To Be Known and Loved
For Aristotle, Philia was the most virtuous of the loves. Unlike Agape, which offers loving kindness simply because a person partakes in the human condition, Philia honors the uniqueness of the beloved in deep friendship. It is the love that comes to us because our uniqueness is cherished. However, we may have placed Philia in a serious predicament.
It is often suggested that we employ interpersonal strategies aimed at eliciting favorable reactions. One such favorable reaction is acceptance, with the possibility of evolving into love. Have we come to settle for flattering responses, confusing that with genuine connection? This kind of settling easily morphs into the denial of a relatedness marked by authenticity and depth. There are several reasons we might be willing to settle for ease and lightness, sacrificing something more emotionally intimate.
• We attach to the illusion that if we are not known, we can control how much we may be criticized or rejected. The inherent belief is that anonymity prevents abandonment.
• We believe that an effective level of invisibility will make us immune to the arduous task of dealing with diverse needs, preferences and beliefs, which are typically at the bottom of every conflict.
• Because so many of us lack real conflict resolution skills, we fall prey again and again to “win-lose” and “right-wrong” dynamics. When we repeatedly fall into the dark hole of these patterns, we neither want to reveal our uniqueness nor that of others. We lose faith that individual uniqueness can be honored in a relationship.
The Price for Not Being known
There are several severe consequences of not being known while participating in a relationship that allegedly calls for the deepening of mutual understanding.
*Once we strive to remain anonymous, we guarantee the rejection that our invisibility was to prevent. We cannot be chosen by others unless they know whom they are choosing. The result is rejection by default.
*Anonymity prohibits growth happening through the creative engagement of different unique desires and beliefs. Mutual visibility offers the opportunity to stretch into different perspectives as we witness how each of us benefits from what we need and value.
*Invisibility guarantees self-alienation over time. Gradually, we actually believe we are who we present ourselves to be, slowly forgetting who lives at our core.
*Forgetting who lives at our core often leads to powerful episodes of anxiety. When we banish what we love, what we long for, what we grieve and what touches us. They will likely seek to be reinstated by banging against the denial that relegated these parts to the forgotten.
*Lastly, not to be known means we do not experiences ourselves as genuinely loved, translating into an unlived life.
The Illusion of longevity
Nothing disguises being unknown more than being in a particular relationship for a long time. Parental and spousal relationships that have history particularly run the risk of the participants pretending they know one another. When a client tells me how much they feel loved by a parent, I often ask, “Does that parent know you?” The typical reaction is an extended pause, eyes rolling back, shallowness of breath, with the following words dribbling from their lips, “Well, kind of, well, maybe a little bit… actually, very little and maybe not at all.”
Family members maybe offering each other some wholesome expression of Agape love. However, to be the recipient of loving-kindness does not suggest that there is some devotion to knowing one another. The presence of Agape suggests we are loved as members of the human family and not necessarily as members of the Jones, or Smith family. In fact, if participating in family suggests that our uniqueness will be welcomed, explored and appreciated, then, even in the presence of Agape love, we run the risk of playing family. Playing family becomes quite popular around holidays. In the absence of Philia, we pretend to know one another and want to know one another. We pretend that since the holidays are special times, brought us together, we must share something special. We pretend that our regalia, culinary delights and decorative trimmings truly illustrate something important is taking place, although we don’t know one another.
Knowing One Another
Because we are ever evolving and changing, we cannot come to know others nor ourselves completely. Knowing someone is a devotional act, where we remain curious about one another, holding what we discover with compassion. Here are some questions that can help promote mutual visibility.
• What brings you joy?
• What frightens you?
• What do you regret?
• What are you asking of life?
• What is life asking of you?
• What sorrow do you carry?
• What do you want me to know about you?
• At the end of your life, what do you want said about you?