The Mystery and Paradox of Being an Individual in a Social World

I had the privilege today to meet up with a friend, one who I’ve known for a while, yet up until today we’d not had the opportunity to meet in person, so we both made the time and effort to catch up.

We shared in a wholesome conversation, one where we wrestled with the tension and paradoxical challenges that we all experience in a life of; ‘being an individual in a social world[1]. More on this theme soon, first though I’d like to share a little about the conversation itself.

It was a mostly unexpected discussion, not planned other than the time and venue. Much emerged as we sat with each other and there were moments that felt like ‘meeting’ (Buber); where it was just the two of us. This, despite being in a place with many other people. There was little in terms of agenda, so the conversation just flowed.

We found ourselves conversing on many personal topics including; addiction, pain and suicide. I accept these are not topics ordinarily discussed amongst friends, as for many, they are taboo. But this didn’t stop us. Our conversation was more meaningful, honest and deeper than most, while also uplifting, stimulating and enriching.

Afterwards as I reflected on how easy the conversation seemed, I pondered on what made it feel easy. It certainly wasn’t the topics; although ironically maybe it was? One thing I did recognise though was that having little agenda, meant that there were also minimal expectations. Maybe that created a greater chance of just ‘being’ with each other?

This caused me to think back to times where I previously thought I was having similar conversations while working in Safety. Although, comparing the type of conversation I shared in today with those while working in Safety isn’t really possible, because those conversations are typically full (even overflowing) with agenda; around control, fixing, and correcting behaviour.

Thankfully, my conversations have changed in recent years; they are now more regularly focused on the other person, especially when they are the ones who seek out the conversation. It has not always been like this though, as ‘telling’ is a hard habit to, firstly acknowledge, and then break. I regularly fall back into the trap of telling, but thankfully not during this conversation.

This point reminds me of something that Carl Rogers, the founder of ‘person centred therapy’, wrote during a reflection of his own practice in his book On Becoming a Person (1961):

“One brief way of describing the change which has taken place in me is to say that in my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change the person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” (p. 32)

This resonates strongly with me; how about you?

Read the full post, first published HERE.