“Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another. His nature – if that word can be used in reference to man, who has ‘invented’ himself by saying ‘no’ to nature – consists in his longing to realize himself in another. Man is nostalgia and a search for communion. Therefore, when he is aware of himself he is aware of his lack of another, that is, of his solitude.” Octavio Paz
Relationships are a subject of great interest to me. The first time I started thinking about relationships was when I was in college and I read The Labyrinth of the Solitude, by Octavio Paz. In his book, he says that we are born and we die alone and we spend our entire life seeking company, afraid of being alone. This passage had (and still has) a huge impact on my view on how we live and create relationships. In this regard, I also wrote and directed my first film (you can watch it here).
Despite my desire to write about relationships again, it took me more than three months to finish this article and I explain why. In the beginning, I wanted to write about the great meaning of people around us and how they contribute to our growth and self development. However, this subject is so rich that it is impossible not to mention other aspects equally essential, such as solitude and the social impacts of relationships. Here is what I have to say, based on personal experiences and observations. Take your time to read and reflect about it.
The first time I experienced solitude was at the age of 26 and I was living with my mother (whom I have always got on very well with), I had a boyfriend and lots of friends around me. I just did not have a job, which “allowed” me to have time to think about my life and the choices I had made, professionally speaking. I realised that none of those choices had come from my heart, that they were not truly mine. I could see that the most decisions I had made were in order to be accepted, loved and admired by my family and friends. In other words, as many people, I had been working in jobs only to make a living, without doing what I truly wanted to do. This glimpse on my career led me to analyse other elements in my life.
Feeling totally disconnected to myself, I could not be with other people either. I wanted to be alone so I would be able to see clearly how I was relating with people around me and understand how influential they were in what I believed to be the “right thing to do”. Not because of what they used to say, since I have never asked for any advice (it is something I have always been against), but for their examples. In regard to this, it is very important to keep in mind that we are all influencing and being influenced by people without even noticing it.
Afterwards, I came to the conclusion that I was not being honest neither to myself nor to others. I used to hide my vulnerabilities in order to look stronger, clever and confident. Rarely I would ask for help or support. The main point was that I did not trust anyone, as I believed: a) the world was a competition, b) everybody is judging us. I also used to think “life is complicated and challenging”, so we need to be careful and discrete. This kind of “protective” mindset does not help much, hence we wear a shield that only separates us from real connections.
From that moment on, I showed off my true color. I began to express myself honestly and assume my vulnerabilities. I have made the decision to follow my own path and express my thoughts and feelings, even if they would be well accepted or not. It is ok to be “rejected” once I am living my truth. Above all, it is alright to make mistakes and learn from them, therefore life is a vivid school. I have decided that I would rather be surrounded by a few friends who loved me for who I was than a huge amount of people who barely knew me.
In times of Covid-19, when we are spending most of the time by ourselves, many people are struggling to be alone, facing anxiety and, even worse, depression. Being alone is scary because we are in close contact with who we really are. Nevertheless, it can also be liberating if we allowed it.
The worst need we can feel is that of our own being. We can spend our whole lives surrounded by friends and family. However, if we do not take some time to be with ourselves and understand our own desires, thoughts, feelings and anxieties, we may discover one day that the life we are leading is not ours; that we are living for the sake of meeting other people’s expectations so we do not be alone. This is very dangerous. This labyrinth of solitude, in which we try to escape from all the time, only imprisons us more, and it becomes harder to get out of it, especially alone. It is exactly at this stage, when we most need someone to support us, that we prefer to be alone. That is one of the paradoxes of relationships.
As I wrote in this article, intrapersonal relationships are the foundation of all kinds of relationships. The way we relate to ourselves influences enormously in the way we relate to others.
Interpersonal relationship: the source of self-development
What I have learned so far is that relationships are a major source of knowledge and self-development. I believe that people in general are like a mirror that reflects traits on us according to the context and issues we are facing in each period of life. It is not by chance that we meet people around us, they bring important lessons we need to learn in order to become better human beings.
Sometimes, we complain about how difficult it is to deal with family members, co-workers, and some random people we come across in our daily life, who think or have beliefs completely opposed to us. Each person comes to show us some key-points we need to work on in ourselves. For example, there is always someone who requires a lot of patience and sometimes gets us mad. It is not about them; it is all about us.
Many situations in which we get mad with people is because we are lacking patience or there are other things bothering our inner peace. It is extremely easy and comfortable to deal with people who are easy going, who always agree with what we say and do, and so on; friends who say what we want to hear. However, does it help you to improve and overcome your flaws?
When we feel uncomfortable with someone for any reason, we need to look inside and investigate what is the source. What is inside that needs to be solved? This is what we seek for in therapies, but we can do it by ourselves many times, we just need courage and mindfulness
You may ask: why is it important? It is much easier just to dismiss these people and relate only with those like me. Só que não! But it is just not true. When we think like this, we are only creating more room for segregation. It takes us to the next point: the social issues generated by relationships.
Social effects and individual responsibilities
We tend to avoid or even consider “enemies” those who are, in some ways, different from us. We can easily check this by looking back in the past to see how many people were (unfortunately still are) killed by hatress because they followed different faith/beliefs, race, sexual orientation, or had different nationality. We still tend to be afraid and promote discrimination against human beings, forgetting that althought our differences, we are all the same.
The fact is that we are always judging people, situations, and experiences as good or bad, right or wrong, according to our pre-concepts or world-view. We do not take enough time and patience to get to know people deeply and overcome stereotypes. We judge people for their behavior that is against what we think is right; their education background; nationalities and ethnicity; sexual orientation; religion beliefs; political ideologies; skin color; hair style, and so on. It is pure laziness!
From where I stand, this difference that we create between us is the root of many conflicts around the world. It starts small, individually, and goes beyond, collectively.
On a small scale, in our private relationships, we are all the time influencing and being influenced by people in our surroundings. Everything we say and do impacts others lives. On a larger global scale, we contribute indirectly to all good and bad things that happen (war, political and economical decisions, and other social issues ). We are responsible for them because we are part of the whole.
One drop makes a difference in the ocean
As individuals, we have a common belief that details do not make much difference in the big picture. In fact, it does. The way we treat people, they can be our relatives, friends, or even strangers around us, has a huge impact in society. We can take as an example this current pandemic, in which the virus was transmitted one by one and, in a short period of time, it reached the whole world.
We need to take responsibility and play our part in society, with small actions. Starting respecting everyone and being kind with people around us and we will see a huge change. We are all facing different personal problems and we never know what others are struggling with. Having empathy, love and being gentle to each other is a must. Last but not least, do not take things personally. Remember: it has to come from inside. We are not responsible for how others treat us, but we are responsible for how we react to it. It is our choice the way we treat people no matter what.
Recently, a close friend told me he was concerned about solitude, because a new lockdown was about to happen. I answered him that being alone was not what scared me the most, but becoming accustomed to it. As human beings, who are always adapting in order to survive, we might get used to being alone a result of the social distance we have been keeping from each other. I fear that we become more apathetic with the differences and lose the joy of being in relationships. They can be hard sometimes, but yet they are one of the reasons we live for.
To sum up, I leave here a quote of a Brazilian songwriter that concludes that I have said: We need to love people as if tomorrow did not exist. Because it does not, indeed.
É preciso amar as pessoas como se não houvesse amanhã, porque se você parar para pensar, na verdade não há. (Renato Russo)