather than just valuing her good looks.
She had showed this man the poetry she had written and had opened up to him in a way that was unusual for her. Then, at a dinner party the night before, this man had made fun of her poetry and starting telling the others there about some of the things she had told him. She was devastated. She also realized, to her surprise, that Elizabeth cared what her reactions were. Nonetheless, it requires interest and willingness on our part to listen, to see the other in a new way, for anything really to happen. We take the initiative in approaching the other person and, thereby, provide the opportunity for the other to reveal something of who he or she is.
Sheila approached Sr. Lois to talk about the conflict she was having with another nun, her teacher. Within the context of a family, it might be very difficult or scary for a son or daughter to open up to a parent. One student wrote about what happened when she finally told her mother that she was struggling with her choice of vocation. Emily grew up in a family in which there was a long tradition of everyone becoming a physician or dentist, and so she felt that unless she followed this path she would be letting her family down.
It did not occur to her until she reached her sophomore year in college that she might not enjoy the medical profession and that there were other possibilities for her. It was very difficult for Emily to speak to her mother about her developing interests in liberal arts because she was convinced her mother would be really disappointed in her.
After I had broken through the barrier I found out that my mom was open to my feelings and that she became more aware of the fact that I was an individual, I felt that I could be more opened and unafraid of confronting her with certain problems and decisions that occurred. She told me her feelings on certain issues and in turn I told her my feelings; actually we opened up in communication for the first time. As a result I saw my mom in a different light because I was growing up. A third possibility is that we gain a deeper appreciation and awareness of another when we see that person involved in a situation other than the one we share with him or her on a day-to-day basis.
That is, we see the other person on his or her turf or in relation to a world that we do not share. In so doing she came to see him in a new light. They came to share their concern for a dying friend, a context for being together unlike any they had shared before in their work as colleagues. When there is a history of long-standing or intense antagonism, or when two people have come to take each other for granted, it may well require an extraordinary event to bring about change, as was the case in this instance.
All too often family members do not really become attentive to each other until illness or some other disturbing event disrupts their habitual ways of interacting with and perceiving each other. But such a disruption by itself is not enough. It has to bring with it the possibility of a shared ground of concern and value.
In the next chapter we will look at the experience of disillusionment where there is a disruption in a relationship without the emergence of a new basis for remaining connected. Conclusion: The Heart of the Matter I want to conclude by focusing on what is in common in these various types of contexts. Most fundamentally, the context is one in which the other person is fully present and engaged at a deeply personal level, as with situations that involve grief, concern, joy, or pain.
The point of view of the other and his or her expression of feeling, whether it is directed toward ourselves or some facet of the immediate situation, strike a responsive and empathic chord in us. The event or issue with which the other is engaged is one that speaks compellingly to our basic values and concerns, thereby calling forth from us a basic openness to him or her. Standing in the presence of death is one such event. As we have already seen, Linda and Heather were brought together by the news of the imminent death of their mutual friend.
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger has insisted that death is a basic horizon of human existence. In the face of this recognition of finitude and the urgency to which it gives rise, our inhibitions and reservations may dissolve. The Dutch psychiatrist J. It is the light of death that makes them dear to us. The stories narrated here suggest otherwise. Rather, as I said earlier, the key point is that we are responding from a deep level within ourselves as the situation in which we find ourselves awakens us to the reality of the living presence of the other person.
It is also a situation that we experience as complete in itself. That is, we are genuinely present to a situation that makes sense to us. We have a genuine moment of understanding the other and being present to him or her whether or not that presence is reciprocated. Of course, insofar as some aspect of the situation calls us away or troubles us, our focus may be short-lived. Our response to the other, whether expressed directly or not, is characterized by an absence of reserve and self-consciousness. This experience of epiphany involves a deep recognition of the other as other and, at the same time, it involves, an awakening of the self.
It brings us face-to-face with human mortality—the vulnerability of our humanity—even as it is grounded in our greatest strength, that is, our capacity for caring and for loving. We come to ourselves only in confrontation with the other. Erwin Straus1 W hen we are genuinely surprised by someone we know well, the surprise is likely to become a milestone in the relationship with that person.
A deepening of the relationship characteristically follows. But, as is painfully obvious, what we learn about other people may be far from encouraging or positive. Disillusionment entails being surprised by the other in such a way that the relationship is undermined. Rather than uncovering a common ground of shared values and understandings that brings about a strengthening of our connection with the other person, the nature of the discovery is such that it brings into question the very foundation of the relationship.
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