Lesson 60- Destructive and Productive Relationships

         In my last program I was, I was discussing Eric Fromms book, Escape From Freedom to illustrate how freedom, contrary to what people believe today, is not the greatest desire of the human heart. Both Eric Fromm and Will Durant say that psychologically and historically human beings desire order more than they desire freedom and that is why they both claim that when freedom leads to chaos, human beings will begin to seek order at any cost. Thus, when one talks about freedom he has to make a careful distinction between the two types described by Eric Fromm: freedom from, which is the permission to be free and freedom to which is the ability to be free. And, as Fromm said, the development of the child in the womb from almost total dependency on it mother to growing independence from her, is a roadmap for us as to how people are suppose to become free. When freedom from, the permission, comes before freedom to, the ability, the result is chaos and confusion because the person is incapable of handling the freedom, and according to both Fromm and Durant they will go seeking some authority to assume dictatorial control over their lives. In other words, they will escape from freedom. On the other hand, when freedom to, the ability, precedes freedom from, the permission, there is a smooth and orderly development towards independence.

        Years ago when teaching at a local high school, I was delayed by the teacher in the room next to mine. He stopped me to ask me to come into his class and give my opinion on a question that he and his students were discussing. I later discovered that it was only a ploy to keep me from entering my room where my own students were preparing a surprise to honor me. However, the question that he asked me to answer was, What is the hardest thing about being a parent? To my own surprise, without any hesitation or thought I said, To teach your children to leave you! Later, when I had time to think about it, I began to see how profound that answer was. It really is the hardest and most necessary job of all parents because we want to cling to those we love because they add a certain amount of affirmation and security to our own existence. However, as one sage once put it, If you love something, set it free. If it doesnt return, it never was love. If it does, then it truly is love. What this demonstrates is the intimate and essential connection between love and freedom and it applies not only to our relationship with others but also to Gods relationship with us. Remember the words from the Song of Thanksgiving: Love thats freely given wants to freely be received. God, the Source of Love Itself, understands that a compulsory love based on promises of rewards or threats of punishment is no love at all and that is why He detests the need for laws to keep us faithful to Him. Nevertheless, He, like all parents, is forced to use reward and punishment in our childhood stage to protect us from our own stupidity. However, even in the Old Testament, which is based on law, we hear his longing to get beyond this type of relationship and to move on to one that is based on mutual love rather than fear. As the scriptures say, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom and we might add, The love of the Lord is the end of Wisdom.

        Like all parents, He yearns for the day when we will begin to understand that the rules that He imposed on us were for our own good and, knowing this, we will freely choose to do His Will because we know Himlove Him and want to serve Him so that we can be in His presence for the rest of eternity. As one scripture put it, I would rather have one day in the house of my Lord, than an thousand in the house of His enemies. In short, the point that I am making is that free relationships are higher than compulsory relationships. Therefore, freedom, symbolized by the inverted triangle, must be the ultimate goal of the universe. If this is so, then there is nothing more important for us to understand than the nature of freedom and the process by which develops.

        If we were really honest, many of us would have to admit that our relationship with many of our relatives, including our parents, would be minimal or nonexistent except for the fact that there is a certain amount of social obligation that requires that we attend family functions at Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, wedding, and funerals. Except for these functions, there is often very little interaction and that which takes place is on the surface level. We meet, talk about the weather, sports, our job and our kids but rarely does it ever go deeper than that. On the other hand, there are other people with whom we have no genetic connection with whom we interact on a deep and continuous basis because we have shared interests. The first type of relationships are obligatory or compulsory, while the second ones are free and chosen and if our bodies were freed of their imprisonment in space and time and, like our minds, could roam freely with the speed of thought, we would find ourselves spending most of our time with those with whom we have the most intimate connection. And that, I believe, is exactly what happens when we, at the moment of death, we shed this outward body and, for the first time, are free to move at the speed of thought to wherever our hearts were always inclined to be. For some this will be heavenly and for others its will be hellish, depending upon the mental habits and interests that we developed in this life. However, for everyone it will be exactly what they desired and also what they deserved and that is why Gods mercy and justice are the same thing. At that time, all surface relationships based on compulsion or obligation will sluff off and the only remaining ones will be those based on free choice. Thus, a lot of parents and children are going to be surprised to discover that, although their genes are the same, their hearts are wide apart.

        It is very difficult for us as parents to realize and accept the fact that our own children, once they leave the nest, often seem to disappear into oblivion except for an occasional long distance call. It makes one wonder what would happen if the obligation were removed whether they would call at all.

