Entry 20 #Communication

Nonviolent and honest

Preliminary note: This text was originally written by me at the end of October 2018 for a Facebook group concerning polyamorous multiple relationships.
I compiled it as a personal response to the question of the “usefulness” of deploying “Nonviolent Communication (by Marshall B. Rosenberg)” [NVC] and “Radical Honesty (by Dr. Brad Blanton)” [RH] in the context of multiple relationships.
As I regularly refer to both forms of communication on my bLog (most recently in Entries
3, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 11 ) – which indicates that I attach considerable importance to these approaches in any case – I would like to introduce this article here as well since it bears similar impact concerning an oligoamorous context.

Brief description(s):

Nonviolent Communication
(NVC) was stipulated in written form for the first time in 1972 by the American psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg.
NVC is a concept of action which tries to enable people to interact with each other so that their flow of communication leads to more mutual trust and enjoyment of life. It is said that in this sense, NVC can be helpful in everyday communication as well as in peaceful conflict resolution in personal, professional or even political areas. Thereby the main focus is not on inducing other people to take certain actions but on developing an appreciative relationship that seeks to facilitate more co-operation and shared creativity while coexisting.
NVC focuses in particular on the various causes of conflicts; in the course of this it puts special attention on our somewhat “alienating”, sometimes downright violent everyday-conversations. The philosophy behind NVC encourages above all the exploration and the understanding of one’s own personal needs. It calls for training concerning one’s own perceptions, both in terms of what is actually happening in an interpersonal context as well as regarding one’s own emotions and feelings.
Even before Rosenberg’s death in 2015, NVC developed into various alignments and areas of application by the commitment of several of Rosenberg’s students (books, workshops etc.).
Since NVC has developed historically from the clinical psychology of Carl Rogers (a.o.), this kind of communication is occasionally criticised for being prone to manipulative usage, e.g. by exposing the conversational partner as “inadequate” or “inept”.

Radical Honesty
(RH) was stipulated in written form for the first time in 1990 by the American psychotherapist Dr. Brad Blanton.
RE is designed as a self-improvement program, which was developed by Dr. Blanton especially for conducting truly authentic conversation.
His philosophy asserts that lying and manipulation are the main sources of modern human stress, since – because out of shame or intentions of self-display – normally no real communication occurs anymore. Therefore, he calls for open and outright speech, even concerning painful or tabooed subjects. By this way, authentic conversance could be generated, which would make the dialogue partners more contented; an aspiration which cannot be gained by reservedness or concealment of one’s own bias.
Accordingly, Blanton’s “Radical Honesty” could also be translated as “Radical Openness” or “Radical Sincerity,” because that is the ultimate goal of the desired self-expression.
Dr. Blanton currently merchandises as right holder his communication-training by himself by means of various books written on the subject and especially in the form of self-directed workshops and internet-courses.
Since the philosophy of RH requires it explicitly to express a predominantly subjective “truth” in an extremely straightforward and almost blunt manner, RH is criticised – depending on the context – that it can be utilised to act deliberately unempathetic and advisedly offensive upon the interlocutors.

Both – the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as well as Radical Honesty (RH) – are regularly recommended for intimate communication because of their conversational support, especially concerning challenging issues such as the convergence of quite different stances and starting points.
Particularly at this point, multiple relationships and ethical non-monogamy (such as Open Relations and Polyamory) come into play:
For example, on the websites Polyamory Weekly (esp. by Cunning Minx) and More Than Two (by Franklin Veaux) “Nonviolent Communication” is regularly highlighted as being advantageous for the conduct of talks and discussions in polyamorous relationships (I quote esp. these two websites, because seekers on the www will quickly come across one of these pages with a high probability).

Alas, if somebody would ask me in that context about my experiences – like e.g. “Oligotropos, do you think NVC and RH are useful for multiple relationships? ” – then my answer would be “No.” However, with the important addition: “I have learned that NVC and RH are mainly useful to me personally (my self-knowledge, the dealings with my inner self etc.).
Why is my answer a “No” in such a way?

1) To my experience, with regard to NVC and in particular to RH, there exists the basic error that these forms of communication are primarily designed to “Let me tell you something…! “. And because I express an urgent irritation by means of a communication technique that is based on a nonviolent or radically honest context, I do not only obtain the right to finally express myself, but also – since I use one of the two most highly developed modes of communication on this planet – I’m thus gaining the right to finally be taken seriously, understood and heard.

I do not want to disappoint anyone of my readers who have been concerned with NVC or RH so far in their lives – but to my understanding this is not the idea behind the story, though frequently both kinds of communication are wielded for that reason in the first place. From my own experience, I also have great sympathy concerning this desire, because my wish to “to be finally understood / be heard” is at times just as urgent, of course.

In my opinion, what is at the core of NVC and RH instead?

As reluctant as I am to realise that sometimes myself: The attitude, to present myself (and my possible concern) to my communication partner(s) completely vulnerable and authentic: Completely maskless and unadorned – although with a quite steadfast (self)confidence. Thereby taking the risk in such a nonviolent and honest situation to entrust myself (and my intentions) unveiled to my interlocutors.

