Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Connections (the first in a series about relationship...)

Recently, a friend reminded me of another song that was a favorite of mine when I was young: The Rainbow Connection. I haven't listened to that song for many years, and hearing it again brought back the sense of self that I discovered at eight years old. Connections. Relationships. That is how my view of the world is ordered. It is where I find meaning. And where I understand my self, my strengths, my weaknesses.

Now that I have learned so much about personality theory, I see how this way of being is a function of my personality type. As an INFJ, my dominant thinking process is Ni (introverted intuiting). Ni is the process that searches for connections and relationships, then uses that information to predict, enlighten, or transform (it is a future-oriented way of thinking). I find meaning and purpose in this structure or vision. Everything is interconnected, and once I can define the qualities of a connection I can intuit the future and understand the present. My Fe (the decision making process) uses the intuited info, passes it through the lens of extroverted feeling (considering others and the group, how can I best facilitate harmony and connection…) and I make a decision on which to act.

So, what is relationship? Listening to the Rainbow Connection reminded me of a common problem between people.

Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.

Relationships are illusions. They aren't tangible. We can't touch them. And the only way we know they exist is when a behavior causes a ripple. Everything and everyone that feels that ripple can be certain that they share a connection with the person that generated the ripple. So, a relationship can only be known with certainty when there is change. But what is the relationship? The definition or quality of a relationship can only be defined by the two who are connected. No one on the outside can precisely describe it. And even the participants' definitions can differ greatly from each other. So what is the truth of this connection if it can only be defined inaccurately by each side? The truth is different for each party (and many of those differences can be explained by personality theory). "Relationship" therefore, is an illusion.

So we've been told and some choose to believe it
I know they're wrong, wait and see.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

I'd love to know what Kermit "knows" that gives him the confidence that there is a truth where there is a connection. I used to think I knew (my Ni in action!). But that was before I learned that there are ways of thinking that my brain would never have generated on its own. I was egotistical (in the sense that all children are egotistical until they develop enough abstract thought to see others as separate from themselves.)

Now I see how every relationship in my world (in the form that I believe it to be) exists only in my mind. But there are truly connections. That can't be disputed. I feel those ripples every day. And others around me tell me that they feel the ripples that I generate. Is it enough to believe that a relationship is what I believe it is? No, because that's only half the truth. How does the other person define our connection? And when they describe the connection, are they using words that hold different meanings in their way of thinking than in mine? When I hear their description I still have to decipher the meaning using my knowledge of their way of thinking, their personality type, their values and priorities. Ack!! This is hard work! No wonder there is so much confusion and disagreement between people.

How important is it to understand how someone else defines my connection to them? As long as it gives them meaning and pleasure (I'd like to not be the source of unhappiness!), maybe our connection can exist without further definition.

But, I think, when a connection starts to grow or change, it is important for both parties to understand the other's definition. Because if the change holds different significance, or alters each person's definition in a different way, then there will be confusion. So then what protects the connection? Should it be protected?

I am an Idealist-- one of Kermit's dreamers. I want to find that there is a universal "rainbow" connection. I think that our shared human desire to have connections or relationships is the universal truth. But everything else-- what the relationship means, how it is protected, the priority or significance that it is given-- are all illusion, created by each individual. And the best way to avoid confusion and pain is to share our thoughts, agree on a definition that works for both, and continually revise it together. In other words, we need to work together consciously to create and define a relationship that will be what both desire.

(Don't tell my fellow Idealists, but to quote Vernon Dursley from Harry Potter: "There's no such thing as magic!" Nothing just happens unless we make it happen. But it sure is wonderful when what we create feels like magic!)


Charles Gramlich said...

Interesting post. I hadn't thought of it in just that way. Got me thinking about a post on "disconnections," and how those could be important to us as well.

Precie said...

INFJs unite! (Get it, unite? connect?) :)

I suppose it's then no surprise to you that one of my "pet" phrases was something hubby saw on a t-shirt in a catalog years ago:
"Mitakuye Oyasin" - a Lakota phrase that translates "We are all related."

Your explication of relationships here is fascinating, particularly how relationships exist in one's mind. Of course that helps explain various friends and their romantic upheavals. But, yes, relationships take on a life of their own, one that needs nurturing as it evolves.

