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Underbelly: 10 Things - Obligation

Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly
#123 in a series of wild and precious ways to learn how to avoid the temptation to fight your battles wearing other people’s armor.

This week I contemplated obligation. I had not put a name to what was swirling around in my consciousness until this morning, when I happened upon the latest episode of Hidden Brain, a podcast I am enamored with.
Near the end, Bill Maurer, an anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine, said this:
“This is kind of a paradox of, you know, modern subjects in contemporary Western societies is that, you know, we think of ourselves as individuals first and members of relationships second, even though, of course, it’s only through relationships that we get formed, right?”
That tension that occurs when the obligations are brought forward and there is a clash between what I would call the lie of the modern age that we are all autonomous individuals who can choose our own destiny free from the relationships that formed us and what I would call the truth that, actually, we are all tied to each other in a web of obligations that sometimes serve us and feel great and sometimes feel like a burden and something we would rather not be part of.
But — I will submit that tensions, mental health issues, society break down, etc happens when we ignore these obligations. And, stay with me here: We tend to really want to keep the obligations that serve us and ditch the obligations that feel uncomfortable.
And — I really think that it is possible that we have to accept the whole package.
2. Quote
“And I wouldn’t be able to be speaking to you now if there weren’t a network of folks around me who taught me language - right? - who taught me how to be in the world and how to be a person that makes connections. And yet, because we have this kind of ideology that we are each a new person, we each stand alone, we are our own autonomous agent, we forget about those relationships. And when those things are brought forward, we feel sometimes a little ugh (ph) about them, right? I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to have that connection. I don’t want to be tied to you.” — Bill Maurer
Bill Maurer: “That’s a world, then, of no more relationships, of no more mutuality, of no more obligation. Society is not a society of settled debts. Society is a thing of ongoing, continuous relationships and unsettled debts - right? - the settling and unsettling of debts on and on and on and on and on. There’s no moment where it ends - or at least, if there was a moment where it ended, we’d all just be alone in bunkers, hiding, doing nothing.
Shankar Vedantam: "So I’m wondering if this is connected to some very interesting phenomena that we see, which is that, even after coming up with this remarkable invention, money, we’ve also come up with lots of ways to make money inefficient and difficult to use. So we give our friends gift cards to restaurants that limit, in some ways, how they can use the money. In some ways, it would be easier just to give them cash. And they could use it at the restaurant or not use it at the restaurant. What do these inefficient forms of money tell us about the role that money plays in personal relationships?”
Bill Maurer: “Yeah. I love this kind of stuff because it really shows you that money is never purely fungible, right? We’re continuously putting boundaries around different pots of money. And those boundaries are often moral boundaries. They signify a moral or ethical or relational stance that we want to take with respect to one another.”
3. Prompt
So — There is quite a large difference between “I don’t want to have that connection. I don’t want to be tied to you,” and the reality in many situations of a very unfair, potentially abusive connection or tie. And these occur both individually and societally.
Try this: Consider the best relationship you are in at the moment. As a mother, father, son, daughter, friend, partner, etc.
What makes this relationship work? Is it a healthy relationship? Is it weighted to your advantage? Does the connection feel like an easy continuous give and take of obligation to each other?
Consider the most challenging relationship you are in at the moment.
What makes this relationship hard? Is it weighted to your disadvantage? Are there things that need to be said that you could say but don’t?
If it is abusive and you remain — that is potentially a reason to enter a therapeutic counseling relationship.
If it is uncomfortable — consider this. What is the role of obligation in that relationship?
4. Quest
Staying in relationships when things get challenging is, perhaps, one of the most unappreciated moments in our modern age :)
I am pretty sure no one wants to live in a society where we have to remain in challenging (or abusive) relationships without the opportunity to work on them.
But — that work. AmIrite? Sheesh. That work is the reason for all the grey hairs. :)
Is there one thing you can do this week that could improve one challenging relationship?
Hey — Maybe your most challenging relationship is with yourself :) If you beat yourself up, resist caring for yourself, if it has been months since you took yourself on a “date” — go for it.
5. Level up
Something I find interesting and a bit challenging is the idea that it seems like often the more vulnerable member of the relationship often needs to agitate for change.
I would love to live in a society where the person in a more authoritative position in the relationship were the one recommending counseling, offering to work on the relationship, being the more giving person in the relationship. What I notice more often than I am comfortable with are relationships where the brunt of the emotional work is done by the member who is the least powerful. The easy example here is how we treat people when they work in roles of service.
We can extrapolate from there.
6. Video — I love this video. I also own many of his books.
Strange answers to the psychopath test | Jon Ronson
Strange answers to the psychopath test | Jon Ronson
7. Podcast
Money 2.0: Emotional Currency | Hidden Brain Media
8. Poem
Hills of Bureaucracy by Alexandria Peary - Poems |
9. Hero — The person who created Atlas Obscura
Joshua Foer | Author of Moonwalking with Einstein
10. Connect
Don’t miss out on the other issues by Wendy Kelly
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Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly @wendykkelly

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