Our relationships with others provide many of the most satisfying – and frustrating – moments of the human experience.

On the one hand we are instinctively driven to seek the companionship of our fellow beings, indeed such is the complexity of the modern world that out very survival depends on co-operating with numerous others. But conversely our dealings with other people force us to sacrifice, compromise, inhibit our liberty, and are an endless source of disappointment and anger when our peers fall short of our reasonable expectations.

  • Our relationships take many forms. Family, friends, neighbours, business, acquaintances… Some of these are of our choosing others just come with the territory. Understanding how to handle each of these relationships effectively will yield a smoother and more fulfilling journey through life.

Why are relationships important?

From the Spiritual perspective our dealings with others is of the utmost significance and a major part of our raison d’être. The fundamental nature of Spirit, from which we all come and of which we are all part, is unity. Everything is part of the one great wholeness.

The eternal quest of Spirit is for growth, but the growth that comes from the interaction between different players cannot happen without the differentiation of the on into the many. Hence we are born as separate entities in physical form that we might play out our roles, ultimately furthering the growth of Spirit.

The paradox of relationships

Our relationships with others are hugely paradoxical. The highest emotion of which we are capable is unconditional love, to place the welfare of another higher than our own – no matter what. To experience unconditional love, either towards or from another being is possibly the highest privilege in this world. We may hold it for our nearest and dearest, our parents, our partner, our children… A few more advanced souls may hold it for larger groups, or even the whole of humanity. But this is too tall an order for most.

Towards the majority, for whom we sadly don’t hold unconditional love, we are often fiercely competitive. We want the better job, bigger house and faster car etc. than the guy across the street. Sometimes, as a species, we’ll resort to the most heinous acts to further our welfare at the expense of others.

But for all the bad stuff, acts of altruism towards strangers greatly outnumber those of hostility, as witnessed by the level of charitable donations, or the level of response to natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis. Even holding the door for someone to enter a building demonstrates our basic kindness.

Darwin highlighted the merits of competitiveness in his theory of evolution. The comforts of the material plane are available in proportion to worldly success, and by implication this means doing better than the next man. But being the “higher” species carries with it the concept of noblesse oblige. Most obviously in developed societies this comes in the form of progressive taxation – the more you earn, the more tax you pay! But consider how many wealthy folk voluntarily support numerous good causes.

The conflict between our underlying and eternal brotherhood and our limited individuality and rivalry is the cause of much difficulty in relationships. Awareness of this conflict, along with that of our innate feeling towards others, is the first step to building and maintaining successful and fulfilling relationships.

Know thyself

  • Some of us are more inclined to pursue relationships than others. For some socializing is a pleasure, for others it ranges from being a chore to the painfully unpleasant. The insightful psychologist Jung categorized these types as extrovert and introvert respectively. Knowing where you stand on this continuum and adapting accordingly will assist greatly in your inevitable dealings with others.

The golden rule

  • Remember, ultimately we are all one, but while incarnate we assume the role of competitive individuals. Your role on earth is to try your best in your chosen field, but in your dealings with others let your conscience be your guide. Ultimately, the ethic of reciprocity should form the foundation of your relationships. Expressed by Jesus as: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” This ethic recurs throughout all major faiths and philosophies…