Original text here.
A note from Christopher Alexander
Human relationship. There are two fundamentally different ways of understanding the word “relationship,” when it comes to human beings.
Image: Øyvind Holmstad / Wikimedia Commons
- One of these ways is conventional: this can describe the relationships you have with a shopkeeper, or a policeman, or a banker, or, in very sad cases, with a parent, a spouse, a son or daughter. These relationships are instrumental relationships; they are typically defined by convention – by the rules of behavior as set out by custom or by society.
- The other way is personal: the essence of the relationship is that you seek, and find, a connection; you treat the other person as nearly as possible to the way you treat yourself, and you strive constantly to treat the other person more as you treat yourself. You recognize, and slowly come to feel, that you are part of the other person, and that the other person is a part of you, so that the two of you are gradually experiencing each other as an indivisible self.
This is not only something that happens with a person who is very dear to you. You can have this quality of relationship even sitting next to a person on a park bench for only a few moments, when the exchange is something real.
* * *
- If you carefully build relationship, in the second, truer sense, one by one, step by step, with each person you encounter, then gradually the process and understanding of unfolding, will emerge, almost by itself.
- I know this to be true, just from experience. Somehow the deep understanding of how things in the world unfold, emerges from each person in a group, naturally, when there relationships are real.
- It is, I think, because when relationship is real, each person feels able to express what is going on without fear. There is no inhibition from mental constraint; the notion of what must happen in a process of development is not clutched, fearful or uptight, but rather what seems right and natural can flow from the situation.
- That is, of course, what happens as things unfold.
- It arises from acceptance of reality, without imposing mental structures.
In any case I do know from experience that when people are in this kind of relationship, understanding of unfolding then slowly pervades the situation, and the more beautiful and natural structures are allowed to appear in the land. On the other hand, if the relationships that are present are formal, or institutional, relationships then acceptance of what is real is not allowed to exist, and the resulting mesh of mental constraint is so rigid, sometimes even slightly nasty, the most ordinary things are not allowed to appear.
* * *
Unfolding of life then appears of its own accord, almost automatically. Generative codes, and the unfolding which proceeds from them, then appear of their own accord, almost automatically, simply as a direct result of the personal relationships which govern people’s minds.
This is a very beautiful result.
And, sadly, vice versa. In institutional settings, governmental settings, many business settings, the reverse is true. Since the setting guarantees that people cannot feel for each in a way that allows true things to be felt and said, then the result, so often – far, far too often – is a scrambled mess. Intellect cannot solve it. Living environments can hardly ever be born.
This is a very sad result, but true.
* * *
As I get older, what has astonished me, lately, is the dramatic speed of the effect. One beats one’s head against the wall, for years, within the institutional and business context, and never quite manages to loosen it sufficiently, in human terms, to get the desired results. But if you start, without worrying about the results so much, and focus attention only on the building of these true and personal relationships, one by one, then, as if a lever in a mountain stream had unleashed a cascade of water, the process of natural and harmonious unfolding is loosened and happens as if by a miracle.
This is so strong, it is worth taking very seriously indeed, and worth putting it first.