Posts Tagged ‘relationship’

Morality Part 1: It’s About Relationship

The other day at dinner, I tell my boys that I am looking forward to teaching a class that evening on Morality–a favorite topic, which I hadn’t taught in a while.  My 6 year old asks:

“Mommy what is mowality?”

I pause, since I usually begin by acknowledging that most of us presume morality is about following a set of rules, and it’s not… it’s about relationship. But in that moment I was challenged to accurately and succinctly describe it in a way that my 6 and 7 1/2 year old would understand.IMG_1199

“Morality is about what’s right and wrong, and why.”

Without missing a beat, he tells me:

“Oh, Mommy!  But you teach me and my brudder about that evewy day!”

I want my kids to be good people, so yes, every day I am concerned with the decisions they make and developing their character–whether they’re playing with friends, following through on responsibilities around the house, working at school, or paying attention to the needs of the world around them. Morality is concerned with what’s right and wrong, and why, but it’s not about rules; it’s about relationship.

Relationship

The reason Why something is right or wrong has everything to do with relationship.

  • Think about three of your closest friends.  What are some of the “unspoken rules” that close friends follow to maintain a healthy relationship?  List these relationship-guiding rules out: trust, honesty, care and concern for one another’s well-being… what else would you add?

Who: From the perspective of Christian Morality, we are talking about living a good life in relationship with God.  What makes something moral or immoral is whether it strengthens or damages our relationship with God.  When we say something is a “sin” it’s because it damages our relationship with God; not because it is “breaking the rules.”

HowSo how do we strengthen our relationship with God?  By loving, honoring, and respecting God and all of God’s Creation.

The number one overarching principle that guides our approach to being in right relationship is a respect for the value, worth, and special dignity within each person as a child of God, created in the image and likeness of God.  Catholic Social Teaching refers to this as respect for human dignity, which finds its Scriptural roots in Genesis.

God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

I love how Richard Rohr explains the depth of what human dignity means:

“You are a son or daughter of the Good and Loving God. The Divine Image is planted inherently and intrinsically within you. You cannot create it, you cannot manufacture it, you cannot earn it, you cannot achieve it, you cannot attain it, you cannot cumulatively work up to it. Do you know why? Because you already have it! That is the core of the Gospel” (Adapted from Dying: We Need It for Life)

As Christians, we are called to respect human dignity with the care and concern of divine, agape love.

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. (John 15:12)  

20090528_066 When we put together the Who and the How of morality, we can see that living a good life in relationship with God has three dimensions:

  1. Interpersonal– respecting the human dignity of others, which is demonstrated by how we treat one another.
  2. Personal – respecting one’s own human dignity, which is demonstrated by how we develop our internal quality of character
  3. Transcendent – respecting God, which is demonstrated by practicing the virtue of faith.

The Commandments, Beatitudes, and Virtues help flesh out the What of Catholic moral teaching with more specifics, but if we don’t begin with that understanding of being in right relationship with oneself, others, and the God who created us and loves us, then our approach to morality will be limited to simply “following the rules.”

In the next post, I’ll discuss the role of conscience and moral responsibility.  For now, consider how you think about morality:

  • What attitudes or assumptions do you bring to a discussion of morality?  Are they helpful or limiting?
  • Think about your relationship with yourself, with others, and with God.  In what ways do you see love and respect for human dignity guiding your behavior in those relationships?  Where do you succeed in practicing this “respect”?  Where do you struggle?  Is there one area that you feel called to work on improving?

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

Falling in love is simultaneously one of the most fun and most confusing experiences in life.  The butterflies… the smiles… the overwhelming elation…  the excitement…

It often catches us by surprise—we neither see it coming nor choose it.  It just happens.  Sometimes we fall for people that (for whatever reason) we shouldn’t.

And before we know it, we find ourselves either singing along to You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling or being serenaded (and not in the good, fun Top Gun way).

Add in a few Three’s Company style misunderstandings or a Romeo and Juliet conflict-of-loyalty and you’ve got the plot to a bulk of the romantic movies, sitcoms, and dramas out there.

No wonder we find it so shocking that

Love is not a feeling.

Even that passionate kind of love known as eros is not a feeling. (See my post Love, Love, Love for more explanation on eros.)

This is not to say that love is devoid of feeling.  In fact, when we love, it feels great.

As we understand love, as we teach children about love, as we practice love in our relationships, it would be so much healthier if we understood that feelings are a fantastic side effect of loving, but feelings are not the essence of love itself.

When it comes to the topic of “Falling in ‘Love,’” M. Scott Peck says, “Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that ‘falling in love’ is love…It is a potent misconception” (Road Less Traveled,84).

Recall Peck’s thorough definition of love (from my post What Do You Mean?).

 Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth (81).

Mistaking the feelings associated with “falling in love” as the essence of Real Love contradicts every aspect of Peck’s definition.

  • Falling in love has no purpose: “Falling in love has little to do with…nurturing one’s spiritual development” (89 emphasis added)
  • There is no extension of one’s self (circular process) with falling in love.
  • Falling in love does not necessitate self-love (more on this in a future post on Dependency)
  • Falling in love is effortless – it happens to us.
  • Falling in love is not a choice; we don’t choose who we do or do not have feelings for.

In my second year of teaching high school, I was in my early 20’s and (unbeknownst to me) in the most unhealthy relationship of my life, which is why I find it so ironic that it was then that I stumbled upon one of the most helpful visual diagrams of relationships that I have ever seen.

The Relationship Cycle

Relationship Cycle

The explanation of the Relationship Cycle reads like the story of an actual relationship:

  1. Attraction/Infatuation – This is that beginning of the relationship, becoming increasingly attracted to one other…also known as falling in love.  As the (somewhat) straight line indicates, this is the easy phase where everything is wonderfully agreeable.  Most of us (subconsciously) are on our best “job-interview” behavior, either overlooking or overcompensating for any possible “faults,” because we’re in love and everything is perfect!

Social psychologists estimate that infatuation has a shelf-life of 18 months, tops. 

  1. Confrontation of Faults and Differences – Whether it’s as meaningless as what movie to see or as meaningful as the role of children, money, careers, religion, etc., this is where the couple begins to identify and confront their differences.  Many people look at this and exclaim, “Ooooo – first fight!”  Perhaps… or perhaps it’s just a quiet recognition of the truth…  Here, we often hear someone say something to the effect of: “You’re not who I thought you were.”

Somewhere in-between these two phases, the “falling in ‘love’ feeling” fades

  1. Crisis of Disappointment/Dissatisfaction/Disillusionment – As the ease of the so-called honeymoon ends, it can be disappointing. Devastating, even.

“We need to talk.”

  1. Acceptance or Separation/Abandonment of the Relationship – At this point, the couple has a choice to work out their differences or decide that the relationship is over.

The key here is honesty… ignoring problems or lying to yourself/partner about “working out those differences” doesn’t actually bring the relationship to the next phase.

  1. Love – The most obvious implication here is that love is a choice.  With the effort of working through differences, the couple truly chooses to love one another.
  1. Commitment – The cycle continues… as the couple keeps discovering more and more about one another, they will continue have a choice to make: work it out or abandon the relationship.  Commitment is a matter of continually choosing to love at every turn.

I think my favorite thing about this Relationship Cycle is being able to really see that the “falling in ‘love’” phase is just the fun beginning.  Real Love is a lot deeper than that.  Real Love is a choice which embraces truth.  And that, my friends, feels incredible.

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