In Relationship (Part Five)


Rules and Expectations

“There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.”

~G.K. Chesterton

I have three rules for my kids: No fighting. No crying unless you’re genuinely hurt. Don’t touch my stuff. Apart from that they pretty much have free reign. A pastor friend once told me that at his old house he had a large backyard. At first there was no fence around the yard and he noticed his children would only play near the house. Soon after he built a fence, and the children began to play all over the yard. Once they knew where it was safe to go, they were free to enjoy the whole area.

We need to know the rules of the game if we are going to be able to function in our relationships. Have you ever broken a rule, but didn’t know that you broke it until after you broke it? Have you ever been in a situation where the rules were not equally applied to each person? It’s frustrating isn’t it? It fact, it can be maddening.

“Even more than they need goods, people want for their contentment a full understanding of their condition. None can find comfort in a position which he fails to comprehend, and protracted perplexity leads to mental derangement.

Perplexity of Rats and Dogs

“Even rats and dogs cannot live in perplexity. Take three sets of rats: give one set a meal a day; give the other set the same meal only every second day; and restrict the third group to a meal on every third day. All three groups will thrive; the rich, the middle-class and the poor will get on equally well. But take a fourth set of rats and feed them at periods varying irregularly between one and three days and you will see the rats of this set die. They get more than the poor rats, yet while those prosper on their meager diet they perish because their organism is thrown into a state of confusion, all their reflexes of digestion are dislocated, they die of perplexity.

“Dogs are more human than rats, and so the experiment by which Pavlov drove his dogs mad shows us even more closely what is wrong with ourselves. He trained a dog to expect food when a luminous circle appeared on a screen, and to recognize that no food would come when a flat ellipse with a ratio of semiaxis 2:1 was produced. The dog learned to differentiate precisely between the circle and the ellipse, showing signs of appetite when the former, not when the latter was shown. The shape of the ellipse was then approximated by stages to that of the circle (ratios of the semiaxis 3:2, 4:3 and so on) and the training of discrimination continued through the successive ellipses. The dog found it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the ellipses and the circle and finally, when the ellipse was given a ratio of 9:8 he became quite uncertain in his discrimination. But Pavlov tried to educate him to the limit and continued with this experiment for three weeks. The result, however, was no improvement in the dog’s training but a total breakdown of his discriminating power. At the end he could not see the difference even between the flat 2:1 ellipse and the circle. The dog’s behaviour also underwent a complete change. It began to squeal in its stand, kept wriggling about, tore off with his teeth the apparatus and bit through various tubes. In short, as Pavlov says, it fell into the condition of an acute neurosis.

“This dog broke down when his powers of understanding were overstrained. They were overstrained when it became too difficult for him to distinguish between the symbols signifying food and hunger. His happiness was destroyed, not by need of supplies but by what Pavlov describes as a conflict between excitation and inhibition which its brain found too difficult to resolve.” (Taken from Visual Presentation of Social Matters by Michael Polanyi.)

If I can’t predict the actions of the other parties in a working relationship, I cannot pursue any of my goals. The relationship breaks down, and I will most likely leave, but not after suffering much frustration.

A contract protects people from this ever happening. A covenant does as well, but for different reasons. In a contract there is a “higher power” (the law court) which can be appealed to if one party does not fulfill its predicted duties. In a covenant, each party is at all times fully giving themselves to the other, so there is nothing unpredictable about it.

The problem of unpredictability can really only happen in one of two kinds of relationships: charity or master/slave — where one party holds all the resources over the other. A slave does not have any options in this situation. A receiver of charity, however, can move on to find new donors.

In Relationship ~ Part One; Two; Three; Four; Six; Seven

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