Funny...I always thought my tendency to look at the world holistically, so to speak, was a function of growing up Catholic. Now I see it's much more intrinsic for me.

JaneyV said...

Another INFJ, another Catholic here and I always knew that my take on the world was intrinsic to me and if I had any illusions otherwise my six siblings were only too happy to point out how uniquely "Jane" my outlook was. I'm glad of it now though.

I think I was in my late teens and it was my first time in love when I realised the illusory nature of relationship connections and how two people can claim to feel the same thing be vary radically in how they define them. Then my next lesson was in how those connections change and need to be redefined as the relationship evolves. It's like a renegotiation of a contract to ensure that both parties are still happy with the terms. I'm glad that I had these insights before I met Hubby.

The most important thing is to never become complacent. Respecting each others right to evolve in a relationship is part of the deal.

As usual a wonderful and thought-provoking post Aine!

Sarah Hina said...

Wow, great post, Aine! You raise a lot of important questions about subjectivity and the mismatch and overlap that can occur between two visions.

Those connections should be protected. Equally, in effort, all around. We don't each have to establish the same definitions, but understanding others' structures is paramount to peace and security...and that longed-for harmony. When those bridges are in doubt, there are only islands. And then we're all adrift.

Here's to feeling those ripples, and finding their sources. :)

(Love the song and photo, too!! :))

Precie said...

Meant to mention earlier...the INFJ might also explain why I'm a registered Democrat. :)

When you apply the same perspectives to a socio-political world view, it becomes...daunting. Important but daunting.

Aine said...

Charles~ Ah, yes. Disconnections are a fascinating topic. We probably learn more about ourselves from our experiences with disconnect than with successful relationships. I look forward to reading such a post.

Precie~ Yes! INFJ's unite! We certainly aim to. Ha!

Holistic and tolerant are probably top words in an INFJ's vocabulary. I never questioned where my way of thinking came from, probably because I was too busy noticing that no one in my family was like me. But, like you, I did hang a lot on my protestant upbringing. Interestingly, I found that my perspectives didn't change when I turned atheist. It has been such a joy to meet you as a fellow INFJ!

Janey~ You said it so well! Thank you! I'm so glad you had such insights before marrying. I wish there was a mandatory class in high school about relationship. Maybe more young people would enter marriage with a better chance at success.

Sarah~ Thanks! I like your visual of islands. Yes, understanding another's structure gives us knowledge on which to base our expectations. It protects us from disappointment or unease. I'm glad to finally understand that bridges can be rebuilt, and that creating that connection together using blueprints from each person, can result in strong connections.

Precie~ You know, Ghandi is rumored to have been an INFJ.... It is daunting to build connections across cultural and language divides. But the future orientation of Idealists usually results in optomism. It can be done. Yes we can!

Vesper said...

But everything else-- what the relationship means, how it is protected, the priority or significance that it is given-- are all illusion, created by each individual.
Aine, I haven't given much thought to this but now that I'm reading it here I realise it's something I've always felt.
What an interesting post you have - much to think about here!

Precie said...

Ghandi as an INFJ would not surprise me. :) Ooh, and I just found a site that asserts Nelson Mandela, MLK, Mother Theresa, and Florence Nightingale were all INFJs too. I can totally see that. :) Good thing there are lots of other types to help keep us grounded.

Precie said...

It has been such a joy to meet you as a fellow INFJ!

Feeling's mutual. :)

Anonymous said...

I think this is going to be a great series and can't wait to see where it leads!!

Being an INTP, I am a systems builder, one who always strives to understand the world as one, interconnected, fundamental organism. Toward that end, I think that the concept of relationship can be distilled to a basic concept. A basic balance between two interrelated drives.

To understand the basic nature of it, we have to look a little closer at the human animal. We are hard-wired, biologically, for community. When we are isolated, we feel lonely. When we are together, energy builds. We understand the value of community life (support, pooling labor, better ideas, etc.). But we also understand the threat of community life (misunderstanding, conflict, ostracism, etc.). Relationship is the quintessential community. The community of two.

So what is the basic balance? Two elements, both of which are essential for success.