        Thus, it appears, because of modern transportation, that the family unit, which was once held together by the fact that everyone lived near and interacted with everyone else, is being fragmented and weakened because its members are being scattered throughout the fifty states and beyond. It also appears that this is a process that no one can stop and that, as technology developed, it ultimately had to come. It appears to be part of the historical process which God foresaw from the beginning of time. Sooner or later, from His perspective, there had to come a time when genetic obligatory relationships had to be replaced by free, heart-based relationships because in the final analysis the only true relationships are those that are free and come from the heart. And this is because true love is based on freedom and to the degree that compulsion is part of the mix, it diminishes love. And thus, we might have reached the time in history where God is performing the task described in the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic which says:

        He has sounded forth a trumpet that shall never call retreat
        He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat

         Notice that he is not sifting out people according to their genes but according to their hearts. And this may be because when people are left entirely free they naturally gravitate towards those with whom they share a common heart. This might explain some seemingly harsh statement made by Jesus in the Gospels. For example, on one occasion He was told that His mother and relatives were outside waiting to see Him and He responded, Who is my mother, who is my brother? It is those who do the will of my Father. He wasnt saying that His mother wasnt important to Him. Rather, He was saying that the real connection between Him and His mother and relatives was not their genes but rather their common devotion to His Father. And, on another occasion He said, Unless you reject your mother, father, sisters and brothers, you are not worthy to follow Me. Since He claimed to be the Truth, He was saying that anyone who valued their relatives over the Truth was unworthy to follow Him. We see this happening all the time, when the relatives of accused criminals continue to protest their innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence. For example, I remember seeing an interview with the mother of a man who, during the Los Angeles Riots, was caught on television beating and kicking a truck driver who had been dragged from his truck by the mob. The man confessed when confronted with the videotape, yet his mother continued to insist that it wasnt him. The right lobe of our brains, which operate on the personal level, can sympathize with her dilemma when Truth and personal desires and feelings clash because we also are inclined to let personal feelings trump Truth. It was because she chose her personal feelings over Truth that she was unable to follow it.

        On still another occasion Jesus said, If you follow Me, I will give you new mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. Once again, He is ignoring the importance of genetic relationships and emphasizing the greater importance of relationships based on belief and commitment.

        Thus, the Church is called the Family of God and we are supposed to address each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. I say suppose because we still have one foot in the old order and barely our toe in the new. Yet, until the Church really sees itself as a family with all of the ramifications that it carries, it will never be what the Lord intended it to be. When we give the same type of commitment and loyalty to the Church and God that we used to give to our family, then the transformation will be complete.

        Therefore, it appears that we have reached a time in history when the human race is going through a mental shift where genetic relationships based on obligation are being replaced with heart relationships based on common interest and love. And as this happens, we will see for better or worse the truth of the old adage Birds of a feather will flock together as different lifestyles based on our hearts replace those that were based on genes.

        A disturbing question which all of us might ask is How much time would we spend with our mother and father, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, or cousins etc if they were not related to us? And a corollary one is, How much time would we spend with other people with whom we share a common interest? Relationships are based on interaction and where there is little or no interaction, the relationship will eventually diminish or disappear. Therefore, parents and spouses who fail to share the deeper parts of themselves with their children or their partners run the risk of discovering that the relationship lacks the necessary roots to hold it together for eternity.

        Not only is this true concerning our relationships with our family and other human beings, but it is also true about our relationship with the Church and God. In the beginning, the Church required us under pain of mortal sin to attend Mass on Sunday and the Holy Days of Obligation, hoping that the habit would turn into a practice. It also encouraged us to pray and to assist us it composed a lot of rote prayers that we, lacking words of our own, could use. It was a good beginning but it wasnt enough for the long haul. Sooner or later, our relationship with God and the Church had to move to the next level where obligation was replace by true devotion based on understanding and free choice.

        The first sign of this shift took place around the time of Vatican II when some of our theologians started to claim that going to Mass on Sunday should not be obligatory. A second sign occurred when Catholics started to talk like Protestants of the importance of making a personal decision for Christ. In one sense, it marked the beginning of our maturity and in another sense it marked the beginning of our decline.

        It was the beginning of our maturity because it started to emphasize free choice and personal relationship over obligation. And it was the beginning of our decline because it granted to a lot of Catholics freedom from, the permission to be free, before they had the freedom to, the ability to be free. Many immature Catholics, who never really understood or tied into the faith in any meaningful way, began to miss Mass on a regular basis and eventually drifted away until all that remained of their faith was the check mark that they put on their job applications or the census sheet indicating their religion.

