[big]The Four Elements: A Definitive Guide to Successful Human Relations[/big]
It's an interesting proposition.
One that I have had both the pleasure of, and agony of, mulling over in my brain for many many years now. So, for the first time, I am going to attempt to write it all down. I have shared this with several people over the years, but never as an article, as I am doing now.
You see, we've been told by countless folks how we should interact with each other. "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and the like, for decades, have flooded our bookshelves, each promising to reveal secrets that will make us popular and powerful.
Some have very useful tips and techniques. Some are complete steaming piles of feel-good bullshit. None give us a measure, a yardstick, by which we may identify and recognize the health and strength of our inter-connectivity with the people that we share our experiences, and our very lives.
So, [b]I[/b] will.
A little background, first. I, after graduating from High School, never went on to college. I served a tour in the Marines, then traveled around and worked a slew of jobs in literally every field of occupation there is. My resume reads like a Classified section of the newspaper. I chose to walk this path for two reasons-- the first being the need to fuel my desire for knowledge and experience. I have always been curious about everything, which is one of the reasons why I kind of skipped past college. How the hell could I just pick one field in which to focus all of my attention, when there were dozens more just as interesting to me? I'm the guy who reads the college textbooks of my friends for fun, not credit. Instead of being shut up in a classroom and learning about what others were doing outside, I decided to get in on the ground floor, get my hands dirty, and learn from doing it myself. This exposed me to a very large cross-section of the population, from every walk of life. And that gave rise to the second reason for doing all this...
Ask me, and I will tell you: I am a Student of Man. I always have been. Human beings absolutely fascinate me. We are, bar none, the most complex and intricately enabled social animal on the planet. Just our capacity to create extra-genetic knowledge [i][short explanation of that term: DNA holds all the information of a species, usually. This includes all physical and instinctual data. Any information beyond that, utilized by a species, is learned behavior... mother teaching young to forage, etc. Humans go beyond this-- in fact, the best example is staring you in the face right now. Written language allows us to go beyond the teacher-student mentoring of the mother/young scenario, and potentially pass complex information and teaching over hundreds of centuries. One being's thoughts may now echo and influence for a millennium or more past their actual living years, and this capacity of ours only snowballs in how much information can be aggregated as time continues to march on.][/i] sets us above and beyond any other species in our uniqueness.
So I've spent my entire life learning from observing other human beings-- much like nature show hosts do on Animal Planet. This has led me to some interesting insights, especially when it comes to the most basic function of humans-- social interaction.
The fundamental conclusion I have come to is that all human relationships, regardless if they are platonic or romantic, must be comprised of four elements. In an interesting parallel, this concept of four elements seems to be prevalent in expression of a stable reality, universally. In Alchemy, the four elements were Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. In Science, the four states of matter are Gas, Liquid, Solid, and Energy. The four elements of human relations are no different, and again draw a strong parallel to the two aforementioned observations of reality.
So, without further ado, let's just cut to the chase and get down to the nitty gritty.
Now, just for an experiment, I would request that you use these to measure both current and previous relations, to test my observations and see if they hold. If current relations [friends, lovers, mates] contain all four elements, then they are stable, and will continue indefinitely. If they are lacking one of the elements, then they will eventually fail, and the cause can be traced to the element that is missing. Looking back upon prior relationships, one will be able to see clearly what was missing, and thus, why they were doomed to failure from the beginning, even if we ourselves were unaware of it at the time.
The four elements, explained one at a time:
This element is the psychological equivalent to Air or Gas in parallel. It is the least dense of the elements, because it is based not upon an action but the intent of the other person involved. Trust is accepting the knowledge that the other person is not going to intentionally cause you hurt or harm. This is not to say that you won't get hurt or harmed, but it is not a betrayal of trust if the hurt or harm was accidental or unintentional. Many people would argue that they don't trust very easily, but the sheer act of interaction or information sharing is a matter of trust. Without any trust, there is no social being, period. If you cannot trust the other person, then you cannot rely on them or depend upon them to not do you harm.
