A friend shared with me a fascinating video (h/t CBS News) about a photographer who went out onto the streets of New York City to ask complete strangers to pose with one another as if they were intimate friends or family. What is fascinating about it is that those who participated—even in spite of initial awkwardness—reported feeling that they began to care for the people to whom they were introduced.
I have long suspected that our current assumptions about relationships—especially romantic ones—are entirely backward. We assume that we are supposed to “feel something” and then test out whether the person is “compatible” with whatever these random feelings happen to be. We treat relationships rather like so many other consumer products, and discard them when they fail to elicit nice feelings.
The photographer started not with feelings, but shared work: “Imagine you love each other and let me take your picture.” The feelings followed.
Of course this insight is not new; in fact it is ancient. It was Aristotle who observed that authentic friendship had to begin with shared work toward the good. False friendships, he wrote, started with feelings which eventually dissipated.
Saint Ignatius was an Aristotelian at heart when it came to relationships, both with God and one another. “Get over yourself,” he says in as many words in his preface to the Spiritual Exercises—“be in charge of your feelings or your feelings will be in charge of you.” What is needed is love first, and the feelings will eventually follow.