Discover the Other, Discover yourself


Image: 'Dialogue' by Viennese artist Oskar Kokoshka

‘Dialogues’ by Viennese artist Oskar Kokoschka. From his book ‘The Dreaming Youths’

Discovering the Other goes hand in hand with Discovering Yourself. You cannot have one without the other.

On the one hand, you cannot discover your own identity except, as J Krishnamurti puts it, ‘through the mirror of relationships’. All of us have a self-image which is different from the way other people see us. You might think you are smart while other people see you as a fool – or vice-versa. You might think you are good looking, while others see you as ugly (again, or vice-versa). You might think you are fair and honest while others see you as a selfish schemer. Only by listening to the perspectives of others can we correct the distorted picture we have of ourselves. I’m not saying that other people’s perspectives are any less distorted than your own. But by allowing your own self-image to be challenged by others you can gradually come to a deeper understanding of yourself.

And on the other hand, you cannot have a meaningful relationship – a ‘Discover the Other’ encounter – unless you first know who you are. A relationship is like a bridge: it rest on pillars at each side which must have deep foundations. If each person is so focussed on trying to please the other without attending to their own essence and core purpose, then the relationship becomes unsatisfying. It would be like trying to have a relationship with a robot which you had programmed to serve you. Sooner or later it becomes evident that the person you are relating to is an illusion – a vapour on which you project your own ideas and fantasies.

One of the things that can make real relating difficult is when we allow our identities to get bound up in some institution such as a church or religious group, a political party, an institutional employer such as The Army, or even family. When that happens, any criticism of the institution is taken personally and quickly shut down (with other members of the institution closing ranks to fend off the attack).

Ask yourself whether you can freely accept criticism of the institutions you are a part of without feeling personally hurt and needing to defend. If the answer is ‘no’ then you might have to look at that.

As the Buddhist saying goes: ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.’

I like the phrase ‘honest conversation’. It implies a willingness to be real and to ask the difficult questions. It implies a willingness to face the difficult emotions of anger, sadness, remorse and loss which are as much a part of relationship as feelings of joy, love, excitement and peace.

An ‘honest conversation’ does not seek agreement so much as understanding. In a mature relationship there will be many areas where there is disagreement. Indeed, it cannot be otherwise if two self-actualized individuals are relating. A mature relationship will be OK with disagreement, so long as there is a shared understanding and an agreement on how to move forward together.

An immature relationship, on the other hand, seeks the outward appearance of agreement and is afraid of seeking a deeper understanding out of fear that it may ‘rock the boat’.

Once you understand this, you can gauge the maturity of relationships and of institutions. If everyone is smiling, playing ‘happy families’ and seeks to avoid conflict, then you know that the relationships are immature.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Most relationships start out that way. It is sometimes called ‘the honeymoon period’. But some day the honeymoon must end and that is where the real business of relating begins – through a combination of honest conversation and self-discovery.

Mike Lowe
Helping individuals and teams get into flow

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