The Noetic Secret to Harmonious Relationships
The Noetic Secret to Harmonious Relationships
One of our biggest challenges is getting along with people. How can we listen better? How can we set healthy boundaries? How can we deal with our own and others emotional reactivity? We get sucked into unhealthy states whenever we are estranged from our healthy core.
Our healthy core is what makes us human. When a foreman in the concentration camp where Viktor Frankl was a prisoner secretly gave him a piece of bread, Frankl commented that what brought tears to his eyes was the human “something” which this man also gave to him -- the word and look which accompanied the gift.
The “something” that makes us human is what Frankl called the nöetic dimension, which gives us the freedom to decide who we want to be and what we want to do, allows us to appreciate aesthetics and ethics, is the source of our longing for meaning and purpose and causes us to reach out to connect to something beyond ourselves.
Although a part of us wants to blame others for our problems and fail to take responsibility for our actions, the wholeness of who we are knows that we have the power to change ourselves and change the world. The secret to mental, emotional and spiritual health is being in touch with the “something” that makes us human.
The human essence is our nöetic dimension, the space of connectivity between self and other, between spirit and ego and between self and ultimate meaning. Therefore, when two persons encounter one another, the secret to creating a harmonious relationship is to step into the nöetic realm. Three nöetic qualities are particularly evident in interpersonal relationships: kindness, clarity and humility.
In the nöetic realm, kindness is the most natural response. We see ourselves as part of something greater than ourselves, the person sitting across from us included. As long as we remove interference from our ego which comes in the form of envy, desire and arrogance and access our spiritual essence, we will care about the other’s welfare and want the best for them. To the extent that we are able to make a positive contribution, we will be motivated to do whatever is in our power to help.
Secondly, in the nöetic realm we can see clearly. For example, whenever there is a religious legal debate in Judaism, a decision needs to be made regarding which opinion to follow in practice. One study-pair in particular is held up as an exemplar of the process by which they came to a legal conclusion. Two great leaders of the last century BCE and the early 1st century CE, Shammai and Hillel, headed two early schools of thought (houses), representing two distinct approaches to the study of Jewish law. The rabbis could not decide which one to follow. The Talmud explains how it was determined. – “A heavenly voice proclaimed: ‘These and these are the words of the living God and the law is like the house of Hillel.’ Since these [Hillel] and these [Shammai] are the words of the living God, why did the house of Hillel merit that the law be established according to them? It was because they were even-tempered and humble and they cited their words as well as the words of the house of Shammai. Not only that, but they cited the words of the house of Shammai before their own words.” (Eruvin 13b)
The house of Hillel listened to the other viewpoint first not in order to win the argument but in order to thoroughly think through the opinion of the others with absolutely no interest in winning the argument but only in getting to the truth. Thus, the final arbiter of the law went to the one who gave full consideration to both sides. The truth is never limited to one opinion or another. Issues are always complex, not black and white. Our spiritual core understands that it is only through our willingness to give careful consideration to all opinions that we can ever hope to get clarity on anything.
We learn from the house of Hillel that to get clarity, humility is paramount. Moses, who was the most humble person on earth, was able to receive Divine will and wisdom from the Transcendent dimension because he had no ego barriers holding him back from objective perception. It is said that he saw through a “clear glass”, in contrast to other prophets whose vision was not quite as clear.
In human relationships, humility allows us to see the other clearly for who they are, not make assumptions and judgments about them but talk to them on the same level, with dignity and respect, as a fellow human being. Most importantly, in the nöological dimension, we create a space in which each person is able to connect to their conscience, and thereby together connect to the meaning that is beyond both of them.