When we look at one another, do we automatically seek to define our relationship? Assessing to what degree they might be a threat or an ally: a rival in how we wish to be regarded or the power we want to hold, or someone who might bolster our status and develop us in areas we may feel we are lacking. But, beyond that, could there be another way of valuing human existence?
Often it seems we’re encouraged to view others somewhat strategically, in terms of how we compare and how that might impact us. I’m not really sure why, but it’s arguably woven through how we learn to relate from school and ways we’re taught to approach the social world of work, status and security. Modern culture’s peppered with ways to judge, compare, label, and differentiate ourselves through the process.
This way of approaching one another must’ve come from somewhere, but it’s quite combative. It’s essentially viewing human society as a competition wherein we must seek strategic advantage; reading our social world, positioning ourselves “wisely” and making sure we get ahead. It seems to mainly view others to the extent they serve your purposes.
That kind of social or psychological reasoning doesn’t sit well with me, but it seems to play a big part in how the world’s working. It’s beginning to seem “normal” that we might assess friendships in terms of how much they support us, our ideas on life, and where we want to be heading: creating a brand, an image, a tribe, and allowing yourself to be drawn into their orbit, absorbing their talents or outlook.
I’m not sure humans have always approached social relationships that way; although we might believe that to be the case. Is it right to view others strategically? Might their life not have value beyond how it can serve others? Might treating people like resources, stepping stones, supporting characters in our own drama be downplaying the worth of our existence?
It’s strange to me how we’re constantly evaluating others: casting an eye over them to see how pretty, young, stylish they might be; deciding what labels best fit and how they stack up to us in whatever competition we feel ourselves a part of (see Notes One). It seems we make all these subtle judgements then relate accordingly, adopting tones of condescension or confidence depending on the conclusions we’ve drawn.
Is that normal? Is it normal to see people so transactionally, rating them against whatever standards we decided to apply then relating to them on that basis? Is there no longer a baseline of respect, courtesy, interest, understanding, or recognition of the unwavering value of each human life? Modern life might have a pace that threatens to overwhelm our capacity to care, but being human can’t have changed that much (Notes Two).
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s completely fine and without consequence to relate to other people in this way; but it might be worthwhile being sure on the matter (Notes Three).
Notes and References:
Note 1: What do we see in beauty?
Note 1: Attitudes to elder members of society
Note 2: The worth of each life
Note 2: Does it matter if others suffer?
Note 2: Mirrors we offer one another
Note 3: Zimbardo & the problem of evil
Note 3: What if it all means something?