The right goal of interpersonal relations should be mutual transformation. To be more precise, mutually beneficial mutual transformation.
Most of us would agree with this and most of us would hope that that is what we are doing in our important relationships. But are we?
I am sure many of us have joined groups or pursued friendships where we felt that this was what we were doing–often both parties have felt this way–only to discover that, eventually, something goes wrong and the mutual part or the transformational part gets lost or damaged.
This happens because one or both parties begin seeking stasis rather than transformation. Or one or both become selfish rather than mutual. And these sorts of outcomes occur because–assuming both parties were sincere in the beginning–they cannot maintain mutual understanding. They develop “artistic differences,” as the saying goes, or become “incompatible” in one way or another.
Sometimes people part ways and sometimes they soldier on, accepting the moderate warmth of stasis over the coldness of loneliness and starting over.
If we base our relations on emotions only–love, affection, friendly feelings–and fail to make them consistently mutually transformational, they are bound to founder or become unsatisfying. One way people try to get around this is to make their relations mutually beneficial in material ways. All this does is mutually trap people in material conditions and a material outlook.
Children often form mutually transformational relationships with each other because they are growing quickly and have loads of new material to digest and understand. Isn’t that one of the main reasons we sometimes miss being kids, being able to act like kids? We miss childhood not just because we had less responsibility then but also because we grew along with our friends in ways that were mutually transformational. Of course, it was never all like that. But life for most of us surely does get flatter or more static as we become adults. Where kids are dynamically socializing, adults too often are socialized into static subcultures that do not even permit transformation. As adults, we have to play the angles, get along, be careful what we say, etc. Being a “mature” adult usually means being socialized into a static subculture that requires us to maintain the same beliefs and practices for years, if not decades.
You cannot expect mutual transformation in most jobs or in most clubs or in most religious groups or in most groups of friends. Why? Because groups usually are held together by static semiotics–they have rules, codes, beliefs, attitudes, required behaviors. And those things foreclose transformation away from those things.
Mutual transformation is a good standard for assessing what is happening in your life. It can help us gain insight into a wide range of human relationships. Mutual transformation depends on equality and lateral communication. Equality and lateral communication is fundamental to finding your way out of the overweening semiotics of whatever culture or subculture you belong to. Cultural semiotics are mental events. They happen within our minds. How can you transform them or transform yourself out of them if you cannot grasp them and discuss them with your most intimate friend?
Mutual transformation requires that both parties be able to change. Rather than be unwilling to admit we are wrong, we should be delighted to discover that we have been wrong because now our lives have one less error in them. Politics is generally boring largely because politicians almost always have to be consistent and never admit fault. That is the opposite of mutual transformation, personal growth, or real Buddhist practice.
The purpose of FIML practice is to help partners mutually transform themselves. FIML gives partners the tools to use language in ways that transform both of them for the better. In a way, FIML lets us be kids again–kids with adult brains that have at last come to understand how to use our minds and tongues to speak honestly, creatively, wonderfully to each other.