…see, the good lies so near.*
The current German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is someone who regularly emphasizes that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. In his speech at the Futurium Berlin¹ last year, he even said that freedom includes an “expectation of responsibility” that arises from freedom itself.
I, as the author of this bLog, believe that he is right, especially because in my view “responsibility” has something to do with “sustainability”, which I embedded in the subtitle of the Oligoamory-project.
In the book scene I have already often cited, in which the “Little Prince” by the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry meets the fox, the fox explains: “You are responsible for that what was entrusted to you and for those whose trust you gained.” ²
Accordingly, trust and responsibility necessitate each other as well…
Freedom, trust, sustainability, responsibility – I would like to try to sort out a little bit why I think that these values are important for oligoamorous thinking and acting – and how they are related.
In my 3rd Entry I introduce sustainability as an important oligoamorous value by explaining that “sustainability” comprises three important core criteria³, namely consistency, efficiency and sufficiency. I wrote that concerning Oligoamory relationships should be ‘consistent’, since the participants “hoped, that their relationships would be lasting as well as steady in respect to the people and values involved. […]
But oligoamorous relationships were bound to be ‘efficient’ as well. That means in effect, that the relationship had to be conductive to all people involved, that it was meant to promote the participants to evolve themselves and to complement one another, depending on their individual potential.
And the relationships were bound to be ‘sufficient’ […] because the relationships were bound to be satisfactorily and literally self-sufficient, and for that reason precisely not unlimited and arbitrary, but suitable to a humane degree of clearness and nearness.”
Even if I read these lines again today, I notice that these are definitely somewhat ambitious goals for every relationship. At the same time, I almost involuntarily nod my head because I think: “Yes, such relationships would definitely contribute greatly to my personal well-being due to their predictability, their scope for my feasible freedom, and my perception of my acceptance/inclusion therein.”
And exactly that’s the point where in my view Saint-Exupéry and his fox come into play once more in several ways. Because the fox shows the “Little Prince” that such a longed-for state cannot be brought about quickly. As its condition, he constitutes a “gaining of trust”, that is, a gradual build-up that can only become means to its ends over an extended period of time – and that can only be achieved by mutual effort. And this process would result in a growing “familiarity with each other” being accompanied by the increasing “responsibility for one another”.
The fact that this is indeed a groundbreaking, sustainable way of thinking is particularly noticeable when we try to omit the responsibility:
Without responsibility or more precisely “accountability” it would probably be very difficult to obtain any trust at all. Who would trust a person or an institution that would decline accountability for its speaking and thus appear inconstant or arbitrary? In such a case even time spent together wouldn’t be a helpful ally any longer, because “coherence” (consistency) that is so important for our well-being wouldn’t ensue: a reliable, predictable pool of similar experiences wouldn’t accumulate.
Such a condition would keep us mentally constantly “on the go”, in a semi-alert state of careful vigilance, because in the next moment a completely new or different (relationship-) experience than the time before may come along – or the next time or the next…
Neuroscientists call this state, when the brain’s alarm switch is stuck in a middle position for a long time, “stress“. And who wants to be in a relationship in the medium or long term where stress would be the norm?
In this way, a sustainable “state of satisfaction” will never arise, because we could not be sure whether our relationships would be stable (consistent), suitable (efficient) and adequate (sufficient).
Without sustainability, in turn, we would most likely sooner or later find ourselves in an unfulfilled and needy state, which would sooner or later drive us to consumption and a certain degree of excess (= lack of measure). And since “satisfaction” actually means “contentment” and “being at peace”, we would also become more aggressive and uncompromising…
Did we just recognise something there? From our everyday life or even regarding the state of the world?
If I have succeeded in that, then I am very close to my bLog-goal today.
Because I’m trying with oligoamorous means to raise a desire for familiar and trustful circumstances.
And this can mean at times that I have to try not to flee from a situational “dissatisfaction” into consumption and excess. Or it can mean that I am asked to check whether I can be “at peace” with the “existing”, the familiar.
