Relationships are Hard: Reality vs. Illusion

Human relationships are so delicate. It seems as though we’re all fumbling through the darkness, bumping into each other’s feelings and egos while grappling endlessly with our own.

We’re complex creatures, full of double-talk, misconceptions about ourselves and others, built-in hypocrisy, confusion and dissatisfaction. Do animals have these problems?

I ran across a THEE page about The Struggle for Power in Politics, where it says: “Being human seems to mean never feeling safe enough, valued enough, appreciated enough, wealthy enough, powerful enough and treated well enough.”

I guess that’s why the old saying about “a dog’s life” comes across as so wistful makes it seem so idyllic. Dogs don’t care. Does that mean the trick is apathy? Or, to philosophize it, should we just surrender, allow ourselves be blown about by the winds of fate and happenstance?

It’s all very Buddhist, and probably way too simple. Beyond that, we can’t help caring—about our endeavors, the people in our lives, our children, society at large, our money, etc.

For all of our complexity, we try so hard to simplify everything: “women are emotional; men are rational.” We torture ourselves with magical thinking: “If I can just get another job, or move to the beach, everything will suddenly be coming up roses.”

Perhaps the “trick” is realizing there are no tricks and no shortcuts to understanding relationships or leading a fulfilling, aware life of which healthy relationships are an integral part.

“What does THEE have to say about relationships?” you might ask, knowing full well that I’ll be coming to that eventually.

Well, that’s the thing, THEE is complicated. Why? Because THEE is us, and we’re complicated. THEE is contradictory dualities, balancing acts between freedom and constraint, changes through time, creativity in commitment (particularly in respect to significant others) and it separates—for the purpose of giving us a chance at understanding—things that are interrelated while acknowledging the unity of being human.

See my blog, “The Multidimensional Person,” for a discussion about this, but as an example, you might think that Interacting for Benefit contains all you need to know about getting along with the people in your life—and it so simply puts us all into one of seven categories!

Well, not so fast, because dealing with others also involves making decisions, alone or in a group. And given that the way in which people make decisions is a source of much conflict, it’s a huge factor. It’s going to be helpful to become aware of decision-making. Furthermore, any group that makes decisions has an element of politics as well.

THEE can help with relationships. But it’s not going to give you any answers. First of all, to use an analogy, if what is available on the THEE website is, say Venus, all that it is to be human is the entire solar system. Much more remains to be discovered than is currently accessible—and you are more than welcome to contribute.

What it can do is orient you toward reality. No magical thinking, no black and white answers, no stroking of your ego—just a plea for you to awaken your awareness of what’s really going on with you, the people in your life, the society you inhabit and the entire scope of humanity.

What kind of relationships can we realistically hope for if so many more of us wake up? Well, we here at the THEE Online Project call the next step toward this world the 21st Century Enlightenment.

Keep the Diversity Train Rolling

There has been a very long campaign in my state to add the words “sexual orientation” to the list of things that are protected by law. This means being gay or straight would not be a legal excuse to fire someone or not hire them or deny them a loan or any such thing.

Well, the state governing body in Idaho, the Idaho Legislature, denied the initial request. But, the city council in my city, Boise, Idaho, has approved the request. There was at once much celebration and much hand-wringing across the city.

It’s interesting, these laws about identity. Clearly, they are useless in convincing the citizenry to see those who are different as equals—that’s a personal matter and a matter of values—but they do attempt to deter anyone from treating these different types of people poorly because of said differences—which is kind of nice! I mean, if you’re a manager who doesn’t like gay people, all you have to do is not hire a gay person for some other reason, and you’re home free—but it’s the thought that counts.

Anyway… It got me thinking. Perhaps we should go a step further. While being a certain race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation is a rather well-recognized aspect of identity, there’s really much more about identity that really is not well understood—and if we start legislating identity-related issues, we’re ultimately going to see quite a few more laws.

People are different, right? They believe in different gods and eat different foods or speak different languages. We see this in spades in the U.S., the immigrant capitol of the world—and possibly all of history—and for the most part, we do a pretty good job of handling ourselves. (Obviously, there are some disturbing things, like the fact that the majority of people in U.S. prisons are not white. But what I’m saying is that it’s not Saddam Hussein’s treatment of the Kurds or Israel-Palestine over here.)

But are these relatively superficial characteristics all that make us different or unique? Not even close. Personally, I’d like to see some legal protection --> for activists and zealots who are furthering their cause peacefully, what THEE calls cause-centered people. I’ve been intimidated by police on more than one occasion for that. Then, we could add a clause for pragmatists, because there are a few charges on my credit card that were a direct result of that part of my identity. Maybe I can get some government assistance.

