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On the Necessity of Relationships (Part I)

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

How do you define yourself? What does it mean to be "conservative," or for that matter, to use any description? Descriptions make sense because they have opposites. If you've never experienced cold, then the word "hot" means nothing. If you've never been happy, then "sad" means nothing.

I don't think that personality exists apart from experiencing interaction with the world around us, and most especially with other people. We are communal, social creatures with an inborn need to interact. There is a theory in psychology that says that the self only exists in relation to others. In other words, there is no "Gary" unless Gary has someone to talk to.

I believe this stacks up with human experience. What exactly makes people feel lonely? Is it a survival need? No; loneliness has nothing to do with lacking food, water, or shelter. It is a sense that we lack fulfillment through self-identification. Without other people, we can't identify ourselves.

And we have an inborn need for self-identification. We must retain personality at all costs. If you end up shipwrecked alone on an island with a tennis ball, you'll name it Wilson, too. This may be an act of insanity, but it is a built-in defense mechanism against losing all sense of self. This is why we need other people to encourage and support us.

You help define people simply by relating to them. Every time you encourage someone, you build a positive definition of him/her, and when you put them down, you build a lower definition. I already wrote one note on the power of speech, but it's a point worth repeating.

Personality does not naturally exist in a vacuum and it is not independent of your interactions with others. To quote a Collin Raye song: "without you, baby, I'm not me." Do you know what happens if that built-in mechanism of creating an artificial relationship doesn't kick in? If you were on an island alone, and did not make friends with a tennis ball, then you would lose all sense of self and become an instinctive animal.

Or, perhaps, you'd go through depression. We all feel unfulfilled and lonely sometimes, but depression is not something everyone goes through. With depression, your personality is forced into a vacuum detached from your real life. Even if you have a caring family and friends that love you, somehow you don't take that into account and feel as if you're all alone in the world and nobody loves you.

No personality or privilege can protect from this. You can be a very smart Bible major, very popular, and still feel like a loser. You can be an incredible athlete and still feel unfulfilled. Last Saturday totally threw me for a loop. A friend of mine and comrade in the Lord, Ellie... she took her own life. How should I respond? How should I relate to this event, and how does it define my actions?

Perhaps we don't specifically say "me, me, me" like that, but we do all consider how to relate to the event. My choice? I will remember always to encourage my friends every chance I get. Life is fleeting. Pain is real, and it hurts. Death is scary, and so... inhuman. It is raw. It is real. It is unpleasant. It is also inevitable.

For those of us who are in Christ, it is not the end. I find comfort in this, but it doesn't make me immune to the pain of losing someone. In response to this tragedy, I choose to live every day as if I don't get another chance to say "I love you."

Lastly, I want to dedicate We Live by Superchick to Ellie Hensley. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. I should have been a better friend.

You see, even though she's gone, she is a part of my definition. When she died, a piece of me died, too. A piece that doesn't just go away. That's why I have to speak to her memory. It's why we all do. Death is not something the human personality can comprehend. It is, simply, not natural.


  1. Nathan

    Hey Gary, I'm sorry to hear about Ellie and the tragedy you're going through. I appreciate your words and thoughts. I pray that God comforts you and everyone who was friends with her during this time.

    As I was reading your part about loneliness, I am reminded of The Wounded Healer by Nouwen. (I actually just finished it today.) But in the fourth chapter, he has some really insightful and helpful things on loneliness. I wish you the best!