In this regard, we are living in a somewhat ambiguous time. Because although there are increasing initiatives that, like me, want to give sustainability more importance, there are still enough voices who want to stamp “familiar” as backward, old-fashioned or boring – and lure us out of our peace of mind (and without dissatisfaction there would certainly be less consumption…).
If we transfer this dynamic to the level of relationship management, we quickly see how we could be catapulted into an attitude of “higher-faster-further”, which earned the non-monogamous lifestyle such a bad reputation. Because once our inner peace is lost, there is a certain danger that our unfulfilled needs will always fuel the hope that “out there” could still be something (that is: someone!) that/who is more appropriate, more suitable, better – and the “swipe-and-away“ of modern dating sites is born. And at some point the goal won’t be any longer the fulfilment of our own needs (and may it be in some unattainable superlative); in the end only the next endeavour, the next excitement the next kick will vanquish for a short time our inner emptiness.
If we do not want to get into such a hamster wheel, then we have – especially in relationship matters – to (re)mobilize a somewhat forgotten virtue: To be satisfied with what we already have. Or what I prefer in dimensions of Oligoamory: To carefully consider what we already have.
This seems to me to be very important today in a time when consumer confidence is still so often artificially generated: What do I (still) need to be satisfied, at peace? Or at least: more satisfied. And: Is all of that (only) “out there”?
But by looking at the things (and relationships) I already gathered, I’m much better able to check, how my state of “satisfaction”, of “inner peace” appears. And concerning that, I can stay completely with myself – and do not have to point to the “world outside” or to other people.
For example, what about my own accountability? My accountability (and responsibility!) includes important cornerstones of every (multiple) relationship management: my honesty, my loyalty, the degree of my transparency. How much of such capacities am I willing to contribute to prove myself consistent, sincere, and, yes, predictable – as someone who is trustworthy? And do I have the will and the time?
The latter question isn’t that trivial. The other day I read the following sentence on a (non-monogamous) dating site: “Please only write to me if you really have the resources for another relationship in your life.”
Apparently, some people seem to conduct their flirts like they handle milk bottles: They come home with a new bottle, only to find that the fridge is already full – Consequence: No space for new bottles, and existing bottles become sour…
Sustainable relationship management, as I would like it to be in an oligoamorous fashion, must therefore be exercised with care. Therefore, my personal freedom actually goes hand in hand with an “expectation of (my) responsibility” : On the one hand, that I know myself well enough to recognise where my strengths, my limits and my possible potential are. On the other hand, that a relationship process, in which two (or more!) beings voluntarily engage, always means simultaneously the emerging acceptance of an overall responsibility for one another.
And that’s actually a good thing. Because sustainability, with its aspects of consistency, efficiency and sufficiency, means that a certain matter has gained a distinct value for us. Usually that much value that it is not arbitrary or interchangeable any more. And this (added) value has alway arisen from an increase of familiarity and trust regarding the object, the person or the relationship.
And everyone knows it: What has become “dear to us” in such a manner is in turn always treated with special effort, care, attention – and responsibility.
In this regard, the slogan from the environmental movement “Sustainability starts on your own doorstep!” can be directly transferred to our intimate relationships. We don’t have to “roam forever” * or gaze fixedly at the greener grass beyond the neighbours fence any longer. We can start proving ourselves here and now in our existing relationships as the best hopeful contestant – responsible as well as free.
Which is extremely sexy, by the way, really attractive…
And what better argument could there be for (potential) participants in multiple ethical relationships?
* second line from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s poem “Memento”.
¹ September 26th, 2019 at the Futurium, Berlin, speech for the campaign “Freedom is our system”.
² “The Little Prince” ; Chapter XXI; “Friendship with the fox”.
³ Thanks again for input by Dr. Bernd Siebenhüner.
Thanks to pine watt on Unsplash for the photo.