All kidding aside, it’s absolutely wonderful the strides humanity has taken to recognize and acknowledge diversity in the last 100 years or so—from universal suffrage to civil rights. However, there are still large strides to be made. And that’s because we have yet to understand—on a large scale—how there are fundamental differences between people --> that are less documented/debated/recognized. Furthermore, many of us don’t even realize how we are different outside of the obvious.

For example, it occurred to me a while ago, when I was reading through the Deciding & Achieving framework, that these different approaches to making decisions might be the root of a significant amount of interpersonal conflict.

Allow me to illustrate. People simply don’t realize that they make decisions in a way that is different from others. And if they are confronted with a different method of decision making, they often simply think it’s stupid and wrong.

It’s intolerance! There ought to be a law…

 I’m a pragmatic decision maker, personally. It’s served me in many ways, but it’s also a huge liability. Thank goodness for my rationalist wife, or I’d probably be broke 90% of the time. I was before we met, actually. But it’s pretty good that I realize that, because I’d probably go through life thinking she never has any fun, except when she’s planned for it months ahead of time. Is that really even fun? To her it is. She thinks I’m whimsical, flighty, which I am.

 It goes much further. There are differences in the way in which people interact with others, work life, and society in general. To some, family trumps literally everything else in life. Others prefer work and making money. Still others just want to feel important.

 The point is: society marches forward. We keep pushing against intolerance and misunderstanding. Through it all, we hope to create a world where someone’s identity isn’t automatically a barrier to achievement, success and happiness. Let’s keep it going; let’s not get comfortable! Let’s consider every aspect of identity and raise awareness. When we’re aware of our differences, I mean those deeper differences that really  matter as we create our lives and communities of our differences—we can look forward to a world fit for people.

Organizational Freedom

Welcome to the second installment of my little series on freedom. If you want to start from the beginning, check out the previous blog, “Individual Freedom.” 

We’ve all got to get up and go to work at some point in our lives—with the rare exception of trust-fund kids, I suppose, but even most of them get bored and end up doing something. Even rock stars have to stumble into the recording studio in the morning and the British monarchy can get busy waving from the backseat of a car from time to time.

No, we’ve all got bills to pay and frankly, there are too many hours in the day to sit around watching TV without going a bit crazy. Many of us are fortunate enough to love our jobs, but many of us dread going in every day.

Why is that, I wonder? Sure, some folks have labor-intensive work that wears them out physically. But even then, there’s a satisfaction to being productive and watching your efforts move along some visible change in the world.

I tend to think it has to do with dehumanization to some degree. Our society (mine at least) seems to adhere to the principle that people are more productive when they are being controlled, when they’re micromanaged at every turn. This is a major factor in that pervasive sense of disenfranchisement in society, that feeling that you are just a cog in the machine, a number, a statistic, a replaceable node in the unfeeling, uncaring employment network.

This sort of feeling has a negative effect a very important and fundamental human element—willingness. People go into work, half-heartedly do what they’re told, and go home.

I haven’t got any statistics, but I would venture a guess that most people who feel that way are among the millions who work for large, sprawling organizations with multiple departments, hierarchies of authority, several offices spread over a large geographic area, and thousands of employees. You know, the kind of place where your boss’s boss doesn’t know your name.

Considering we’ve all got to work, and often some of the best jobs with the best opportunities and highest pay are in these types of organizations, we should, as a society, find a way to keep people employed, make sure these important organizations have enough employees, and have a happy, productive workforce.

The remedy for this is two-sided. First, realize that the only thing you personally have total control of is your inner self. In this respect, freedom is yours. We work best when faced with a challenge that is appropriate for us. To accept a challenge, to immerse oneself in it, to own it personally, and to persevere are the keys to creativity. It may be possible that your job simply isn’t challenging and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe you’re in the wrong line of work. Or maybe, it’s not your fault and the organization is hopelessly flawed. Regardless, your attitude is extremely important in life and work, and unless you get it sorted out, it’ll likely follow you wherever you work.

That being said, organizations—and more accurately, management within organizations—bear much of the responsibility for encouraging, not suppressing workplace autonomy. This is a function of the management culture and their first step is to get rid of that pesky idea that controlling employees is helpful to the bottom line.

Really, management’s job is to set the immediate workplace context. That means, for example, the social media manager at a company creates an environment where everyone in his/her department knows what they are trying to accomplish (get more engagement on Twitter, or more friends on Facebook or something). Within that context, employees are given maximum autonomy.