This element, like all of them, is not only necessary of yourself to be working and functional, but also required by the other person in the social interaction. Not only must you feel unthreatened by the other person, but they, too, must feel that same quality from you-- that you are not going to try to hurt them.
This element is the psychological equivalent of Water or Liquid in parallel. Communication is a flowing of information between the two people involved, constantly moving and changing. Once you have established a measure of Trust [that you can indeed transfer information safely], this is the next stage. For a relationship to truly last indefinitely, one must be able to express all topics freely and without reservation. You should be able to be comfortable chatting about anything, from the trivial and mundane, to the personal and complex. If there are gaps in this information exchange, something you do not feel comfortable sharing..? This is where the breakdown begins-- because misunderstanding starts there. No one can have a complete understanding with missing data, and assumptions will fill the void. Truth is now reliant upon theory, instead of fact.
The flip side to this is the ability to listen. And I am not indicating merely hearing the other person, but paying attention and understanding what is being shared. Its not only important to understand what is being said, but how it is being said, and even noting what is not being said-- because in addition to the written and spoken languages, you also have to include body language... which speaks a lot louder than most folks realize.
Honesty and truth are critical here, but there is room for tact and subtlety. For an example, one of the most dangerous questions a man can ever hear: "Does this make me look fat?" Being who I am, I am fond of blunt and plain-spoken answers, always warning folks to not ask questions that they really don't want to hear the answers to... that being said, answering "Yes, enormous." is not going to make your night an easy one, even if it is true that the floral print mu-mu makes her look like a wallpapered sack of potatoes. In a situation like that, the best approach [remember, we are being honest, but not intending to hurt] would be to be subtle--
"I think that particular outfit hides/doesn't accent/exaggerates badly [insert your favorite body feature of her here]." In this way, you can convey that it isn't looking good without stepping on ego or esteem.
This element is the psychological equivalent of Earth or Solid in parallel. This element is not about intentions or exchanges, but the recognition of importance to the other person. It is also about the actions taken, instead of the intent behind them. Respect is noting what information has been exchanged, and the priority of it for the other person. It could be as simple as closing a toilet seat, or putting a cap back on the toothpaste tube. Respect means that you have noticed what is important to the other person and will honor that importance to them by not trivializing it or dismissing it. It is also recognizing the other person's ability to make their own decisions, and to allow them to do so without interference or hindrance. In many aspects, Respect is a physical manifestation of Trust... whereas Trust is the intention, Respect is the action.
Again, like the previous two, it's only good when it's going in both directions-- you, too, must be allowed to be your own being, independent and autonomous. Things that are important to you must also be given priority. And in action, you must act in accordance with the Trust shown you by the act of Respect.
This element is the psychological equivalent of Fire or Energy in parallel. Here's the fuel behind the social arrangement in the first place-- the one that most folks skip straight to, and forget the other three. Let's be honest... when you have this one, you can overlook the others-- justify the shortcomings-- and settle for the temporary over the long term. It can be a smolder and burn for years, or knock you over in a flash like a lightning strike. In a nutshell, this is simply liking the person. Yeah, it's that simple. For a relationship to work, you actually have to like the person. I'm not talking about physical attraction or lust, because let's face it... that's just a matter of hormonal drives, and has nothing to do with emotional feeling whatsoever. When I say like, I am talking about the qualities of the person which appeal to you, and make you desire to be around them and spend time with them. And not just between the sheets, either, but the other hours of the day as well. And it's also important to note-- it's not what they do for you that should be the attraction, but what they do for themselves. Things they are passionate about. Things they enjoy doing. Things they are good at. How they carry themselves. If you focus on what they do for you..? That's not affection, that's addiction.
And yes, this one, too, has to go both ways. They have to like you for you, and not for what you do for them, or how you make them horny... although if the relationship is romantic, that helps. ;)
So, in conclusion, pick folks at random from your life. Ask yourself, which ones did I have with them? Which ones did they have with me? The important thing is, you will note that the relationships that either fell apart or just drifted apart? Yeah, those are the ones lacking one of these elements, or lacking it being a two way exchange. And the relationships that have lasted and lasted...? Betcha they have all four!