Relating in collectivity
My personal relationships journey has been from a marriage that didn't work out, via several other relationships short of marriage, up to more recently another marriage, and more recent still opening up to new possibilities, which to me hold more promise even than, for example, Esther Perel holds out in “Mating in Captivity”. Perel deals with similar subject matter, on the surface, all about how to cope better with relationships in a realistic way, and I thought it would be a nice touch to have a title here that resonates with her book title.
What do I mean by ‘collectivity’? I hope that the word brings up the general picture that I intend, but let's make sure. I mean that a relationship exists in the context of some collective, that offers an adequate degree of support and collective wisdom for that type of relationship. In a work context, that might be a team who work closely together, and all have a good sense of each other's strengths and weaknesses in the domain of work, which of course includes all work interactions, including those that have emotional weight. For an intimate couple, it might be family (more likely in the past) but now more often a close-knit circle of friends who are able and willing to listen and talk about relationship issues. In all cases, I am pointing to the potentially positive influence of a close-knit collective on the particular relationship. I also like the Cambridge dictionary definition which seems to fit well enough.
This long process of my search for relationship in collectivity hasn't finished yet, but has gone by way of Collective Ikigai, as I wrote about a couple of months ago. Part of what I see as necessary for Collective Ikigai is a quality of close-knit, trusting relationship within the collective, in order to support people in finding their ‘ikigai’. The relationships themselves are part of that ikigai, so how can a close-knit collective also help people devote their time and attention wisely, in relating to the kind of people with whom they can be the most generative? We're talking about complex entanglements here, and not just about relationships!
There is a great deal more than that, though, so I will be doing this as a series, all linked together through the theme page – relating in collectivity. I'll start by giving some personal history of my experiences, and move on to looking at possible explanations from two theoretical perspectives: the adult development model of Robert Kegan; and more generally, complexity theory. Then I will take a closer look at two current streams of thought and practice. First, how does Collective Presencing itself contribute to the vital close-knit trust? That's more the collective side. Then, more on the personal relationship side, I want to take another look at the increasingly talked-about topic of polyamory, which clearly has something to do with personal intimate relationships in a wider context. In which ways does this go in the right direction, or not?
I've heard several different kinds of objections to the kind of line I am taking, with different explanations of why intimate relationships are difficult, with different approaches to what we should be doing to have good relationships and avoid the pitfalls. I see the basic themes as, roughly:
- you're not living your relationship rightly and properly;
- you have got the wrong person, just incompatible;
- you need to sort out your own problems, then relationships will be easy.
To me, it's really important to look quite carefully at these, and I will be giving as clear reasons as I can about why they are generally mistaken, even though they contain grains of truth in certain situations. The last one is particularly prevalent in the kinds of sub-cultures I move in, and will draw my special attention.
With all this laid out, I will go on in the last one or two pieces to give a picture of how we could get to what I see is the next level, the next stage of development, of close personal relationships, and what practices and processes might contribute to getting there. I'll explain how it all revolves around embedding each relationship in a trusting, close-knit collective, whose wisdom is greater than the wisdom of any of the individuals who make up the collective. This, I see, is the key: none of us play the guru, or pretend to have the special powers sometimes attributed to other ‘special’ people like priests, shamans, oracles, etc. – no, rather we all play a part in embodying the emergent wisdom of the collective without any of us needing to claim that power for ourselves. Has this ever been mainstream before? I doubt it – but even if it has, in some blessed corners of the past, it is high time to reinvent, represent, and live this here and now.