        Others, who still remain interested, intoxicated by the new sense of freedom, like teenagers feeling their oats, began to take the ball and run with it. They took the Churchs teaching about the necessity of following ones conscience to mean that they could form their consciences on each issue according to their own inclinations and, as a result, we began to experience the type of fragmentation that Protestantism did when Luther made each individual his own interpreter of the Bible. Thus we have Catholics for Choice and Catholic politicians who believe that personal conscience takes precedence over the teachings of the Church. What they have forgotten is that the Church also requires that they have informed consciences which means that they must have a full understanding of why the Church takes the position that it does and their decisions must be logically consistent with their beliefs. As Catholics they believe or, at least, should believe that:

        Jesus Christ was the Son of God who founded a Church and placed Peter and his successors in charge of it by granting to them the keys to the Kingdom and the power of binding and loosing. And to protect the Church from error, He sent the Holy Spirit of Truth to guide it in matters of faith and morals.

        Therefore, if they believe this, they must be violating their conscience when they take stands in opposition to the Churchs position on faith and morals. If they dont believe this, then are not really Catholics. In which case, they should follow their conscience by declaring that they are not. One way or the other, they have to be violating their consciences.

        There were still others who, having found a personal relationship with Christ, deserted the Church because they found more fervor in other denominations. They were turned off by the half-baked approach of the nominal Catholics, which unfortunately sometimes included both laity and priests. They mistook fervor for truth and traded feelings for unity. In doing so they contributed to and perpetuated the division among Christian churches and thereby weakened the Christian response to the threat of Secular Humanism. As I may have said before, The devil doesnt care if we have faith, so long as we are not united. Nor does he care whether we are united so long as we dont have faith. However he is terrified by the thought of a Christians Church that is united in faith because that is the greatest threat to his power. His favorite slogan is the one that Ancient Rome used to conquer the world: Divide and conquer!

        Still there are other Catholics, like myself, who, having made a personal decision for Christ, have also remain loyal to His Church. In my first tapes, I spoke about my crisis in faith at the age of nineteen when I was tempted to leave the Church and, after much study and prayer, I decided to remain because I was convinced that it was the Church founded by Christ. Thus, I am not a convert, I am a revert because I reverted back to the faith in which I was born after toying with the idea of leaving it. And because it was a free choice, I can truly state that I love the Church because, as the saying goes If you love something, set it free. If it doesnt come back, it never was love. But if it does then it is truly love. I was free and I chose to come back.

        I love the Church because I have spent my life trying to understand it and the more I know, the more I find myself in agreement with it. Thus, I dont look upon its rulings as restrictions but as necessary and logical for my own well-being and the well being of the world. At the same time, although I still use rote prayers like the rosary, I also have learned to communicate with God with my own words and thoughts. In fact, most of what is contained in these talks resulted from daily communication with Jesus and the Church as I ponder their teachings.

        The reason that most people leave the Church is because they have never known or understood it. My brother, who left the Church over 40 years ago to join different evangelical churches, is fond of saying that the Church cant excommunicate him because it never communicated with him. Thus, when they leave, they are not leaving the Church because they never knew the Church either through their own lack of interest or because those whose who were suppose to represent it either misrepresented it or failed to represent it at all. They were looking at the warts and scars of the frail people in the Church and missing the grandeur of its teachings. Thus, no matter what church or organization we belong to we will always have to make a distinction between what the organization stands for and the frailty and imperfections of the human beings who belong to it.

        My point so far is that the each of us, and the human race in general, is involved in a maturation process involving all of our relationships in which free choice is replacing obligation. I believe that it is a process supported by God and, although the growing pains at times may be excruciating, when it is over, we will all be better off for it because, having been granted the permission to be free, the relationships that remain will be more authentic than before. Every relationship is being shaken and only those grounded in true love will remain.

        Eric Fromm, whose idea on freedom from and freedom to, I have used to explain the natural growth of freedom, also has an analysis on relationships which is related to his insights on freedom. Fromm, although he began as a Freudian psychologist, ultimately broke with Freud over the issue of what was the basic motive behind human behavior.

        Freud believed that the Libido or Pleasure Principle, which often was reduced to sex, was the basic motive behind all human behavior. Fromm disagreed because he believed that there was something that we desired more than pleasure and something that we feared more than pain. According to him the basic motivation behind all human behavior was the need to belong and the basic fear was the fear of being alone. And the type of aloneness that we fear most was moral aloneness which was the type that we feel when, while standing in the center of a crowd, we still feel unconnected to anyone or anything. To overcome this type of aloneness human beings would face pain and even death itself, in order to belong to something. How else can we explain why Muslim suicide-bombers are willing to blow themselves up for the sake of their group or soldiers are will face death or mutilation for their country?