What purpose did the creators of NVC or RH want to strive for by that?
Concerning this point NVC and RH differ a bit from each other:
►NVC creates a moment in which my counterpart and I constitute the basis for a dialogue/process with the goal of mutual contribution to our respective well-being (commonly called: “win-win-situation”).
►In the case of the RH, a moment of extraordinary clarity emerges, since the dialogue partner(s) may react in an authentic way to the manipulation-free self-expression (or they may not!) – which leads to an unconcealed disclosure of the all-round motivations.

Now one might ask me “But isn’t that all the same – that authentic self-expression and the above-mentioned ‘Let me tell you something…!’? ” Again I refuse, since the brisk and by NVC or RH supposedly ennobled “Let me tell you something…!” applies only that part of both systems, which concerns the utterance of a subjective state/sensitivity (and the entitlement to be heard), but not the other – and in my experience much more important and difficult – part of empathic listening and the associated nonviolent or radical honest attitude.

2) Specifically, concerning multiple relationships, even more specific concerning any real existing human community, which is trying to handle a problem, an irritation, a circumstance, an obstacle by NVC or RH, I deny the immediate usefulness of these communication systems, especially if they are activated first of all in a crisis situation (the classic “kitchen-table-talk“). At first glance it might sound good if all participants agree to tackle a matter that has arisen in the upcoming talks by means of NVC or RH.
But: The complications regarding this kind of approach will prove that with such an application of NVC or RH these philosophies are used like “Office Yoga” only as a “technique” in order to achieve individual goals or situational desires of the interlocutors. However, neither NVC nor RH have been developed by their founders with the intention of providing a “technique” – a mere useful tool.
Both Marshall B. Rosenberg and Dr. Brad Blanton intended to formulate a basic attitude, an unique approach towards life – thereby resulting in a way of life. Both modes of communication focus on a highly authentic image of humanity, with a respective peaceful-benevolent or rather sincere attitude towards the world and its beings, with all the associated conditions (In comparison to the above citated “Office Yoga”, Yoga as a spiritual-holistic path would be the appropriate synonym here).

Now, if the aforementioned group sits down to solve their problems at the kitchen table and use NVC or RH without the associated attitude and only as “conversation technique” – on top concerning a problem which occurred outside the arranged conversation in normal-superficial and normal-reserved everyday life – the participants probably will have a rocky road ahead of them, which is unlikely to lead to mutual well-being or great authentic openness in the end, but rather to the experience that one couldn’t make oneself intelligible and that the others wouldn’t get across as well. And that NVC and RH are completely overrated because both would serve merely to spit uncomfortable subjective “truths” on the previously mentioned kitchen table, which, above all, increased discomfort on all sides.
In this way, the use of NVC and RH as mere conversational “techniques” also involves the danger of the “Wave under the carpet-szenario“: If the participants in a multiple relationship are not accustomed to address normal-human-related irritations self-reflected and promptly in everyday life, then – when the “kitchen-table-talk” takes place – a whole mountain of emotionally stressful concerns has already accumulated “under the carpet”, which is almost like a invisible killer-wave lurking below the table. If in such a moment during the “kitchen-table-talk” all participants struggle to communicate technically flawless “peaceful” or “open-minded”, the emotional overload is often already too high and the initiated conversation runs after a few sentences into danger to derail completely – thus going along with strife and tears – which, on top of it all, will be quite disenchanting concerning NVC or RH in respect of the self-proclaimed users.
PS: A merely “problem-oriented” application of NVC and RH could incidentally be an indication that these forms of communication are only used “technically” – but not integratively. After all, both approaches are just as excellent for expressing genuine joy and deep unanimity…

3) From what I have said under paragraph 2), I can deduce as well that NVC and RH are therefore not well suited to deal with common problems or behavioural patterns of the past (by this I mean a past in which the majority of the communication partners hadn’t deployed NVC or RH).
Since one didn’t act on the basis of NVC or RH at that time, the GOOD reasons for one’s own actions and talking and the reasons for the reactions of the others were based on entirely different origins. And I emphasise GOOD so much because I wish that all of us are superheroes in our own movie, who are trying their very best not to spread damage intentionally – but rather on the contrary are following their best motivations, abilities and intentions respectively (see Entry 11).
Accordingly, when our multiple relationship gathers around the kitchen table again today and tries to approach irritations of the past like “I know (exactly) what you did last summer…”, all participants run a risk of vain accusations and self-condemnation.
Example: That would be more or less the same as if one wanted to dissolve today, that one used to handle one’s dog by means of a prong collar (‘Man, I was nasty and violent at that time…‘) – and you, you subdued your dog even by using a riding crop (‘Man, you were much nastier than me and much more violent – and sooo thoughtless...’). But back then, everyone thought that he or she would act in a context of responsibility and general safety concerning the own pet, and they simply didn’t know better; even then all had plausible VERY GOOD reasons on their minds.
Accordingly, if NVC or RH are used during our kitchen-table-talk to attribute blame TODAY or to come up with accusations based on past behaviour, then the purpose of NVC or RH gets completely distorted.
NVC and RH may be used today to reflect, acknowledge or mourn in retrospect that we (all!) hadn’t a broader perspective back then – but this is exactly the reason why it is important not to use NVC or RH as a situational techniques but as integrated concepts into our own lifes:
That way I am beginning to understand that the most important part is to look at myself (and my deeds) in a peaceful-benevolent or open-authentic way. Only then can I reveal myself in front of the others and entrust myself to their goodwill and sincerity (And then it doesn’t matter anymore how they will react to my “self-disclosure”).
Besides: We should always be prepared to deal with “legacy issues” of our past and present. After all, there will always be somebody in our surroundings who does not share our set of communication system – and if it’s just your mother-in-law. Accordingly, it is good practise not only to excercise authentic speech, but also to listen wholeheartedly and as impartial as possible…

