United or separated?
After spending half a year on the remote island of Oligoamory, I can not avoid writing down an interim report.
For as much as the island and its friendly inhabitants cast a spell over me, I wonder at the same time, whether I myself had been prepared for an expedition of this magnitude – and if I’m prepared at all.
Sometimes that is the challenge for every explorer: With curiosity and élan you set out to new shores – and sometimes, despite the supposedly best of intentions, you are not quite ready for what you will eventually find. And… – it is often the case that one discovers in a certain way “more” (or “something quite different”) than one had ever dared to hope for. All of a sudden, one is facing a larger and more complex reality.
Of course, as an explorer one must always humbly acknowledge that there are never any “objectifiable facts” as such. In the old days, scientists liked to believe that. Today we know that we ourselves, who are exploring, who are observing, who are trying to understand, are not acting as a neutral “blank board”. On the contrary, everything that we explore, observe, seek to understand, is always getting into the context of those ideas that we already bring along within ourselves – it is like looking through some kind of glasses that we can never ever set down.
When I look at the oligoamorous natives in this way, it seems to me sometimes that we are more separated from each other than I had hoped for. Like by a kind of thick glass pane, which stands between them and myself. They seem to exist in a state that anthropologist and author Jean Liedloff¹ called “The Continuum” – which the author Daniel Hess² called a bit more understandable: the “Reality of Unity“, a condition of original happiness.
If it were true concerning that “glass pane” between them and me, then that would mean that I, on my part, exist in a “Reality of Separation” – and I fear that there’s some evidence to confirm it. And regarding that it’s not the only sign, that the Oligoamorists sometimes shyly call me “Ma’Vrik” – an expression the children use to call a fledgling out of its nest – or an animal, which has lost its flock.
If the Oligoamorists have retained a certain childlike attitude on their remote island, they indeed would still have an important amount of the above mentioned “original happiness.”
Time and again – in certainly more than a dozen expedition entries – I have struggled with the important state of “connectedness”, which is a core topic of Oligoamory by itself. If the natives were never expelled from their unified paradise, then they posses the great bliss that they have never lost this remarkable state. Every day they are able to experience connectedness – and thus they still feel “complete” and, accordingly, whole. Unsurprisingly, I admire and appreciate their integrity almost reverentially – but in their respect it is no challenge that an “individual’s actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles” – because they are always acting and talking out of their coherent unity. And after writing down this sentence, it does not surprise me anymore why they seem so energetic to me all the time: What a paradisiacal existence, as their brains almost never find themselves harassed by any “incoherence-alarm” – thereby keeping up enormous capacities for more peaceful processes and creativity (Incoherence see Entry 25). “Oligoamorous Flow” should therefore be an almost phenomenal experience…
But what does that tell about me, the explorer?
Unfortunately, I’m no oligoamorous native, I am rather a mainlander with non-monogamous affinity. In fact, I seem to come from a “different reality” – apparently one in which I have closed off my direct access to an ubiquitous sense of connectedness and to that natural unity of being, talking and doing.
I exist in a “Reality of Separation”.
Of course, it is
quite easy now to complain about this condition and to point out
that, as an “inhabitant of the old world,” I can’t manage
any better. After all, I grew up in a society of separation, in a
political system of separation, and “the powers that be”
are responsible for ensuring that the divisive rather than the
inclusive remains the main topic of the global discourse. One click
on any news portal and any social network will confirm this very
Nevertheless, a “Reality of Separation” has its advantages, too. Because in this way I can create categories, I get structure and some order in my everyday life. After all, systematisation and evaluation have been characteristic features of the whole process of humanisation ever since. Maybe the serpent and I are part of a globally connected ecological context – but in the end it was an important achievement of my ancestors that they could decide: Toxic or harmless? Tension or relaxation? Flee or stay? Accordingly, people have always made dozens of basic decisions every day – thereby creating categories: to survive, to develop and to deduce.
It is important for me to point out in this way that a “Reality of Separation” is also part of our human nature – certainly likewise the oligoamorous one. And I want to emphasize that category formation and evaluation per se do not automatically belong to a “realm of evil”.
Nevertheless, by living in my “Reality of Separation”, in a sense, I am actually “driven out of Paradise”. The mechanisms that worked in my favour during the evolution, thereby ensuring my alertness and safety, turn now in a subtle and often unconscious way against me: My fears.
They might be useful in the Neolithic age or while practising extreme sports today: Fears of predators, high altitude, darkness, to be abandoned or trapped somewhere – these are life-threatening situations and deep ingrained instincts want to preserve us. But our environment at the beginning of the 21st century, especially in Central Europe, has long since ceased to be determined by those hardships. In the form of basic emotions, in situations which we perceive as threatening, our fears have nevertheless remained as a biological heritage. And fears are characteristics which, as described above, shape a “Reality of Separation” by category formation: dangerous = bad = avoid // conducive = good = seek out.
However, since we humans are social beings and there have never been so many of us on this planet before, today’s fears are primarily social fears.
Author Daniel Hess, mentioned at the beginning of this article, specifies on that front our fear of rejection and possibly punishment (including shame), our fear of being alone and our fear of death (limitedness, finiteness).
Since fears are almost always intense and literally blood-curdling emotions, our “fear of fear” causes us to use our Reality of Separation to evaluate all of their manifestations as “negative” – and try to avoid feeling or enduring them Instead, we often compensate by deflecting, trivializing, denying or suppressing (which usually means to adapt to the circumstances).
