10 WAYS OF RELATING
CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEET #10
WAYS OF RELATING
How we choose to relate constitutes the heart of living. That is the essence of spirituality. Broadly speaking, there are three different ways or modes by which we can relate with people, events and things: the Conversation Mode, the Mastery Mode and the Victim Mode.
THE CONVERSATION MODE
In this mode we are with the world, not at it or overcome by it. The dispositions that are more typical of this mode include willingness, eagerness to listen, to respect, to wait upon, to trust, to care and a manner marked by freedom and graciousness. The Conversation Mode is Mystery-centred rather than ego-centred.
The Conversation Mode says to live is to participate, to know oneself to be part of a great mystery, to live life as a mysterious giving and receiving process. Life is always seen as mutual, even though the mutuality may not be actually experienced in this or that moment. Life is seen as a constant, gracious unfolding, a pilgrimage centred in the Mystery.
The Conversation Mode depends on a decision for abandonment to the Mystery. Living becomes increasingly a free cooperation with grace in community. Human relatedness is more important than any law, credal formula or organisational structure. To be is always to be-with.
To live is to affirm Being - in all its manifestations - over non-being, to affirm self-transcendence over ego-centricity, to submit to the demands of Being in every ordinary moment. The courage to be in this way is sorely tested when "the other" does not respond and take up the conversation. Especially when that "other" is God. The "silence of God" is one of the most tormenting of all human experiences. It takes great courage and faith to remain in the conversation alone, facing the silence, the void.
THE MASTERY MODE
In this mode we are at the world, not with it and trying not to be overcome by it. The dispositions that are more typical of this mode include wilfulness, aggression (often as passive-aggression or at least controlled aggression), anger, impatience, dogmatism, authoritarianism and a manner marked by driveness and a clear desire to be in control. The Mastery Mode is ego-centred rather than Mystery-centred, even when it purports to be religious.
The Mastery Mode says to live is to take control. Life is typically seen as an either/or situation where you are either a "master" or a "victim". Thus life is made up of "winners" and "losers". You are on your own when it comes down to it. If there is a Mystery it cannot be trusted, except to reward the "winners". Grace - if there be such - is that which enables you to gain mastery. The only alternative to wilful control is will-less submission.
Anxiety about the human condition - which anxiety, by its nature, is nebulous and uncontrollable - must be transformed into fear about concrete obstacles and threats which can then be overcome by sufficient courage and effort. And life, then, is all about overcoming rather than being overcome.
This Mastery Mode disguises anxiety about being a victim and may slip into Victim Mode when courage and/or effort falter or fail. Failure can bring on deep despondency and/or depression. The anger failure evokes in the master - whether it is failure of the master or another - is a measure of the anxiety by which he/she is haunted. And the anxiety is about non-being, non-existence, losing one’s place in the world.
Our culture tends to favour the Mastery Mode. It is probably fair to say that much of the impetus of religious training in recent generations has been towards the Mastery Mode also. "Conquering faults" and "mastering virtues" were heavily stressed. This tended to lead to a will-power Christianity that lacks both grace and freedom. It also tended to promote "grocery list confessions", false guilt and scruples.
THE VICTIM MODE
In this mode we are overcome by the world, not able to be either at it or with it. The dispositions that are more typical of this mode include will-lessness, eagerness to please, lack of confidence, withdrawal, sadness and a manner marked by accomodation and a willingness to settle for much less than one ought. The Victim Mode is also ego-centred rather than Mystery-centred, but the ego is too weak.
The Victim Mode says life is not "promise" but "threat". Life is typically seen as disappointment, failure, loss. Life is made up of "winners" and "losers" and - in this instance at least - I am "the loser". The Mystery might "exist" but the Mystery is not "with us" or we see that Mystery simply as "rescuer".
In the Victim Mode we might find ourselves demanding that "they" should do something about it. Chronic gamblers approach life as victims. Fundamentalisms and authoritarian systems attract those who live in the Victim Mode, and they have a vested interest in keeping those people in the Victim Mode.
The key in each way of relating is internal rather than external, a set of dispositions and attitudes rather than the external circumstances. For example, I may in fact be a victim but maintain a Conversation Mode (eg Nelson Mandela), or people might maintain a Conversation Mode with me, but I might choose to take on a Victim Mode or a Mastery Mode.
Individuals may live, more or less, in one or other of these modes. It is probably impossible to live exclusively in one mode. Ideally, we should foster a Conversation Mode and gently, humbly and constantly re-affirm our commitment to that, even in the face of repeated regression to either a Mastery Mode or a Victim Mode. It is hard to see how either the Mastery Mode or the Victim Mode can be accepted as authentic expressions of the Gospel spirit. The whole thrust of divine revelation, especially in and through the Covenant, is to reveal a God of conversation rather than a God who wants to be or create masters and victims. The central thrust of God’s action towards freedom would be vitiated by the latter.
And sometimes all is not what it might seem to be. For example, under the pretence of a Conversation Mode I may in fact be attempting mastery. This is common enough in some of the approaches to "better communications" today, especially where something is to be sold or a contract signed. It may also be fair to assume that lurking under every Mastery Mode is someone who feels himself/herself to be potentially or actually a victim. Some people may use a Victim Mode to gain mastery.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
In your own words describe briefly, with examples, each of the three modes outlined.
Have you ever experienced yourself in one or more of these modes? What was it like?
How do you react when you encounter another person in the Mastery Mode? Give an example.
Reflect on Jesus’ way of relating. How would you describe that in your own words?
What obstacles do you find in yourself to the Conversation Mode?
Under what circumstances might you feel inclined to move into either the Mastery or Victim Modes?
What relevance is there for the environment in this?
Is it possible to survive in the business world in any other way than the Mastery Mode?
Is it true to say that religious training might foster the Mastery Mode? What is your experience?
Can you suggest ways by which you might foster the Conversation Mode in yourself and others?