OTHER PEOPLE

OTHER PEOPLE

By J. G. Bennett
(This is an excerpt from a talk J.G. Bennett gave on 17th November 1963. Published in the Enneagram #3, October 1975.)

I want to direct your attention to some of the ways in which other people affect our own inner development. What happens inside us, the transformation that we hope and believe is going on within each one of us; we can think of as private and connected with other people only through our outward relations.

The idea that our inner development is first of all a private matter and only in a second degree connected with our being in a life with others is strongly held by some people. One great philosopher (Whitehead I think) said that religion is what man does with his solitude, and there is obviously a great truth in this. We have to be totally alone, turned towards the inner most experience possible for us, in order to come nearer towards the reality we are looking for. It is also quite true that in so far as we have something inside us it must manifest for the benefit of others, and therefore this manifestation and benefit is an inevitable result of what we have gained inwardly.

But this is only one side of the picture. It is also true that our connection with other people is an essential, a primary part of our own spiritual life. It is not just a consequence of what happens or fails to happen in us. It is a part of the whole of what is happening to us. In many obvious ways we can help one another: we learn from those who know, we transmit to those who can learn from us, we help others by our example and we are greatly helped by the example of those who have evidently made progress in spiritual development. But this is still outward, still really secondary. Because if I say we can learn from those who know, then some inner change has had to happen to us to enable us to learn. Similarly, if we are to teach, we must really have acquired something inside ourselves which we understand and can live by, otherwise we cannot teach it in any genuine way. The example of others and the example we can be depends upon what there is inside. So, if this connection with other people is to have a primary place, it must be something more and different from that.

When I am in front of you I am in front of a person. I am a person and you are a person, and a person means a being who has an inner life. As long as we depend just upon the outward show to recognize other people, then this is definitely a secondary thing. But if we can contrive to meet them directly as people, then it is a primary thing, this is no longer going out from our solitude to meet somebody else coming from their solitude; it is a meeting in a company where we are not alone. We’re only alone when as a person we are unable to meet other people as persons. Of course, this is a very difficult thing, and we recognize only too well that even with those who nearest to us, parents with children, and loving husbands with loving wives, there is still some gap between person and person, perhaps only to be bridged in moments. This is partly because we do not give enough importance to this truer kind of relationship in our lives and we expect or imagine that we can be people with people without having done anything special about it. And yet experience shows us that something quite special has to happen so that this meeting of person with person can be a reality.

Now it is possible for us all to strengthen that kind of relationship. One way is to remember when in front of people that each one is an individual person with an inner life of his own. This act of recognition is something that is in our own power, whereas it is not within our power to break through this barrier by thought or by feeling. This does not mean that the kind of exchange that comes through the outside, through our senses, through seeing and hearing and touching, is not important; that all things that are comprised in friendship are not important. But none of them by themselves do that particular thing which is to take our inner life out of its solitude.
It is to be taken very seriously that in our conversation with people, in our exchanges of every kind, we should try to add to the outer, visible exchange also an inward movement, an inward awareness that we are in front of a person and that this person is the same as we are in this fundamental thing: that he has an inner life, an inner experience which is in the process of transformation. With some people this transformation may go very weakly, with some perhaps even not rightly; perhaps it may be a transformation which is disintegration. With others, it is a transformation which is certainly a creative integration. But whatever it is, with everyone, whoever they may be, there is that unseen inner life. Maybe all of us accept and do not question the reality and importance of the inner life in other people, but we forget it, and a great many of our actions, behavior, thoughts, feelings -hidden or visible -would be different if we remembered always that when we are dealing with people, we are dealing with people. We forget this obvious thing, and therefore we expect from them something which there cannot be a degree of perfection, a degree of integration which we ourselves do not possess.
By remembering that people are people we become free. When we forget it we fall into a slavery of fears and cruelties. We know perfectly well that there is something within us which is quite different from what other people are seeing and hearing when they talk to us, and this is what we should remember about them.

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