Rich Paxson

I’m finding that the insights offered in the Forgiving Victim course take some time to percolate into my life. James teaches that the social other recreates itself anew in each person. I get the concept, but integrating this understanding into practice does not come immediately or easily. The idea’s ‘behavioral rightness’ emerges only gradually within the ebb and flow of my existence. Both intellectual grasp and emotional acceptance are necessary to acknowledge that a social other recreates itself from within the arbitrary confines of my ‘personal’ identity.

The other day I remembered something that English philosopher Alan Watts wrote comparing individuals to whirlpools in a stream, which echoes the idea of the social other recreating itself within personal identity:

“Just, for example, like a whirlpool in water, you could say because you have a skin you have a definite shape you have a definite form. All right? Here is a flow of water, and suddenly it does a whirlpool, and it goes on. The whirlpool is a definite form, but no water stays put in it. The whirlpool is something the stream is doing, and exactly the same way, the whole universe is doing each one of us …”

Jesus’s admonishes us in the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6:28 to: “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” His advice makes limited sense in a thought-world that sees only self-contained individuals competing against each other for scarce resources.

However, it makes eminent sense to me this morning by opening my little social other whirlpool existence to the reality of a caring ‘Other other.’ God not only created the river of life but also cares equally for each of the eddies and undercurrents flowing along with mine down the channels of our shared existence.

The social other binds human life within whirls that compete to become the richest, the most famous, the biggest of all the whirls. But individual awareness is part of something much larger than inward directed whirls that compete for short periods of time before disappearing.

The Other other in the person of Jesus tells us that we are free to share in the full stream of God’s unbounded love. Jesus tells us that we are free to uncoil into the endless, full flow of our collective humanity.