“It is the potential which constitutes man, the potential to be opposite someone or something, to have one’s face-toward someone or something, to be a person. It is the potential to say ‘I’, addressed to ‘you’, to converse, to share… Therefore only the direct relationship, encounter, reference can make a person known. No objective information is able to exhaust the dissimilarity of the person, to make the person known to us… Whatever is beyond the possibility of a relationship, what is unrelated, is also non-existent, even if human logic confirms its existence.”
-Christos Yannaras, “Elements of Faith”
We all know that kid. That kid who was fat in high school and stayed fat forever. Except he didn’t stay fat forever. He went to college, worked out a lot, and became super hot and popular.
But for some dumb reason, his high school friends still see him as the fat kid. At least, the lame ones do, which happen to be a lot of them. For them, he’ll always be that kid.
It’s hard to accept that people change. I see this especially in bad breakups. When you break up with someone because he hurt you, it’s hard not to just turn that person into a personification of whatever reason you broke up. When you see that person weeks or months or years later for the first time, one of the first things you see in him is the reason you broke up. And you want to freeze him, for all eternity, in the box of that reason.
It’s entirely possible that he hasn’t changed. But maybe he has. Maybe he’s not the fat kid anymore. The problem with the deeper stuff is that you can’t just wrap some measuring tape around his waist to determine whether or not he’s actually lost his baggage. The only way for that to happen is for you to turn him into a person again, to turn him into something capable of transcending whatever “objectivities” you’ve set up for him, including his past—and possibly present—deficiencies.
This personhood is only possible insofar as we have a potentiality of relationship, not necessarily a best friendship or even close comradeship, but as someone we encounter constantly anew, someone whose personhood includes his past and the innumerable objectivities of which we have become aware, but someone who is not definitively constrained in the box of those objectivities.
I’m not saying this is easy. It involves giving up a lot of control with regards to that person. Insofar as you objectify another, you control that other’s personhood in a way that sets up pre-established narratives for how you respond to him. Objectivity sets up spaces that are familiar and feel safer. Giving up that control, and establishing personhood, involves complicating or destroying our own narratives and entering into a realm of ambiguity that can be scary. When we encounter a person as other, we endanger our syllogisms of response. We enter into a mystery of the human person which transcends our own autonomous individuality. And this involves risk and vulnerability.
But risk and vulnerability are the places of creation and creativity, and that’s a space I want to occupy.