My conclusion:
…is of course a personal one. I myself have been working for about 8 years (as of 2019) with NVC and about 3 years with RH – and so far I have not been able to achieve a constant peaceful/benevolent or completely open-hearted conversation culture with my relationship people. But when I look at my abilities concerning interpersonal communication from 10 years ago, I can see a quite remarkable development compared to today – in my case thanks to NVC and the recognition of my needs.
Both NVC and RH are able to take us on an individual journey to discover and acknowledge our supreme needs and motivations.
Both philosophies are useful in dealing with our bias when entering a dialogue, they reveal how rarely we really trust our interlocutors, how shaky our self-confidence is and how seldom we muster the courage to show ourselves in our normal-inadequate humanity.
For the reasons mentioned above, however, I think that it is questionable to recommend NVC or RH to the participants of multiple relationships only/just/first in the case of emergency.
Few of us are able to distinguish our real needs from neediness or are able to distinguish inner sincerity from our superficial subjective “truth” – and still less are able to differentiate emotions from feelings. We all operate in “default mode” in a partly unpeaceful environment and are occasionally dominated by the understandable desire to display our motives in a more favourable light. Even if we enter our families or our (multiple) relationships we almost never cast off this skin automatically.
Last but not least: In respect of my own experience, concerning NVC as well as concerning RH the “careful listening” is disproportionately more difficult to master than the “careful speech”. Not unless we are able to “listen” (to the other dialogue partners) we will get a grasp how our trust, goodwill and sincerity is actually evolved – and whether we are ready to accept the others lovingly in their undisguised normal-inadequate humanity. Whether and how our (self)honesty and empathy skills really develop, we will experience right there.
Creating that special quality for yourself seems to me the real challenge of good communication.

That’s why Marshall B. Rosenberg presumably suggested lesser talk but more content when it came down to communication in relationships. Or, as his eastern counterpart Thich Nhat Hanh puts it: “Sometimes it’s enough just to sit and breathe together…¹”

¹ The buddhistic monk Thich Nhat Hanh is sometimes considered as the “Eastern Master” of Non-violent Communication. He has put forth his thoughts in the books “The Art of Communicating” (2014) and “How to love” (Mindful Essentials 2014).

Thanks to Adi Goldstein on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 19

Frozen moments

Recently, in a social network – within a chat forum that focusses on multiple relationships – there was a discussion about infatuation and love. We here at home continued talking about these topics – and for that reason I want to use my blog to share our thoughts this way.

First of all, we considered that “falling in love” is probably a completely individual process, which every human presumably experiences in distinctively – especially if we leave the biological, phylogenetic, cerebral and hormonal proceedings of oxcytocin and vasopressin, testosterone and prolakin out of account (very detailed in this respect R.D. Precht in his book “LoveA disorderly feeling“, Goldmann 2009, Chapter 1: What love has to do with biology).

Often, true falling in love is preceded by so-called “idolising“.
Heroes, movie stars, musicians, models and the unreachable person of your dreams in the the other year group can be idolised. What those “target groups” have in common is that because of the imaginary or actual distance to these individuals, we tend to fancy our own imagination concerning these people – and not so much the real people themselves.

If the whole thing becomes “more serious”, when we actually fall in love with a tangible counterpart, then, nevertheless, the basis for this occurence often still results from something like “idolising”. Interestingly enough, it seems – as in the case of the “pragmatists and idealists” – that there are usually two initial positions:
The first group falls in love with another person because this person is doing something (for them).
The second group falls in love with another person because they believe they have recognised some part of the other person’s personality.

The first group I would like to call – maybe somewhat contrieved – “dissimilatory” (from Latin dissimilis, “dissimilar/unalike”).
People who belong to this group are mostly fascinated by the diversity of people. They attach great importance to their own independence and therefore appreciate it regarding their counterpart(s).
If, in this way, new perspectives regularly promise fresh input because of the diverse impulses of the different characters, a dissimilatory personality would probably think something like: “Yeah, that’s really cool NOW!”
The downside of a dissimilatory style would be a certain “savourer mode”, especially concerning relationshios to relish such moments “as long as it lasts” and a preponderance regarding positive stimuli only (“It has to be good, it has to be easy – if it is not easy, it’s/you’re not right… “).