Of course, the social media manager has a manager who sets his/her context, and that person has a manager who sets their context, and so on. Still, in a well-functioning organization, these managers and those they oversee are aware of the context in which they operate, but are allowed as much leeway as possible to simply get their job done. Imagine how totally revolutionary that would be.

(Incidentally, this comes from THEE’s Levels of Work framework—which is not yet posted yet though it should be very soon. You can, however, get a taste of it while reading about Authority, Hierarchy & Power and the notion of a Bad Boss.)

In the end, life in an organization means alignment with the goals of that organization—which are not necessarily your personal goals, which means that total freedom is impossible—but hey, that’s just life. Stick around next week for freedom in society.

Individual Freedom


This word has been the rallying cry of nations, the dream of the oppressed, the call to arms of many a leader, the aspiration of teenagers as they grow out from under the wing of their parents, the justification of jobs quit or relationships ended. It’s something one can reasonably assume that every living person values. It comes in many forms: autonomy, liberty, free will, agency and many more—each with subtle, but important difference of meaning.

Freedom is recognized as a fundamental force and element in the Taxonomy of Human Elements in Endeavour and manifests across multiple levels and in multiple domains.

But total freedom is an irrational goal. It simply cannot exist.

In this short series, we’ll examine freedom in its many forms as it shows up in the Taxonomy of Human Elements in Endeavor (THEE).

The Individual 

Our inner experience is where freedom is closest, where we can directly exercise it and where we most desire it.

We might think of it in terms of action—freedom to do, or personal freedom—but that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves. All endeavor begins in the Will, so perhaps the most fitting notion to begin with is “free will.”

Here, in our mind, is possibly where we enjoy the closest thing to ultimate freedom. We can think or believe or want anything at all within ourselves. The most crushing fascist regime, the most imposing or intimidating authority at work or even the most powerful religion (whose power lies in the thoughts and beliefs of its adherents) cannot ultimately control what goes on in the minds of people. As Jean-Paul Sartre said:

“Imagination is not an empirical or superadded power of consciousness, it is the whole of consciousness as it realizes its freedom. “ 

Our imaginations soar unbounded within ourselves. But unless the plan is to live out our days secluded inside our own minds, we must at some point interact with the outside world. And in doing so, the context changes. We are, at once, subject to the endeavors of others, or the laws of the land, or social conventions and prevailing ideologies, or any number of relevant outside forces.

In the taxonomy, this dilemma is expressed as the duality of autonomy vs. constraint.

I many ways, what we want—what we are free to want—must be balanced and made to fit within these constraints. Let’s say for example that you want to start a business.

You are certainly free to want to start a business. But by looking at the outside world through the lens of this goal, what do you see? Is your society tolerant of entrepreneurship? If you happen to currently live in North Korea, probably not. Do you have the necessary capital (money, land, buildings, equipment, etc.) to give your business a fighting chance at success? Is there a demand for your product or service?

Maybe the answer to all of these questions is yes, (or if it is no, you can still try, though things might not end well) but you probably still have quite a bit of red tape to get through before you can get started. Your local government might have zoning restrictions; the bank probably has conditions to giving you a business loan. It’s a big endeavor and countless outside factors come into play.

We must attempt to find either balance or reconcile the disparity between our autonomy and our constraints.

Luckily, most of our endeavors aren’t as involved as entrepreneurship. However, similar principles apply to even the simplest things. Ordering a meal at a restaurant requires communicating in a meaningful way with a server, ordering something that the particular restaurant offers and being able to pay for your food. At every turn, when what we want comes from outside of ourselves, we face challenges to our freedom.

Perhaps it sounds grim, but rather than cry infringement on personal freedoms at every turn like some paranoid anarchist in a mountain bunker, (silly reference, I know but I live in an area where these folks really exist) take solace in the fact that everyone on the planet is in the same boat as you. And just like them, without really thinking about it, you probably handle these constraints with grace using your own unique brand of creativity.

Everyone is creative—because they have to be. We all face challenges where what we want or what we want to do isn’t just handed to us on a silver platter. And creativity arises in the face of a challenge. At this moment, there is freedom: The freedom to take up a challenge or not. The freedom to choose what’s right/good or to take an easier path. The freedom to give in to instincts, biases and conformity—or not.

Plus, being creative is fun and true, ultimate personal freedom probably wouldn’t be much fun.

Stay tuned next week for a discussion of freedom and organizations.