Relationships in a World of Individualism

  • rWorld

    The rWorld is about more than Dale Kuehne's book Sex and the iWorld.
    The rWorld is a New England based, non-profit (in formation), that is composed of a growing number of people and organizations from many faith and ideological backgrounds worldwide. We believe that much of the fulfillment for which women and men are looking can be found by enhancing the quality of our relationships. While the individual freedom we enjoy in the West is a gift, the love and intimacy for which humans yearn will not be found in self-serving materialism or hedonism, but in a variety of healthy relationships.

    Contact us if you'd like get involved:

  • Dale Kuehne

    Sex & the iWorld

    Professor of Politics and The Richard L. Bready Chair for Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH.

    In this blog I'm highlighting signposts of the world in which we presently reside as a means of helping promote a civil, and meaningful dialogue about what kind of world in which we wish to live. I am particularly interested in exploring how might we reconcile the individual good and the common good, and where reconciliation isn’t possible, which should take precedence and why.

    I also blog at

    [Content Caution]

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rLiving 16: Knowing the poor 2 (Directness)

Posted by Simon on December 21, 2010

Do you know the poor? Literally, do you know anyone who’s poor?

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully. It can also be mediated, even when face to face, by dishonesty and fakeness: there’s a real me and a real you, any fronts we put up reduces directness.

If you don’t know anyone who is poor then get to know someone who does (even an organization). You’ll then have a weak link that holds enormous potential.

Merely being conscious that I am, in fact, connected to someone seems to make a difference to me being more compassionate and more committed (i.e. doing something about it). ‘Directness’ as a relational dimension of life helps me think more concretely about my place in the world. This helps both when thinking about the poor, but also, among other things, in thinking about food and trade. A human being with a beating heart picked my asparagus. I am connected to them (and therefore have a responsibility to them), albeit mediated by a number of organizations, financial transactions and people. Directness probably explains why child sponsorship works well, because you can see the link.

Very simply, you could be just two or three degrees of separation from someone who needs something that you have. What I don’t like about the diagram above is the dollar signs. It bothers me that my relationship with the poor, or anyone else, is defined in monetary terms. I don’t like it because money, like power (another relational dimension), seems to confer value in so many people’s eyes. Money of course IS power in this relationship but it’s not the only power (unless it’s the only mediator, which in most cases it is) and it still shouldn’t confer ‘value’ or dignity. The one-way arrows imply there’s only one dimension, in one direction, to the relationship. The arrow and the $$ reduces the multidimensionality of the relationship. To mitigate that I gave everyone a beating heart.

Social Network Analysis is an exploding field that could eventually help us better realize our connectedness to each other (see Nicholas Christakis’ video at the end of this post for an example). But just being aware that you already have a relationship with the poor is a first step.

Actually, make that a second step. How much do you disclose of your personal needs – material or otherwise – to other people, even people close to you? Same here. It’s probably the same for them, too. If we’re not prepared to be vulnerable to one another in our current socio-economic relationships why do we think we’ll have the right attitude to love the poor, with humility and respect, when we meet them? This is where the other element of directness comes in. We need to learn to unmask ourselves, to expose ourselves enough that our relationships can become ones of mutual giving and receiving.

Anyway, give that diagram a ponder with respect to your relationship with the poor, or those who grow your vegetables or make your t-shirts. How does it help your thinking?


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