Accordingly, I would like to call the second group “assimilatory” (from Latin assimilis, “similar”).
People who belong to this group are looking very quickly for commonality concerning themselves and their counterparts. They appreciate a feeling of togetherness and value all-round efforts for a certain harmony.
If a certain shared space begins to form in this way, an assimilatory personality would probably think something like, “Yeah, that’s really cool HERE!”.
The downside of the assimilatory style would therefore be a penchant for compulsive “similarity” and especially in relationships an urge for complete “wholeness” (“If we do not attain the greatest possible congruence and harmony, it’s/you’re not right…”).

Despite these differences, both groups fall in love with increasing regularity about equally often. And since infatuation afflicts to our bodies and our minds (which are basically trimmed to a rather economic energy management) always stress in terms of additional energy which has to be applied, falling in love is never really discretionary (and anyway: otherwise we would continue the much more comfortable idolising…).
To be precise, infatuation is usually facilitated by certain needs – or even neediness – which are aimed at ensuring personal well-being or at least satisfaction. Almost always these are needs which derive from the categories community and participation (e.g. acceptance, caring, community, support, connection), communication and comprehension (e.g. attention, reciprocity, being heard, trust), and affection and love (e.g. empathy, closeness, tenderness, sexuality ).

These needs activate us and motivate us (or at least put us in an open, expectant state), so that when we fall in love – at a time when we can barely assess the chosen counterpart – we are virtually prepared to invest invest in a potential or rather facultative future that may never manifest in our lives. Exciting parameters (as in the “Bridge experiment” mentioned in Entry 15) and/or indifferent pronounced personal boundaries (as in many psychological and neurophysiologically sensitive states) can additionally intensify this effect very easily.

However amazing and almost irrational that might appear at first glance, this is quite plausibel for us, who are members of the species “Homo Sapiens” – no matter to which of the two groups mentioned above we count ourselves.
For we humans are intentional and planning beings because we are conscious concerning our limited temporary nature, a fact which probably distinguishes us even from the majority of other mammals closely related to us.
We are aware that we have a past and a future that can still be shaped – and therefore we are aware of our finiteness. From there it is only a small step to the realisation that our lives – literally for the better and worse – are subject to processiveness and changeability.
The philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (Ecce Homo 1888) once called this unavoidable cognition quite appropriate “affirmation of evanescence“, because we human beings experience every day that it is almost impossible to exist permanently in a state of “Here & Now“. We can strive for a present moment, we can experience it, savour it – but we can not cling to it and thus it will not be permanent – like everything else.
And that’s why sometimes we are jealous of the animals or the rest of nature, who seem to be unaware of their time-constrained dimension – and that’s why they often seem “balanced” and even “contented” to us (which means they always live true to their “contence”), because they radiate, that they are intuitively/instinctively always “consistent” in their conduct.
Always” does not exist for us – and therefore no perpetual “consistent“.

In that respect, “infatuation” is a somewhat touchy subject: Because the hormonal upsurge quickly restricts our perceptive faculty concerning our limited temporary nature. As already in 1788 the famous baron Adolph von Knigge stated in his 4th chapter “Concerning the relations to and among lovers”:
»It is almost reasonably impossible to associate oneself with lovers; like drunks they are incapable of socialising, since – except their idol of desire – the whole wide world seems dead to them.«
It is precisely this focus on the “idol”, the beloved person, that effectively puts us in a kind of “spatio-temporal extra-zone”, wherein it is very easy for the participants to assume the “part for the whole” – to be more accurate: During our infatuation we are prone to believe that we have already mastered the most important part – and that our “journey towards each other” has already achieved complete mutual understanding.

As even Mr. Knigge noted (in the same chapter):
»The happiest moments in love are when you have not yet discovered each other with words, yet understand every countenance, every look. The most blissful pleasures are those which one communicates and receives without giving reason to account. The subtlety of feeling often does not suffer that way, because the explanation of things would spoil all their high value – which therefore can not be given and accepted properly without insulting the delicacy, once one has said something about it. It is tacitly granted that which one may not condone, when it is solicited, or when it becomes evident that it should be intentionally given.«
The old baron has observed this quite well – but from my point of view, as a conclusion, he praises these “happiest moments” of falling in love a little too much. For what he describes is, strictly speaking, still a state of absent communication, of hazy vagueness and sweet non-certainty. This arrangement, however, can still spoil any emerging relationship, since non-certainty might be a acceptable basis for idolising – but it is no useful foundation for reciprocal and constant love.

Because if we eventually “relate” to each other following an intense phase of infatuation we will in any case get to know each other in “other (much more mundane) contexts” as well: There our counterpart(s) might act differently in contrast to those initial actions we deemed so fascinating. Or our loved ones suddenly show facets of their personality that we had not recognised or expected so far…
What can be done?
The most promising secret of sound and long-lasting relationships, if one asks the lucky participants, is that the involved parties view each other not only as “lovers“, but also as “friends“. These people have internalised that “getting to know each other” means “getting to know thyself” at the same time.

