Frequently a husband calls his wife his better half. A certain generosity follows from that viewpoint. Let us see how far we can apply the model today.

Why not by me alone

Distinguishing self from other is only one way of parsing existence. In life, self must exist relative to and in unity with other.

This blog has devoted many articles to the study of self and other (articles 13, 36, 50, 55). I have described our creation of silo worlds and urged combination of the silos. Such consolidation blends us and reduces our being separated by boundaries. A positive identity underlies a healthy sense of self; meaning develops from relating that self to others.

My Christian upbringing emphasized personal worthiness for individual salvation. It involved a strong sense of independent responsibility (article 56). Later in life I appreciated more fully the necessity of others and realized that difference is essential to meaning (article 46). I developed a profound appreciation for the contribution of others to my personhood. Buddhism and Native American teachings help me understand myself in relation to surroundings. Ultimately, I am not a complete, independent entity wandering around the world of my creation. My creation exists in context.

Worth arises though my relationship to other human beings. My purpose is not some abstract ideal of individual perfection. It is rather the results that other people and I achieve together. To have meaning requires me to relate to you. This is enhanced by that which we share and hold in common. My unity is not complete without you. In that sense, you are my other half (Interbeing, article 75).

Types and relationships

Reality made of more than one person can take many forms. The union of entities underlies being. Here are a few combinations in which we pursue such union:

Commonly, marriage is a bilateral permanent choice of total commitment.  Birth is not a bilateral choice (from the child’s viewpoint), but parentage is permanent and total. Business relationships are made by choice and limited in time and participation. Friendships are deliberate choices around common interests, goals, aspirations, or traits and are flexible. Finally, occasional associations are always arising by design, circumstance, or chance. These run the gamut of human possibilities as characterized in the phrase “politics makes strange bedfellows.”

The other half of a relationship is relevant and important. Consider how you relate differently as the other party changes from one to another in the list below:

  • A Buddhist monk
  • A Trappist monk
  • A despot (benevolent or otherwise)
  • The person or family next door
  • A relative of any degree (by birth or marriage)
  • The store’s checkout cashier
  • Your boss
  • A traffic cop
  • A newscaster
  • An amateur or professional athlete
  • A beggar

This exercise is pertinent to today’s topic. It suggests reflecting on degree of choice, dependency on fortuitous circumstances, mutuality of interest, balance of strength, and range of possible outcomes in an encounter. Navigating the social fabric is a process of confronting such situations.

Making the best of it

Attitudes set the stage for these interactions. Your list will be different from that above, but there is no escape from dealing with the human combinations. Background experience enhances coping with challenges. Grounded happiness is helpful for meeting disappointments. Outcome is vastly affected by expectations—whether either party is aiming to please or to control. Life awareness bears on and contributes to every pairing.

There are few actions that you do exclusively by and for yourself. Article 73 allows withdrawing for regeneration. Meditation and exercise, even when intense, can be classified as passive because their immediate effect is internal. Becoming calmer and stronger leads to activity but does not in itself act on your surroundings. When you change things outside yourself you shift into active mode. Then there is a relationship and somebody else is the other half of it.

Action applied

Article 29 included a story of my offer to help a customer move a bookcase. She did not see a connection between a piano tuner and help with furniture. Those were two separate silo worlds. In my mind we were two halves of a sum that would have moved the bookcase. That was a self-evident fact of the circumstance, not a learned social norm. I simply perceived an efficient option.

Article 84 recollects Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s disappointment when a man objected to helping a patient by saying, “but he is not brother to me.” This man classified the patient “other.” His distinction resulted in absence of helpfulness.

Here we perceive the basis of social breakdown. We lose the priceless capacity of empathy when our minds build walls of separation. Classifying people out of our lives as “others” depletes the stuff of which our lives are made.

Articles 79 and 80 tell the story of Owl, a long-term successful political candidate who loses the election and accomplishes his desires because he does not let self stand in the way. Giving credit for the good outcome to the winning candidate is part of doing his best for the public interest. In my case, my harshest critics are my other half when it takes both perspectives to flesh out a complete picture. If I would shut them out, both of us would suffer. This is the principle put forth in Article 71 which suggests blending the actors to form one social organism.

In any act or interaction that touches both of us, you are my other half without regard to who initiated the act. We are paired in a dynamic flow. Let us promote it together as we achieve.

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

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