Why We Need Others to Grow.
Although reflection is something that happens inside of us, it usually starts with an external trigger. And in many cases the external trigger is an action or a reaction of another person.
We’ve come to understand that we are social animals and most of us would agree that we need others not only to survive. But also to mature and to develop ourselves.
The questions is therefore not if we need others, but in what sense we need them. How do other people help us to move forward?
The Balance of Dependency.
In his book ‘The Three Questions’, Jorge Bucay talks about the general interdependence of people. In his view, the goal should be, to become less dependent on others and turn towards something he calls self-dependency. (Why it’s so dangerous to be dependent on others, could be another story, but this is not the point of this.)
The point is, that he says, we are by nature not completely able to be fully independent. We will always need the affirmation from others, but this affirmation should be there to build on our own beliefs and not to replace them. Which is why, we first of all need to learn to know ourselves better and trust ourselves more. Self-dependency means to understand what our needs are when. And it also means to understand, that one of these needs is, to be with others from time to time, when we ourselves are not enough and we need somebody to share, help to carry a burden or to provide another view.
So the important takeaway is, that there is a big difference between being dependent on others and what I would call being guided by others.
It is ingrained in our nature to compare ourselves with the ones around. And although this can have quite some negative effects, as I wrote about in my last piece, the positive reason for this is, that we learn and develop by observing and following others.
In a way, we build our worldview on what the people around us believe. We live in a world that is ruled by the masses and there’s hardly a way to break out. And this isn’t only negative either. It provides superior affiliation and support in crisis. Even more, our individual sanity depends heavily on being embedded in a social system. Which is why one of the most important aspects about parenting is to teach our children how to behave and how to interact with others in purposeful ways, hence how to be socially acceptable. There’s a couple of underlying rules, better called principles, our children need to understand in order to be appreciated and accepted by others. For example that it is not ok to hit, bite or hurt other kids for no reason. From a very early age, it is especially visible in children what the consequences of the inability to function in social structures are/social incapacity are. Children who do not obey to those important principles, are not likable, will be alienated from their peers. And alienated children will fall behind in progressing, lack the capacity to build relationships and therefore turn into lonely and depressed teenagers and are very likely to end up as unsocial and unadaptive adults.
That is an issue because our whole society is built on positive interaction and collaboration with others. Although somehow it seems to me, that we don’t always acknowledge this. We don’t practice engagement but on the contrary cause trouble and ruthlessness. Media likes to state, that we live in the age of narcissism and that the overall connectedness through digital enhancement, seems to result in the opposite - increased loneliness and separation. What we need to understand though, is that we can only grow through social relationships and with the help of others.
The Power of Positive Connection.
Only thinking about ourselves, turns us into inward oriented egotists who only act according to our own advantage. And in a society where everybody only thinks about their own advantage, not a lot of positive things will happen. And worse, there will be no connectedness, because being connected always requires an understanding of and an involvement with another person.
Although our survival doesn’t merely depend on trusted relationships anymore, we still need the feeling of being emotionally connected to others for our psychological wellbeing.
Positive interaction is the key to positive energy. It is the fuel to our most impactful actions. Just think about the last time you spent quality time with somebody that is important to you. It’s likely that it involved deep conversations and a high amount of personal connection. Can you remember the feeling afterwards? Just bring it back to your mind for a moment and try to put it in words. For me this is feels like there’s nothing in the world that we can’t handle. It’s this deep sense of belonging to something bigger that makes me feel accepted and reassured and therefore I feel strengthened and empowered to to anything I want. It’s a feeling of pure resonance, which is in itself an extremely powerful state to be in. If something comes close to a higher feeling, then probably it’s that one.
Also, we have to understand that our own mind (and therefore also worldview) is limited. We are prone to look at things in the same angle. We need other perspectives to avoid ending up in tunnel vision, which is one of the main reasons why we get stuck in certain situations. We try to solve new challenges with old methodologies. Through communicating with others, we continuously evaluate what’s right and wrong and thereby expand our perspectives.
Especially for the complex challenges of modern society, we don’t need more of the same, but new perspectives and the remarkable mix of various of those.
Integrity as the Key to be Brave.
Only by being in systems with others, be it work, friendships or other relationships, communities, we feel integrity. And integrity in the base we build our values on. It gives us a feeling of overall safety which enables us to be brave.
And what we also need to be brave, is other people. The world out there is scary and life is filled with roadblocks and big challenges. And we have to understand that those are not meant to bring us down, but on the contrary, to make us stronger. But imagine, you would need to take them all by yourself. No good friend telling you that you can do it or helping you get back up when life has driven you to despair. If there’s no support, we are very likely to slow down, wear out or even quit. And the more we quit, the less we achieve. The other side of this is, that others can spend courage and even more, courage can be amplified. If we know that others can do it, we can do it. If we surround ourselves with brave people, we will be brave.
And especially when we’re heading to new directions, It’s crucial to regularly check in with others to see if we are on the right path. Because we have such high tendencies to get caught in self-delusion, there’s a big danger that we go astray and never end up anywhere. Because we do what we believe is right, although it might be highly irrational, we sometimes need others to point the right direction or get us back on track. I got to learn, that often, the most crucial feedback is that which is the least comfortable. This is also the reason, why the end of relationships many times lead to behavior change (even if this is only visible in the long run). Only with feedback from others, self-delusion can turn into self-awareness.
Finding and Embracing our Blind Spots.
Understanding our weaknesses by nature needs others. We human beings are most of the time incapable to understand (or even point out) our biggest flaws, which is also why we call them blind spots. From early on, we’re put in roles that don’t fit and trained to pretend to be who we aren’t. And the stake in us is high. We have to fully rely on the fact that we are right, because we built the overall understanding of who we are on this - and anyway, who else is there to rely on? To be precise, our self-worth is connected to our ego, which doesn’t like imperfection and therefore constantly blurs our view.
For this reason, one of our biggest fears is to show ourselves to others the way we are. We hide our imperfections and play roles, because we believe that others could never love us if they understood who we really are. But the opposite is the case. Only vulnerability enables deep relationship, true affection and honest love. Superficial connection is a contradiction and an illusion that will only make us more insecure and frustrated because we have to become masters in keeping up our facade. On the other hand, one of the most powerful feelings in life, is the feeling of getting love and respect - not despite, but because of who we are.
And in order to see our blind spots and really deal with them, we have to trade the comfort of feeling safe with our common behaviors for the fear of the unknown, i.e. we have to embrace change and we need to be willing to reach out to others while we approach it.