So after that little hiatus I’ll continue this series! To make sense of this post, take a look at the introduction to this series, and click on the “Relational Proximity” category for some of the previous posts.
Over the 20 days of actively reflecting on relational dimensions of life I came to realize that Purpose/Commonality seems to have primacy over the other dimensions. In other words, dimensions of Directness, Continuity, Multiplexity and Power are constrained or delimited by whatever purpose or identity the two individuals, groups or organizations have in common.
I suspect that a lack of understanding and agreement about what that commonality is – and even, whether it’s wanted or not – contributes to so much of the disharmony we experience in relationships. So, knowing what the purpose is, and knowing that you both know, makes for ease and harmonious relationships. Even if it’s briefly, temporarily, like being on LinkedIn and someone helping me out.
The burglar and the woman and other neighbors in the post on crime and punishment had a specific crime as their point of commonality. In that case, Directness (face to face or not), Continuity (did it happen once, quickly, or every day for hours?), Multiplexity (was it just a break-in, or is he stalking also?), and Power (did someone get him back, steal his wallet? is he jailed and powerless now?) all contribute to an understanding of the severity of the crime. Or rather, they explain (and probably predict) the intensity of feeling and entanglement that people have with the criminal and each other.
Marriage is a substantial bond of love and commitment (Purpose/Commonality). Firstly, one hopes that there is common agreement between husband and wife what marriage means (like I say, lack of shared understanding likely explains a LOT of the problems). But even then, marriage has implications or demands for:
- Directness (nakedness of spirit and body, consummation of the marriage by sexual intercourse, actually BEING there in person),
- Continuity (shared story of the past, BEING together regularly and for substantial portions of time, anticipating a life together to the very end),
- Multiplexity (doing chores, making love, going to movies, hanging with friends, hanging with different friends, learning something together or from each other, helping someone together, doing things separately then telling each other about it etc. etc.),
- Power (mutual respect, mutual submission, mutual support, each using their strengths but not assuming either is better or greater for those strengths).
Marriage, as a sacred bond, confers definite boundaries of fidelity and togetherness. But the details are worked out between the couple! How much, how often and how – these are the privilege and joy and challenge of each couple to work out themselves as they spend a lifetime figuring out “what does it mean to be married?”.
But even within marriage, there are other ‘purposes’. For example, shopping. “Shopping“, when you’re doing it for two or the family, is the particular binding element, the commonality. But you can be better shoppers for each other if you realize:
- A text message may be perfect for mediating the relationship for this purpose; you don’t have to do it together, and you certainly shouldn’t do it naked!; (Directness)
- That you remember each other’s preferences; plan for future meals(Continuity)
- Going together in a street market, at a milliners, at the car showroom (Multiplexity – Knowledge from different contexts)
- Who sets the menu? Who assumes the other will make the decisions? (Parity)
Well you get the drift, and maybe I’m overdoing it. But each little thing, to the degree that a relationship is formed around the common purpose, a whole bunch of opportunities arise that require different ways of applying the dimensions.
Finally, social networks. I’m on LinkedIn. The ‘relationship’ I have with a lot of people on there is through work, but with some, the only thing we have in common is that we’re on LinkedIn. Since the only purpose, so far, is to simply ‘be connected’, they’re perfectly healthy relationships. Any increase on any of the dimensions would solidify the relationship, making a ‘strong link’, as opposed to a ‘weak link’.
Sp earlier this week I updated my LinkedIn status with that research question. One “weak link” LinkedIn connection, ‘Mick’, responded. We’d only met once ever, briefly. “I’ll have a look”, he said. Thus we found a new common purpose, for a short time, which led to this. Given that purpose the implied and assumed agreement of that purpose enabled us, without even thinking, to select:
- Appropriateness of media choice (email only; directness),
- Length and frequency of conversing (twice; continuity),
- Extent to which we got to know each other (not at all, beyond the nature of my question, which was unambiguous; Multiplexity)
- Who had the power (equals, but he was better at research; Parity)
It felt a bit of a stretch with ‘shopping’ but actually in the end it still makes sense that Purpose/Commonality is the binding and determining factor. To the degree that there’s shared agreement about it, whether assumed or explicit, it provides the practical analysis and ethical reasoning for the other four dimensions.