PQ 5.1 — Why do I have relationships with other people? (see also 4.1)
PQ 4.1 was conspicuously similar to today’s question. Here is how I answered that question (Why do I have romantic relationships? What do I get out of them?).
Rather than rehash familiar territory, I’ll focus instead on a different definition of “relationship,” noting that this question doesn’t specify romantic entanglement.
To restate: Why do I relate to and interact with other people?
Neither Beast Nor God
It’s fairly simple, really: Humans are obligate social animals.
Not breaking news or anything. Aristotle went on the record about it roundabout 328 BC:
Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something in nature that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.
This quote from Aristotle prefaces all 11 editions of Eliot Aronson’s seminal work of social psychology, The Social Animal.
And indeed, when we think of those who do not respond within normal limits to the pull of social influence, we think of:
- Those whose social processing never fully developed due to organic factors.
But most of us? We’re neither of these.
Although it can take many forms and look vastly different depending on the individual involves, most people really do care what other people think. Even if it’s only specific people and only in specific contexts. Social referencing helps guide our decisions when things are ambiguous — which in the real world? Is a lot of the time.
Who We Care About Shapes Who We Are
As I wrote in an earlier post, social referencing serves us best when we are selective about who we consult:
“You shouldn’t care what people think of you,” a close friend used to say to me.
I didn’t agree then, and I still don’t.
While being a people pleaser can be the road to ruin, I also think it’s possible to take things too far in the other direction. The hands-down most despicable people I know don’t care what anyone thinks of them. Furthermore, social referencing is an integral part of healthy interdependence.
However, it’s important to be selective. Just like you wouldn’t judge your beauty in a cracked mirror, you shouldn’t let just any old jackass determine whether what you’re doing is right or wrong.