Think Feel Act

Transformational friendships

If a man is alone in a forest with access only to a ‘bot’ – is he truly alone?

We have come a long way in designing technology to do our work for us. This, supposedly, makes life simpler and business more cost-effective. Although I suspect we have merely replaced that with different costs and complexities. Nevertheless the march of progress is relentless and IT really has transformed the way the work and live.

Not content with doing, technology through the development of AI can do a lot of thinking for us. With the emergence of bots simulating people – the day is looming when we can’t tell the difference between a machine and a person – if it’s not already here.

But the question I have is whether will machines ever be able to have personality, charm, character? Will they be able to feel emotions – sadness, loss or gratitude? Will they ever be able to empathise with us or understand how we can hold two conflicting ideas at once? Will a machine ever be able by hypocritical – or have cognitive dissonance? Would a machine ever lie for us? Would a machine courageously point out our flaws? Will we ever be able to have a relationship with a machine the way we do with another person?

I wonder about these things – because surely a machine relationship ought to be a perfect one right? No flaws. No human weakness. No betrayal. Just a consistent presence of support.

I mean it sounds wonderful doesn’t it. A consistent and predictable relationship with someone (or something) who is always there, who will never let us down, never threaten our self-esteem – or disappoint us in the myriads of ways we let each other down?

Wouldn’t that in the end be better for us – to have a relationship with perfection?

I ask all these questions, because it seems, no matter which way think about it, relationships are at the core of our lives – and fundamental to our wellbeing.

There’s a lot of science behind why relationships are so good for us – but that will wait for another blog for another day.

Nevertheless, it does seem odd that relationships can be so good for us – when the people on the other side are flawed and cause us pain. Ultimately – I think it’s because of those flaws where the benefits lie.

See, with a machine, we get demoted to merely being takers. The machine gives to us – but there is nothing we can possibly give to the machine. Does a machine care about our character growth and the improvements we make over time? Does a machine ever have anything to learn from watching me and walking with me in my challenges? Does a machine feel pride in the achievements of a friend?

No, no and no.

It’s the reciprocity of mutual giving that gives relationships their meaning. Mutual – does not mean equal. Because who in the end can put a measure of worth on gifts of time or friendship. A friendship is not merely an equal transaction of time or words or caring. But they are mutual – mutual in the sense that each partner in a relationship can provide something the other lacks – and in that way give to each other. Each partner in a relationship can challenge the other person to grow – and in so doing grow themselves. If a partner in a relationship is already flawless – there is, by definition, nothing to gain.

And we all have, in some smaller or greater way, something to gain from everyone in our lives. Whether they are family, friends, clients, colleagues, acquaintances, students – or some other category of person. Whoever they are (even in the oddest and most unexpected relationship) – there is always something to give – and always something to gain and grow from. To each other. For each other.

So think about the relationships you have with the people in your life – at work or at home. What are you giving? How are you growing? How are you transforming each other – and by so doing transforming the world?

Sure – some relationships need to end. We must protect ourselves from toxic, abusive and dangerous relationships.

But with all the others – think about them – grow and nurture them. It’s true – relationships can be tricky beasts – but in the end – the relationships we have with others is all we really have. Physical belongings, money, status, recognition and power – all these things we strive for are destined to come and go.

It’s not diamonds that last forever – but the love, kindness and giving shared between friends. Friendships with flawed people are the real diamonds in our lives – because its through flawed people that we find we can transform each other.

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