#1 Selflessness or Help Given. Love from this direction is the kind of love that provides, reduces burdens, helps, uplifts another person. It is other-minded, in the sense that one is giving value, work, and sacrifice. This element is the pleasure of effort.

#2 Protection or Help Received. This kind of received love is the sense of being understood, valued, protected, helped, and uplifted. It is me-minded. It is want-oriented. This element is the pleasure of having someone dedicated to your happiness, even if it means work and sacrifice from that person.

This give-and-take balance is delicate. And any failure of a relationship, and resulting tension, can be traced to a failure in one or both of these community drives. For example, #1 must be completely other-minded. If you give love with passion and dedication, but it's a vision of love that you want (probably in the hope that the other person will get the hint and return the same thing), it fails. The lack of true dedication to your Selflessness or Help Given translates into a frustration of the other person's me-mindedness (#2). That person, in frustration, may reciprocate by withholding his/her own gift (#1), beginning a spiral.

True relationship cannot be selfless. Sometimes that's what we're told. Love is giving no matter what. However, it is not hard-wired into humans to always give and not receive. Inevitably, we will be poisoned by frustration. And keep in mind that love too heavy in #1 can certainly be a failure of the giver. The giver might be far more comfortable giving than asking for something in return. Therefore, both people play a role in ensuring that both elements are healthy in each direction.

Think about relationships you've been in that have gone awry. Can you trace it to a problem in the balance of these elements?

Aine said...

Vesper~ I'm so glad that I've given you something new to ponder! That is one of my favorite reasons for communication: to share a new perspective or idea.

Precie~ :D Yes- a world full of INFJs would be poorly run (all off dreaming of possibilities but overlooking logistics)-- we do need grounding! I just looked up what says-- she adds Eleanor Roosevelt and Katharine Briggs (of Myers-Briggs!), but believes Ghandi was INFP. It is interesting to hear the arguments for typing people from history.

As I have found (and many of the books say), you cannot accurately type someone else. Only they can know what their preferred cognitive functions are (though we can make educated guesses!) One issue that clouds how a person appears is that they may have strengthened non-preferred functions as a result of upbringing (positive or negative reinforcement from parents for behaviors that strengthen other preferences). Another issue with introverting types is that their dominant function is not seen by others. It is their secondary function which is extroverted and which others see, so I'd imagine mistakes could be made if one guessed the introvert's dominant function wrongly.

Thanks for all the discussion!!

Jason~ Thanks for such a well thought out "rational" (ha!) explanation!

You are right that give and take are the two elements necessary for relationship. It is "how" relationship works. And, that true giving must take the form of what the receiver wants from their perspective, not what the giver thinks the receiver would want or what the giver would want for themself.

Using your language, I can see more clearly that a relationship would be defined by the amount and quality of giving and receiving. Both parties must agree, for example, if the amount and quality of giving/receiving constitutes a "love" relationship vs. friendship vs. acquaintance (and any level in between). That definition is still established by the parties involved based on their values and desires. An outsider cannot define that relationship (even though they may be able to describe the quantity and quality of giving and receiving).

Great discussion! Thanks!

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

You wrote - "So, a relationship can only be known with certainty when there is change."

That is one profound statement, Aine! I found many deep and thought provoking ideas in this post. (In all of your posts)

I believe that respect is one of the most important elements in maintaining a solid relationship. If you respect one another, other matters that need to be managed in a connection, sort of take care of themselves.(if that makes any sense)

I know relationships are not that simple. They do need a lot of care and work! :)

Chris Eldin said...

{smiley hugs} I feel at home here with the INFJs!

I enjoyed reading this post. I think that my marriage needs a bit of a boost in the definition department. Now that kids are older, DH is traveling, and heck, I'm evolving I think.... I may read this post to DH. Will keep you posted...

Aine said...

Kaye~ Absolutely! Respect is vital. It is certainly an element of any healthy relationship. And yes, respecting another does breed tolerance and acceptance of differences which goes a long way towards maintaining harmony.

Chris~ Marriages can take a beating from growing children (amazing how much havoc those little tykes can wreak)! And yes, we all (hopefully) continue growing, so that alone means we need to continually reassess/reaffirm our relationships. I'm tickled that my post could help give you and your hubby a boost! Please keep me posted!