It is therefore important for both groups mentioned above to recognise that neither inspirational experiences nor communal harmony can be achieved by mere (one-sided) volition.
Because in doing so we try the impossible: We try to preserve our loved ones in our imagination and in our wishes in a certain state that is “consistent” for us and that attracts us because it is in its way dissimilar or similar to us. But that approach can not do justice to “processiveness” and “changeability”, our actual human nature, in any way – and thus “forbids” our loved ones to ever change or develop.

But if you inwardly let go of your loved ones, then you have arrived (every time) in the Here & Now and no longer cling to constant volition (an insight which is prevalent e.g. in Buddhism). Your own energy can suddenly flow unhindered to your loved ones and is no longer blocked by your fixed conception or by imposing pressure. This does not mean not to act actively, but action arises from the moment, without a predetermined plan. It also does not mean to always agree. Instead, one does not fixate on a goal, but is part of the events and the proceedings.
It also means to embrace the moment as it emerges, to take the next step from there or to refrain from it, and in any case to accept the consequences of it.¹

And whether we are more likely to be “dissimilatory” or “assimilatory”: That is where the real “mutual we” begins.

¹ This last paragraph was taken (with little alterations) from the book “Being with Horses… – Life is unique” by Sabine Birmann, Ippikon Verlag 2017.

Thanks to Jean-Alain Passard on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 18

“If one goes astray, that does not mean that he is not on the right path.”
(Hans Bemmann – The Stone and the Flute, 1983)

Oh, these Oligoamorists! An entire month of preliminary work and field studies. Selecting an ethnologically relevant group. Directional microphone, recording technique and finally a perfectly constructed, carefully camouflaged shelter near their regular “Hearthfire of stories”. All of this, just to achieve from the oligoamorous natives another of their fabulous legends, of which I know that they are full of symbols for the conduct of committed and sustainable multiple relationships.
And then THAT! Just this night (in the scientifically relevant night!) the selected spokesperson at the fireside tells the “Parable of the Prodigal Son“. Really! The thing from the Bible, Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15. That totally outdated homecoming story, concerning which I’m too embarrassed to recount it here another time. It can be found in the Bible or on the internet anyway – free for anyone to read.
My whole preparations down the drain, the field research ruined, gained insights: zero. The Oligoamorists are not even Christianised. Actually, I haven’t figured out yet what they believe in – religiously I mean. Probably some weird potpourri anyway, gathered by all those people who have made it to this remote island in the last few decades. That would be typical for the Oligoamorists anyway, since they are so keen about joined potential and all this stuff being “more than the sum of its parts”…
At any rate, sleep is unthinkable, I roll uneasily on my cot and still can hardly believe it. “Prodigal Son…, I beg your pardon…!”

The horizon is already reddish and announces the beginning of the new day, but I’m still awake. I’m squatting in front of my book collection, which I have brought with me to this island. But I was least prepared for Biblical matters, and I have little literature on the subject.
But there – to the left – there are a few works on religion and philosophical perspectives, and among them is a small volume that displays a lifebuoy on its cover. “The Silence of God – faith in case of emergency” by the pastor and professor Helmut Thielicke (published in 2000); I think indistinctly, that he wrote something about this parable. I pull out the thin paperback volume and indeed discover the section I had in mind:

The young man probably went away to find himself.
Sometimes you have to go your own way in order to find yourself. At home, in the atmosphere of his parents’ house, he always had to do what the family wanted or what domestic custom required. There he felt dependent. He could not do what he wanted, but he could only do what was proper. And that is why he wasn’t his own property, but he belonged to the habits of his parents’ house. And since he was also only the younger brother, he certainly couldn’t develop in his own way at all.
That’s why he went away: to find himself. One could also say: He went away to get to experience freedom.
And this freedom, which attracted him and promised him that he could be »entirely himself«, seemed to him to be a freedom from all ties and tasks

I whistle through my teeth and immediately glance around caught in the act – I nearly woke my sleeping companion. Therefore I mutter softly what I said just 12 hours ago: “Oh these Oligoamorists!” That’s why they like this story so much… Because it concerns the tension between commitment and freedom, which I had already highlighted in Entry 7…! Becoming even more curious, I continue to read what the professor had written:

Now the story tells something peculiar:
We are told that the prodigal son had squandered all his assets with untrue friends, dubious women and other evil riff-raff, had finally been reduced to beggary, had been abandoned by all, and in the end had to keep the pigs and eat out of the pig’s trough.
If there had been a certain idealistic impulse in his departure – and if he had been driven by something like the yearning for freedom, he soon failed miserably. He sought freedom and soon found himself oppressed by his impulses, by his ambitions, by his fear of loneliness – concerning which every obscure companionship was fine; he was enslaved to his money by which he indulged in his passions.
Thus, he was not free – but he was dependent and bound in a new way. But this new dependency was much more terrible than anything he had complained about at home before.
What had happened? Quite simply, that contrary to what he had set out to do, he did not find himself, but had lost himself.
When he set out to look after himself he might have thought that he would probably find himself once he would have developed all his talents and gifts. And of course he developed in that strange »free« country. But what developed, what »took shape«, what was »alive« in him?
Was it the so-called better self, were it his idealistic motives that came into play?
Maybe it was all there. But in any case, in his self-development also the dark sides of his being emerged: compulsion, ambition, fear, desire. As he unfolded himself, he was being enslaved to the dark forces that were present in him and which were emerging as well. As a result he finally sat in the most terrible misery of servitude and became the lowest servant himself.

