Sunday, December 26, 2010

Obligation

I think a lot of the recent emotional turmoil I've gone through doesn't really make sense unless I give a proper explanation about my personality and my role in relationships in general. I am, in essence, a dutiful person. In fact, I don't really know if I can explain myself outside of that word. To me, duty, loyalty and obligation are not bad words. In fact, they're comforting and soothing. They make sense to me. They give me a sense of stability. I don't trust my emotions and I don't trust for things to develop naturally. This becomes especially evident in friendships.

Like I said in the last post, I don't understand and can't comprehend when friendships end. It simply doesn't make sense to me. To me, once you make friends with someone, they are essentially family. This is especially true when they are Christian. We're brothers and sisters in Christ, and thus we're eternally bonded to one another. I don't think many people -- not even Christians -- view friendships this way. They continue on like even the unbelievers, just talking to who they feel like talking to, and distancing themselves from those who they don't feel like talking to anymore. Everything is based on emotional whim. It's based on desire, trivial details and interests, and a general sense of selfishness that I can't comprehend. If you only talk to those who you wanna talk to, and you're only friends with those who you wanna be friends with, then are you really living up to the standard of self-denial that we're called to?

It's not like I'm a super moral person. I can't take credit for my views on relationships. Whether it was through genetics or upbringing, this is how I turned out. The foundation, the core, of my relationships is based upon feelings of obligation, duty and loyalty. It doesn't matter how anyone else treats me: I'm going to stay loyal to them no matter what. To me, I don't know how to better express care or love. It's just how I do things. I know I have hurt people in the past when I neglected them, and so in order to not neglect anyone and hurt them, I vow to be a loyal friend, even if I don't necessarily feel like it. Of course I don't always enjoy a person's company, but who the heck am I to let my emotional whims determine how I treat someone else? You may not always enjoy talking to your grandmother, but you do it and you make time for her because you have a commitment of family to her. You respect that, and you treat her well because of it. I simply take that same principle and apply it to all of my friendships. It doesn't matter how much their quirks might annoy me. Those are just quirks. I can get over it, and I'll do what I can to be their friend no matter what.

The downside is that most people don't, and that is something that I just can't deal with. I don't think obligation means that you don't care, or that you're heartless. Again, what kind of reality would it be if we had no sense of duty or loyalty? I also feel that we're given conflicting messages about this as we grow up. When we're young, we're told that if we feel bad or hurt about how someone else has treated us, we should tell the person what's up. We should tell them how we feel. So that's what I do. When I'm not being included, or when I want someone to joke with me or kid around with me like they do with others, I tell them. But I'm often told that I'm being pushy, or that people want things to be natural, not through obligation. I don't get that. So you want to include people, but if they ask to be included, you all of a sudden don't want to, anymore? It's frustrating. I don't understand the rules people live by. I try, at the very least, to be consistent, despite all my quirks. The worst part is knowing that I'm totally in the minority. I don't know anyone else who lives by the rules I live by, and it is a very, very lonely feeling. I feel like I try so hard to include everyone, be everyone's friend, and I don't get anything in return, even when I ask. It's just really... I dunno. It just feels wrong.

Gosh, I had so many more coherent thoughts when I started this post, but I'm getting emotional and it's late, and now I'm just rambling. I like how even when I ramble, my grammar is impeccable. I've come across plenty of emotional blogs and notes by people for whom that isn't the case. Anyway, I don't think duty is a bad thing. If someone comes up to talk to me out of obligation -- because they feel that it's right and loyal to do so -- even if they don't quite have the mushy emotional warm feelings that go along with it, I'm okay with it. I'm more than okay with it. Doing something out of obligation means that you still care about the person. In fact, it means you care a lot. It means, "I'm going to do something that I might not even feel like doing, in order to make you happy. My feelings aren't as important as yours. I want you to feel safe, included and warm." That's really what motivates a lot of my actions. I'm surely not selfless. I mean, I'm complaining about a lot of my social efforts not being reciprocated, right? But at the same time, I will never be convinced that a strong sense of duty and loyalty is anything less than a good thing. It is a good thing, and I'll live and die by that belief.

And if anyone wants further elaboration why the events of the past summer -- from the divorce of my parents to the abandonment of several close friends -- put me into a downward spiral like they did, I think this previous explanation of my personality pretty much sums it up. The betrayal of family members and friends, to me, is the most damaging and harmful thing I could possibly go through, because that's simply what I value so much. Maybe I shouldn't, but I've been this way for so long, I don't know how to change it, and I certainly see the goodness in the things I hold dear.

6 comments:

  1. I think you have unrealistic expectations.

    Yes, we should fulfill our obligations, do our duty, and be loyal. Clearly we should not be hurtful toward anybody, or betray friends. But friendship is not marriage. It is not a lifetime commitment. Some friendships come and go, others endure. Some are close, some are loose.

    "I feel like I try so hard to include everyone, be everyone's friend …" Of course, in a world of six billion people, it's impossible; in a city, it's impossible; with all the people who keep coming into your life, it's impossible. As Christians, we are not called to be in active friendships with everybody with whom we are acquainted, or with all Christians. We are called to love one another, which means willing what is best for them.

