Dealing with People and Relationships
Human relationships are fickle. Think of all the relationships you had in the past. Think of the people you met and the friendships you formed. Think of the great moments you spent with them and the amount of energy you invested in them or them in you. What happened to those people and relationships? How many of them survived? Where are they now? Do you think of them at all? How many of them do you actually remember? Do you know where and what they might be doing?
The most challenging aspect of human life is how you cope with the impermanence of human relationships and how you deal with the unpredictability of human behavior upon which the relationships rest. Both professionally and personally, managing relationships is the most challenging and time consuming aspect of human life, unless one prefers to shun society and live in isolation. If you are a sensitive person looking for meaningful relationships in a world that is driven mostly by self-interest, you are bound to feel hurt and bruised and suffer from self-pity and self-doubt. Many people are lonely even when they are in a crowd because they do not feel connected with the world and its ways. If you are a seeker of truth who believes in certain values and beliefs you are bound to feel disappointed with the opportunism and the falsehood upon which many relationships thrive. Pragmatism teaches you that to be successful in a relationship, you need to be tactful; but idealism tell you that to be tactful means to be living a lie. Perhaps, it may be comforting to know that a vast majority of people are not really comfortable with their relationships or good at them. Even the most famous sages and saintly people in the world, who had the wisdom to tell you how to live and mange things and people in the world, had great trouble dealing with people or adjusting to society. The tragedy of human life is that exceptional intelligence goes hand in hand with exceptional selectivity and individuality. Socrates, one of the wisest philosophers of the ancient world, was constantly riled and ridiculed by his own wife for his lack of interest and incompetence in household matters. History is replete with instances where the most intelligent, enlightened and extraordinarily talented people were criticized, ignored, ridiculed, insulted, misunderstood, imprisoned, abused, stoned, tortured, killed, skinned alive or crucified for their lack of human relationship skills, or "tact." This is not an exaggeration but a fact well known and well documented in the history of the world.
We tend to glorify exceptional human relationships through fiction and mythology because we do not find them in real life. We whet our appetite for idealism in human relationships by creating the most lovable characters and exemplary human behavior with the best of our imagination. We also do it by fictionalizing real people and romanticizing their behavior. We indulge in this self-delusion because we need images and symbols of perfect relationships to keep our faith in humanity and aim for perfection. Such exemplary people and adorable relationships hardly exist in the real world. Most of us are prone to treat the world with varying degrees of anger, fear, suspicion. loath and intolerance. We are difficult people with complex minds and little faith in the humanity. If you have any doubt, ask yourself, whether you would ever stop your car to assist a stranger standing on the roadside in a lonely place in need of help.
The world is impermanent, where things change continuously and where nothing can be taken for granted. You have to keep this always in your mind while dealing with the world outside so that you will not feel hurt or disturbed by mean people or difficult relationships. Selfishness is at the core of our relationships. If you do not have much to offer to the world, you will not have friends worth speaking. If your fortunes fade, your relationships also fade. Few people are interested in the radiance of your thoughts or the purity of your heart, but only at the color of your face or the weight of your purse. If are in love, beware, because it can fade anytime once the initial enthusiasm wanes. People come to you when they need you. Once their interest is served, they will not show their face again until they need you again. Laila and Majnu or Romeo and Juliet were products of our idealism about the perfection we can bring to our relationships. Their creators made sure that they died young before the reality of marriage wore them down. Imagine what would have happened if they were alive and somehow succeeded in getting married. The Part two of their famous love stories would have been like that of any married couple, spiced with intermittent quarrels, bickering and misunderstandings.
I am not suggesting here that we should not have any relationships or we should always feel worried and insecure about them. There is a lot of truth in what I have said about human relationships. My point is we need to face the truth concerning human relationships and learn to cope with it without getting hurt or disturbed. A relationship is a social contract. It arises from our inherent desire to extend ourselves and our identities into the world and things we love and cherish. The best way to deal with your relationships is to be relationship proof. You must be strong enough not to be hurt by your relationships. You must be wise enough to absorb the shocks and surprises that arise from them. You must be smart enough to get the best out of them and also be prepared for the worse, which may happen as people and circumstances change and as you yourself change. In life, we all need to pay a price for our relationships and we must be willing to pay it when the time comes, without feeling oppressed, wronged or disturbed. We must be realistic enough to admit that relationships are usually between two people who have their own minds, views, opinions, interests, preferences and prejudices. We cannot change others, control them, or coerce them without losing some of our own humanity or decency. Some relationships are so destructive that people who get into them eventually lose their humanity and their sense of right and wrong.
Human nature is like a flickering flame. You can only go that much closer to a person. Beyond that, you will be burned. You should always be aware of the invisible barriers that exist between people, however close they may presume themselves to be. You cross those boundaries and you will be violating one of the cardinal principles of human relationships. People do not like you if they feel that you do not respect their privacy or their personal space. This is not cynicism. This is the truth.
Ask yourself. Who gives you maximum pain and suffering in the world? Usually it is your closest friends and relations, whom you love and think as your own. Why does it happen? It happens because in close relationships we tend to forget the personal barriers and overstep into the sensitive areas where people may feel hurt or vulnerable. While dealing with close relations, we also tend to lower our defenses and bare our hearts and souls to others. In the process, we show others our true feelings or the darker side of our basic human nature. No one is an exception to these situations. We tend to lose our balance in close relationships and in the process we hurt others or feel hurt by them. Human nature is a mixture of contradictions, most of which we try to conceal from the world, until we find our match. None should be blamed for this, because the problem is not with a particular individual, but the way we are created and molded by Nature and circumstances. Your emotions tend to overwhelm you when you are vulnerable and you are very vulnerable in the company of your near and dear.
Some relationships last for a little while. Some may last longer; but in the end, all relationships tend to lose their initial appeal. Hindu tradition recognizes this fact very well. So do Buddhism and Jainism. The phenomenal world is unstable. Hence, they call it samsara and advise people to be aware of desire and attachment and not to expect too much from it. Buddhism advises people to renounce the world and follow the Middle Path as and when they realize the significance of the Four Noble Truths and their implication to human life. Hinduism lets people experiment with their lives and actions until they grow tired of it. It suggests that when people reach a certain age or stage in their lives, they should renounce the world and retire from all the worldly activity to live in isolation, in the contemplation of God and in search of liberation. If you are wise enough, you will perhaps start doing it much earlier in your life.
Relationships are not set in stone. They are like pieces of glass. Handle them with care and when they are broken, decide whether you want to walk away or compromise. When relationships are broken, you may either let them heal slowly or fade away, according to your life’s goals, your personal philosophy, your beliefs and convictions. For a worldly person, a relationship is either a necessity or an obligation; but for a spiritual person a relationship is an opportunity to perfect himself by learning valuable lessons, improving his knowledge and awareness and cultivating detachment. He does not shun relationships, but whenever he thinks of a relationship, he keeps reminding himself, "Even this will fade away!".
Suggestions for Further Reading
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