The sun rises over the island of Oligoamory – but today I have no eyes for this natural spectacle. I’m sitting there, book in hand, thunderstruck. What has been revealed to me in these last lines has taken the last doubt, why the Oligoamorists appreciate this story so much and why they have integrated it into their own collection of legends.
What I initially thought was only a symbol of the well-known dichotomy between liability and freedom, turns out to be a significant parable regarding our motivation and inner orientation concerning (multiple) human relationships.
Because concerning (multiple) relationships we often talk of “emergence” (for example into Polyamory). And frequently we are experiencing such an “emergence”, full of yearning for new freedom and full of starry-eyed idealism.
Until – well, until we sometimes painfully notice that we always take ourselves along. And that we – like the “Prodigal Son” – probably will unfold our potential in new patterns of relationship and community – but literally our ENTIRE potential: Both what is in the light (what is conscious) – and our shadowed parts (which in psychology is called the “unconscious,” which contains traits that we do not really want to perceive ourselves).
And this, I know it myself, can get oneself into a pickle regarding multiple relationships – just when you are suddenly shaken by personal insecurities, old fears, poorly learned communication, overconfidence or lurking neediness – though you actually thought that you were “only” in search of freedom and loving connections…
The dichotomy between our desire for freedom and commitment – all right, that’s the point. But not, as I initially believed, outwardly – but deep in ourselves.
There is not much text left in the chapter, so I quickly read what the professor deduces from the parabel:

Now the second peculiarity happens:
As he sits in the misery of servitude, he longs for the freedom he had enjoyed as a child in his parents’ home. Now he suddenly realises that what he had experienced there was true freedom. Yes, he knows even more: He suddenly realises that freedom is not boundlessness (which has just exposed itself as servitude), but that true freedom is only a special form of attachment.
I only experience true freedom if I live in harmony with my original identity, that is, if I am at peace.
So – when he decides to return home, that is not a moral decision that would make him renounce the former temptations – with all that moral hangover that usually accompanies such decisions – but it is a turning point that is filled with happiness. […]
The reason is that human beings aren’t by nature preshaped forms, which only need to be developed and who carry everything necessary in them, but that we are beings that only attain self-actualisation if we grow into our responsibility – a goal we will miss if we try to seek it as an isolated ego or as a solitary concerning the art of life.

I’m sitting in silence, somewhat shaken.
I comprehend that to the Oligoamorists “The Prodigal Son” is nothing less than an ancient, mankind-embracing issue. Which is told in myths and legends by different people all over the world to remember. It’s the same challenge the protagonists have to go through, whether in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2600 BC), whether in the Greek Odissey (ca. 800 BC), whether in the fairy tales “Mother Holle” or “The Water of Life” (put into writing by the Grimm Brothers beginning in 1815), whether in the “Star Wars-Saga” (since 1977) or whether in the “Harry Potter-Stories” (since 1997).
It is the theme of the “Night Sea Journey“, in which the heroine or the hero embark on an adventurous trip (not always voluntary), but which, strictly speaking, develops into a journey into the psyche’s innermost core – where the heroes have to confront their own dark aspects in the form of passion, compulsion and neediness.
And all these old and new myths also tell us that no hero remains unaffected by this dark journey, some even succumb to their challenges, in any case they all experience profound transitions.

Thus, if we sally forth into the waters surrounding the strange continent of open relationships, tack between the islands of Polyamory’s versatile archipelago and perhaps catch a glimpse of the remote island of Oligoamory, then maybe we too headed out looking for freedom, adventure and possibly satisfaction and amusement. But there we surely will also conjure up all the unredeemed nightmares and monstrosities that we will bring along with us.

That way, our search for successful relationships, our personal quest to find our loved ones, our soultribe, is at the same time a journey that will confront us with the acceptance of responsibility for ourselves. With self-knowledge anyway – actually I’d rather call it “self-acknowledgment” – because the “emergence into multiple relationships” is certainly one of the most fundamental ways to confront your own strengths and weaknesses.

But the Oligoamorists wouldn’t love these legends if they wouldn’t appreciate the potential award, despite all possible difficulties. As the professor did put it somewhat old-fashioned at the end: The growing into one’s own responsibility – and the experience of true freedom in attachment.

Instead of saying “Amen” I’d rather like to share two quotes with you which have accompanied myself for a long time and which express the topic to me in a most touching manner:
The first one originally stems from the French magnetizer Louis Alphonse Cahagnet (1805-1885) and became famous in the Wicca religion by the High Priestess Doreen Valiente (1922-1999) as part of the “Charge of the Goddess”:
That if that which you seekest, thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.

Even better – and more comforting – the German writer and philosopher Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg [aka Novalis] (1772-1801) put it in his novel fragment “Heinrich von Ofterdingen”:
Whither are we bound? [Where are we really going?] Always home. Always home.”

Thanks to Joshua Earle on Unsplash for the image!

Entry 17

About pragmatists and idealists

When I read Scott Peck’s book on community-building “A different drum”, I experienced something incredibly reassuring in the first chapter. In this first chapter (“Stumbling into community“), the author describes his own first encounters with community-building processes. And right in his very first contact with this subject, he described a phenomenon that I too, in fact, perceive in all human gatherings – and that’s why I am very pleased that one of the most prominent representatives of the “community-building idea” was directly confronted with it himself.
Of course Scott Peck’s experience was about a group-building process (in which he himself participated in those days). During this process, he describes how a taking of sides occurred between two groups, which initially hampered the flow of the event considerably:

>> This way it didn’t take long for someone to say, “Hey guys, we messed it up. We’ve lost the good spirit. What’s going on?”
“I can not speak for all of you,” one answered, “but I was angry. I do not know why. It seems to me that we have lost ourselves in elusive discussions about human destiny and spiritual growth.” Some participants nodded vigorously to signal their approval.
“What is so elusive about talking about human destiny and spiritual growth?” countered another. “That’s something crucial. That’s how it works. That’s what life is all about. That’s the basis, for God’s sake!” Now others participants nodded vigorously.
“If you say ‘for God’s sake’, in my opinion, you are exactly pointing out the problem,” said one of those who had nodded first. “Me, for example – I do not believe in God. You chatter about God and destiny and spirit, as if these things were real. None of this is verifiable. That’s why it leaves me unimpressed. What I’m interested in is the here and now, that is, how I earn my living, the measles of my children, the increasing weight of my wife, how to cure schizophrenia, and whether I will be conscripted to Vietnam next year.”
“One might think that we are apparently divided into two factions,” another member said modestly.
Suddenly the whole group burst out laughing because he had framed his interpretation so mildly.
“One might think that – that’s the way it is – you’d think so,” someone called out loud and slapped his thighs. “Yes, it might seem that way,” said another and roared with laughter.
That way we finally cheerfully continued our work and analysed the division between us. We were divided into two equal sized factions.
The faction to which I belonged referred to the other six participants as “
The Materialists, on the other hand, called us “
Knights of the Grail. <<

Now, if you feel the same way as Scott Peck and me – and you often perceive in human communities, for example in conversations or concerning the course of action, that there are two quite different approaches competing with each other – this could be due to the difference between “Pragmatists” (materialists) and “Idealists” (Knights of the Grail).

are people who focus predominantly on factual circumstances. Pragmatists are less guided by principles, but rather consider which tangible situation they are in and then use a procedure that is shaped – you never would have guessed – by pragmatism.
To quote Wikipedia: “Pragmatism (from Greek πρᾶγμα pragma, “action”, “thing”) considers words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving and action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Pragmatists contend that most philosophical topics – such as the nature of knowledge, language, concepts, meaning, belief, and science – are all best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes. The philosophy of pragmatism emphasizes the practical application of ideas by acting on them to actually test them in human experiences“.
Thus, Pragmatism is a specific approach, where it is considered what is feasible and what impact (your own) actions will have.
Therefore, one of the pragmatists’ strengths is that they think and act in a very result-oriented way, or more precisely, goal-oriented. When pragmatists say “intention“, they almost always refer to a tangible chain of action.
Accordingly, if pragmatists recommend “Don’t ponder so much, just do it…” or “Don’t be overly intellectual, just live your life…“, then their statement corresponds in a sense to their inner nature because it is easy for them to (re)adjust their internal compass very quickly in accordance with the respective circumstances and thereby allowing them to proceed already towards the next goal or the next potential solution.
As a result pragmatics exist in their view in a universe where “Being determines consciousness” – and thus are deriving theories or procedures predominantly from existing facts.
A variant of the pragmatists are the “Materialists” who ultimately trace back all processes to the physical workings of tangible and measurable matter and personally assign this specific aspect the highest priority. These include, therefore, the “Utilitarians” as well who judge actions or objects according to a concept of appropriateness or suitability.
[Also among the pragmatists are often numbered the philosophical movements of “Hedonism” (based on the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristippus of Cyrene) or “Epicureanism” (named after the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus).
However, this ascription or self-attribution must be carefully considered, since “Hedonism” and “Epicureanism”are often paraphrased in social contexts with the “maximization of pleasure and the avoidance of pain”– but actually are complex life-philosophies in terms of balance and serenity.]

