Some thoughts on a radical reframing of relationships written for the Church Urban Fund's 'Living Theology Forum.'
Many aspects of our culture and education system promote a strongly individualistic anthropology. We are encouraged to view others as if they are largely or entirely separate from us, to live at a conceptual distance from each other. And so, it is no great surprise that we frequently organise our lives and places of work in ways which reflect this, which encourage rivalry and competition over collaboration and friendship. A conceptual distance can all too easily become an emotional distance and then a moral distance.
Standing against this is a radically different way of understanding how we are related to each other. From this perspective, we and all things arise within and through a network of relationships and anything we encounter in the world (anything we can grasp with mind or hand) is not separate and self-subsisting in the way we routinely imagine things to be. We and all things are understood to be contingent, composite, the result of numerous causes and conditions coming together each instant, even (and this can come as quite a shock to us) what we commonly refer to as “the self” is understood to be received from those around us, born in and from relationship.
We are “we-centric”, collaborations in action, part of an interrelated, interdependent whole. Which means that our actions have a direct effect, beneficial or otherwise, on this whole.
“If we have no peace” Mother Teresa once said, “it’s because we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other.” Most of us, I think, recognise a simple truth in these striking words.