    There are people toward whom we have obligations: family members, co-workers, employers, neighbors, friends. The obligations are not identical or equal to each person, nor are the other's necessarily obligated to us in the same way we are obligated to them. We have to work as the employer directs us, but he doesn't have to take our direction.

    "… and I don't get anything in return, even when I ask." Maybe they aren't good friends. Maybe you are putting more on the friendship than they are willing to accept. Relationships have to be mutual. You can't obligate someone else without their consent.

    I think it is a mistake to impose such stringent obligations on your self, and even more of a mistake to impose them on others. It seems to me from what you have written that you are being too rigid.

    I definitely think this is something worth praying about and thinking about. And it may be something worth getting counseling about.

    God bless you.

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  2. I'm just saying how I feel. It's how I have always operated, and even though it's frustrating sometimes, it works for me. I just need to process it from time to time. Thank you for your concern, though.

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  3. It seems you're sharing this to help explain to yourself and readers why you felt the loss of friendships so deeply, and not because you necessarily want feedback on it. But I found your friendship style quite intriguing and have had similar experiences myself.

    Firstly I don't think there is anything wrong with your style of relating; it's the way you are wired to interact with others. And I can see how it would increase your angst when friendships end,

    However I think it would be helpful for you to come to a point where you can "comprehend when friendships end" by understanding other people's personalities better.

    I did a personality test recently and one of the things that showed up was that I have strong beliefs about the right way to do things. Since reading that I've been surprised how often I try to get other people to see things my way so they will do things my way. For example I think it is highly rude to be late and am frustrated when people arrive after the agreed upon time or are doing something else when we have scheduled a skype date or a phone call. While I still believe lateness is wrong I have tried to see it from the perspective that I have a personality that copes well with schedules and I can organise myself well enough to arrive five minutes early, but people with other personalities struggle to do this. Through doing this I am hopefully becoming less demanding and insular.

    Another example. I believe strongly that when people are showing themselves online on facebook chat/messenger/skype etc it should mean they are available to engage in a conversation that resembles an in person conversation and not merely typing something once every few minutes. Unfortunately I seem to be one of the only people in my contacts list who thinks this. Again it has been helpful to think about the nature of internet communication and how people make it differ from physical talks and also that my personality expects certain things that other personalities don't.

    I think if I kept my rigid beliefs about lateness and internet communication it would have made me more frustrated and bitter, and I would have ruined those communications.

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  4. Chris, that's exactly it. Thank you. I was trying to figure out exactly why I was writing this. It's not necessarily because I agree with how I am, but I'm just starting to recognize how I relate to people, and I need to engage with it so I can change. Granted, there are many positive benefits to how I relate, and I think a lot of people do say that I'm very loyal and I always take time to make others feel included, and those are qualities I don't wanna lose. I just wanna balance things out a bit.

    My personality tests always show that I have a strong sense of duty and tradition. I'm very prone to simply do whatever has been previously done before, and I'm deathly afraid of change. On the one hand, this has kept me devoted to the Christian faith. On the other hand, it's kept me from learning and growing as much as other people my age probably have. My personality has stayed the same, it's just probably gotten more extreme as I've gotten older, with obviously negative results when tragedy strikes.

    Also, I agree totally about the Facebook thing! I always get ticked off by that because I think that an online chat should be the same as a phone call or otherwise real-time conversation, but apparently many others don't think that. It's something I've definitely had to learn, but of course, like everything, I've had to learn it kicking, screaming and rending garments. Thanks for the responses, guys. I really appreciate them.

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  5. Thanks for the post! It actually made me think of a particular friend, and encouraged me to get past myself and not focus on their quirks that might frustrate me! To choose to love and relate with people even when we may not want to... admirable!

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  6. I think naturgesetz has it right.

    I think I share a lot of traits with you. I'm very loyal to those I consider friends. I want my friendships to last. I try to show love to my parents/grandparents even when I don't feel like it because I feel a legitimate obligation to do so.

    But friendship isn't always like that. Friendship seems very fluid in that one has to constantly make an affirmative choice to be a friend/stay in touch/etc. Friendships take a lot of time if they're going to be worth anything. One can't be friends (in anything more than a superficial sense) with everyone because each friendship draws on a large, but certainly limited amount of one's available time. So people choose friends. I do this almost consciously. I may have met hundreds of people, but only maybe 10 or less are really "friends" in a serious sense. The rest are acquaintanences (sorry about the spelling).

    Other people choose their friends too, though perhaps not as consciously. They spend their Friday nights (or whatever their primary social time is) with certain people, thus revealing a preference for their company over the company of others. Including other people might actually decrease the utility they gain from a given evening because they have to detract attention from those they truly enjoy (their friends) to those whom they may still enjoy, but not as much (the folks they're trying to "include").

    Of course, that's not to say that loyalty isn't a good thing. But I think even loyalty is for most people (including me) a partially selfish thing. If my friends ever need me I'll be there for them. But in an ultimate sense I'll choose to be there for them not because of some altruistic impulse but because I and others gain a serious boost of utility by helping friends. Why? Because my friend's gain is mine. But it's still my gain I'm responding to.

    People may disagree with these ideas. I'm no sociologist; they may be wrong. But I think that's how many people interact with the idea of friendship.

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