are people who – you never would have guessed – predominantly strive for ideals. “Ideals” are thereby usually perceptions of an accomplished or perfected state that they want to approximate in their approaches. The “ideas”, “maxims” or “principles” of a “highest possible XYZ” can also be based on a philosophical, spiritual or esoteric context to which Idealists feel committed.
To quote Wikipedia: “In philosophy, Idealism (from Greek ἰδεῖν idein , meaning “to see”) is the group of metaphysical philosophies that assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. According to this view, consciousness exists before and is the pre-condition of material existence. Consciousness creates and determines the material and not vice versa. Idealism believes consciousness and mind to be the origin of the material world and aims to explain the existing world according to these principles.”
Ethical idealism even assumes that we can and should justify and regulate our actions through reasonable, reliable and binding considerations.
Therefore, one of the idealists’ strength is that they think and act in a very process-oriented way, or more precisely, process-accompanying. When idealists say “intention“, they almost always refer to a maxim that – like a distant star to a helmsman – indicates the optimal course without actually being physically “attainable”.
Thus, if idealists say that “… an action or an effect is made up of many causes and therefore every approach must first be thoroughly considered… (“Think/Reflect first – then act”) “, then that statement corresponds in a sense to their inner nature because it is self-evident for them to bestow a similar careful consideration to all accompanying circumstances in order to come up with the best possible course of action.
The latter implies that idealists, from their point of view, are existing in a universe where “Consciousness determines being” – because they mostly act out of inner intuition and after thorough reflection of an idea.
However, a variant of the idealists are therefore the “Fanatics” (in a moderated form also known as “Perfectionists“) who want to subdue everything and everyone uncompromisingly to the fulfilment of their ideal of perfection.
[Among the idealists often the “Romantics” (named after the cultural-historical epoch of the Romantic era) are numbered as well.
However, this ascription or self-attribution must be carefully considered, since “Romaticism” is often paraphrased in social contexts with a backward-sentimental state of overflowing emotional affinity – but is actually based on a complex philosophy of altruism and awareness of the transience.]

Between pragmatists and idealists conflicts are prone to flare – like in the example of Scott Peck – especially regarding shared relationships, since mindset and approaches differ severely and the behaviour of the “opposite side” can easily be misconceived.
The result is often incomprehension and criticism.

For pragmatists, idealists sometimes can be cumbersome and even aloof from the world to a degree of pointless peanut counting. “Idealists are looking too long in the dark room for the black cat that is not there“, pragmatists might say.
On the other hand, pragmatists can sometimes seem unbelievably dull and unimaginative to idealists. Idealists might say: “Pragmatists have no interest in looking behind the curtain. They like the curtain.
Nevertheless, both approaches are equally important to most human projects: idealists think about what is desirable, pragmatists deal with what is feasible.
If pragmatists have no ideals, they are threatened with shallowness and banality.
Idealists, in turn, who believe that they can dispense with a grip on reality, either will have their heads in the clouds and accomplish nothing, or will falter in endless quarrels concerning some exaggerated ambition.
Therefore pragmatists and idealists can face each other quite unforgivingly, or the attempt of cooperation leads to a fruitless “juxtaposition”.
Or they have the opportunity to take the best of both worlds and unify them into a synthesis, complementing each other – thereby mitigating their more extreme manifestations.

Incidentally, Scott Peck’s community-building process turned out lucky thanks to the general mood of hilarity and goodwill described above:

>> We realised that the “Materialists” wouldn’t be able to “bring us to reason” and keep us “Knights of the Grail” from pursuing our ideals. At the same time, we accepted that we couldn’t dissuade the other faction from their down-to-earth materialism. <<

The group as a whole even managed to come up with a creative solution to “build a bridge between two (perceptual) worlds”, which combined the strengths of both kinds of mentality:
>> We considered creating a common, identity-establishing myth for all of us. We did not want to conceptualise the organism of our relationship-process as neither “purely materialistic” nor “super-spiritual.” Accordingly, each participant contributed own ideas, and together we designed a somewhat bizarre parable, a metaphor to which each participant could relate:
We compared our relationship process with a sea turtle that went ashore to lay its eggs and is now dragged itself back to the ocean to die. How many descendants might hatch and would reach the saving ocean despite many dangers was left to fate
. <<

Scott Peck summarises his experience:
>> The termination of the friction between the “Materialists” and the “Knights of the Grail” was my first experience of conflict resolution in a group. I hadn’t known before that it was possible for a group of people to acknowledge their differences, set them aside and still love each other. In that short period of time, I saw people creatively using – and thereby overcoming – their differences of opinion. <<

As an explorer of oligoamorous territories, I would like to add that this group of special people had voluntarily engaged in a community-building process. Their unifying strength was that, in spite of contrasting mindsets, they gave the “mutual we” – beyond all separating differences – the highest priority until they reached their goal.

And since idealists and pragmatists in everyday life can still speak quite different languages and understanding does not always prevail easily, it could probably be more important in oligoamorous multiple relationships – especially concerning the choice of partners or constellations – not so much to look for harmonious FFM, MMF, MFMF…¹ etc. but rather for IPP, PPI, IPIP …

¹ The letters refer to abbrievations that are oftelly used on dating-sites to designate certain configurations of “social activities” Female/Female/Male, Male/Male/Female etc.

Thanks to Anne for the inspiration and to Simona Robová on Pixabay for the image.