In this way, we separate our fears, which are actually warning signs concerning a particular matter we should urgently notice, from ourselves.
The recently deceased family therapist Jesper Juul called the most important values he identified in almost 50 years of observation as “equal-dignity,” “integrity,” “authenticity,” and “responsibility.”
Regarding a “Reality of Separation” and our resulting “anxiety management”, it is easy to recognise where a large part of our current personal problems originate (and why, for example, I also experience myself “separated” from the happy Oligoamorists):
For example, that way we never fully accept our whole responsibility – which Jesper Juul specifies as “accountability” – concerning our talking and and doing. Those parts of it that would touch our hidden fears are the parts of the iceberg that will usually stay below the surface. And, because of our “fear of fear”, we prefer in a somewhat recoiling, unconscious way, that those parts should continue to remain in our own private kingdom. Because in regarding full personal accountability, we would first have to deal with our fears and in particular with those matters they want to point us to. That way, there also lurks shame concerning our hitherto existing inadequacy, our limitations and our weaknesses.
Assume accountability – despite these imperfections? This is a rarely practised, revolutionary concept that I hardly dare to confront myself…
It is even more obvious that authenticity (= being genuine and true) and integrity, which I have invoked so often, fall by the wayside as well – at least partially. Since in this manner we always cover a part of our own personality. And that must be terrible for our fellow human beings, especially for our loved ones, if they feel our inner ambivalence and our incoherence and may in turn ask themselves if they are in any way the cause of our inconsistency (which manifests itself more often than not in cynicism, exaggeration and generalization).
And we ourselves, who we never dare to be completely “genuine and true”? Become often depressed about it or choose for our life some facade as a working mode, which we permanently present to the outside world – hoping that no one discovers this supposedly ugly anxious part of us, which we unfortunately have to endure ourselves.
That’s why communication teacher like Dr. Brad Blanton, Marshall Rosenberg, and Tich Nhat Hanh want to bring us together with a manipulation-free and honest language, so that we dare to stand by our inner sensitivities and express these – because only that way we ourselves and the others may really understand each other (see Entry 20).
But what obstructs our way back to a “Reality of Unity” and back to a heartfelt connectedness the most is our persisting lack of equal-dignity (Danish: “ligeværdighed “). Not just “equal” – we want to be “equally-dignified”, Jesper Juul verbalised that expression very nicely. And it is a difficult way back exactly because of that dignity.
Because somewhere in me there is an anxious part, in which I am deeply insecure, whether it’s “OK”. Nay, because I’m that anxious, I’m almost convinced that it “isn’t OK”.
Anyone who has ever dealt with negotiation strategies knows what it means when a side gets the impression of “I’m not OK” when trying to balance their interests. Concerning group-dynamics it means to identify with the attitude “lose”. Anyone who is stuck in such a position (and can not bring about a “win”) can only bring about a supposed success, as the other participants also have to lose too, in order to establish a “lose-lose-sitiuation”. Which in the end means “I’m not OK” – “the others are not OK either”.
This result, in turn, dreadfully merges with our remaining “Reality of Separation”, for along with entrenched categories and evaluations, a system of power play and exclusion unfolds. Because I suppress (unawarely) a part of my own dignity, I do not fully admit the others to theirs. And because I have to keep my countenance – at least towards myself in order to survive – I have to substitute some sense of self-esteem by exercising power (and if it is only by slander…).
Of course, that way
hegemonic structures, whole societies and political systems unfold.
Even the “powers that be” strive towards their exalted positions
in such a manner.
Ultimately, however, these are symptoms, these are effects – and those are not the ones that keep me from my much longed-for connectedness and unity.
Causally it is me,
myself, who recoils or feels embarrassed in a strange way when I
catch myself during certain thoughts and actions. It is me, who
realises that I’m saying or doing certain things out of fear (or keep
silent or passive instead), but who would never admit that this is
behind my deepest motivations. Even worse when those fears appear to
be somewhat irrational – and one feels almost lunatic because of
Often, however, those fears may manifest in a very tangible appearance: Fears of (often experienced) rejection; afraid of being left out or of being left alone. Or we have to face fears of embarrassment and shame (which by now we impose on ourselves) – because we weren’t as careful or thorough as we would have wished in a number of matters.
Caught by yourself – an awkward feeling…
Living with our own limitations, having to admit to ourselves that we can not control everything, that we are much less than perfect, that we have weaknesses and impatience in us that really keep some goals out of our reach, that there are unfulfilled or inadequately fulfilled needs, some maybe nonconformist or difficult to control… – sometimes that demands more strength than we can muster.
I’m looking through the glass pane towards the Oligoamorists in their continuum, in their “Reality of Unity”.
I believe they want to show me that there is no need to muster that strength just because I believe that I must always be able to withstand myself.
“Oligotropos, you’re a fine guy! “, one of them is calling. And when such a full-size native is looking at you, one fancies for a moment that one is completely transparent and that the caller over there meant every word he had just uttered perfectly serious.
I would like to see myself that way too.
I would like to trust.
And will continue to search for the glass door.
¹ Jean Liedloff: “The Continuum-Concept, In Search of Lost Happiness”, Duckworth, London 1975.
² Daniel Hess: “Happiness School – Living Lucky & Learning Joyfully”, Novum Verlag, 2014
³ Jesper Juul: “4 Values that Children Carry For Life“, Gräfe and Unzer, 2014
Thanks to Andrew Ridley on Unsplash for the photo.