        Thus, said Fromm, the basic issue in mental health is how we belong. And all belonging involves being connected to some type of order system that gives, meaning, purpose and value to our lives. Without such an order system, our lives would be chaotic and without meaning and that is why our minds are constantly trying to order and harmonize our experiences. In fact, we could even say that our minds are order seeking mechanisms.

        In our pursuit to bring order to our reality, says Fromm, we will seek either a destructive or a productive relationship. A destructive relationship in psychology is called sado/masochistic because it describes the two destructive ways that people use to bring order to their reality. The sadist, which is the pathological form of this relationship, enjoys dominating others and in its pathological form resorts to torture, domination and bondage. The masochist, who is the opposite side of the same coin, enjoys being dominated and thus willing seeks to be tortured, dominated and placed in bondage. Thus, there is a whole category of abnormal, kinky sex in which the participants act out these fantasies in which one gets security by controlling the other and the other gets security be being controlled. This method of gaining order is related to the upright triangle because the person on top creates his order by controlling those on the bottom and those on the bottom get their order by being controlled by those on top. However, it is not necessarily pathological because it expresses a normal parent/child relationship. The parent on top needs to control the child and the child needs to be controlled by the parent. It becomes pathological only when it fails to develop into a productive relationship. In other words, when the parent refuses to let go or the child refuses to break loose.

        In the natural order of things, the child grows up and becomes independent by assuming adult responsibility for his or her own life. If the relationship with the parent was a good one, the child will reconnect with the parent in a productive relationship based on freedom and mutual respect. In other words, having been set free, the child chooses to reconnect on a higher level.

        My wife and daughters are a good example of this. When they were growing up she was an authoritative figure to them and never tried to be their buddy. However, once they reached adulthood, the relationship changed and now when they are together it is like a couple of girlfriends. They can laugh and talk for hours and, when they want a friend to talk to they naturally seek out her. Therefore, a relationship that began as a compulsory, authoritative one was replaced by one that was free and based on mutual respect. She will talk with them; give them advice but she will never pull rank on them because she respects their right to control their own lives. Even if she wasnt their mother, they would still want to form a relationship with her because she is their best friend.

        To a lesser degree, the same is true with me. I dont share all of the feminine interests that they share with their mother but both of them respect my advice and input. It took a little longer with my son because I had to be sensitive to his need to figure things out for himself and, being the kind of opinionated person that I am, I had trouble keeping my unsolicited advice to myself. Therefore, for a while it was difficult to engage him in a conversation because he was afraid that I would dominate him. But as time passed, we both became a little more sensitive to the other and now when he calls from Florida we have extended conversations in which we both respect the other as a person. And to my surprise, I am beginning to hear my own ideas and values coming back at me freely and unsolicited from his mouth. Im beginning to think that we have finally made the transition from a destructive relationship based on a genetic connection and the upright triangle where he needed to be dominated for his own good to a productive relationship based on a heart connection and the inverted triangle where domination has been replaced by mutual respect and understanding. It reminds me of a country western song called Im Beginning To See My Father in Me. Listen and see if you dont agree.

        Last night we brought the children by to visit their grandpa
        And its plain to see theyre true part of him
        While waiting there their grandmaw took out some old photographs
        And he sure looked a lot like me back then

        Im seeing my father in me, I guess thats how its meant to be
        And I find Im more and more like him each day.
        I notice I walk the way he walks; I notice I talk the way he talks
        Im starting to see my father in me.

        And today I took my wife for a walk down that old dirt road
        Where my daddy took my mom so many times
        And we found the time to mention things we never had before
        And share some things about the family life

        Yeah! Im seeing my father in me. I guess thats how its meant to be
        And I find Im more and more like him each day.
        I notice I walk the way he walks; I notice I talk the way he talks
        Im starting to see my father in me.

        Now looking back I can recall the times we disagreed
        When I could not take hold of his old fashion ways
        And the more I tried to prove him wrong, the more I proved him right
        Now I know why he still stood by me when I went through that stage
        Im seeing my father in me, I guess thats how its meant to be
        And I find Im more and more like him each day.
        I notice I walk the way he walks; I notice I talk the way he talks
        Im starting to see my father in me.
        And Im happy to see my father in me

        There are lines in the lyrics that really touch me. Lines like, Im seeing my father in me; I guess thats how its meant to be.. which indicate the natural progression from a destructive to a productive relationship. Or how about:

        Now looking back I can recall the times we disagreed
        When I could not take hold of his old fashion ways
        And the more I tried to prove him wrong, the more I proved him right
        Now I know why he still stood by me when I went through that stage

         When it works the way its suppose to, our parents, if they have laid the proper foundations, dont lose us by setting us free, they simply get us back on a deeper level.

        Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom.