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being-for-others – a breeding ground for inauthentic relationships

Sartre and others carve a phenomenon called being-for-others, that leaves a human being with an experience of being an object along with other objects in a world of objects, with fixed properties, labels, behaviour etc. Given that people are seldom, if ever, truly alone these days, each person constantly confronts the existence of other people, not simply as objects in his world, but as subjects who see him and judge him and reduce him to an object in their world. To be an object for the Other is the meaning of being-for-other. My being-for-other is the awareness I have of my own objectification in the eyes of the Other.

In this post, I want to explore being-for-other by enumerating common being-for-other experiences.

Essentially, being-for-other is your experience of being objectified by the Other (or Others). Being-for-other needs consideration only because we are social beings and constantly find ourselves in the company of other people who look at us, have opinions of us and “put us in our place”. Have you noticed that while you experience being free when you are all by yourself, you suddenly feel arrested when you are around certain people. By arrested, I mean, you feel limited to certain ways of behaviour around certain people. For instance around your ex-lover who broke up with you, you may always feel a sense of abandonment. You may find yourself behaving in ways that seem to let your ex-lover know that it was a bad idea to abandon you or that you are doing great inspite of being abandoned and so on. But that sense of abandonment disappears when you are around other people. You get the feeling?

Masochism and Sadism are inescapable experiences of life when you come in touch with your being-for-other. Masochism is your choice (conscious or not) of transcendence that has you suck-up to your objectification in the eyes of the Other. For instance, you may want to “play-to-the-crowd” (so to speak) when you find yourself being objectified as a successful person. Sadism is your choice of transcendence that has you dominate your objectification in the eyes of the Other. For instance, you may want to fight your objectification as a unsuccessful film maker after your last film tanked at the box office. Most of the time we either find ourselves wanting to nurture our being-for-other or alter it. In either case, since we don’t control our being-for-other, we inadvertently choose inauthentic ways of being in an effort to suck-up-to or resist our objectifiction. While it is still my being-for-other, it is over there for the Other to construct and control.

Celebrity

If you are a celebrity, you will mostly find yourself being a famous-thing with fixed features, behavior and properties. If you are a actor, for example, your being-for-other is shaped by your public persona. You are a actor-thing with chiseled body, perfect skin, immaculate sense of dressing, ever smiling, never out of money and so on. You may even want to nurture that perception of you, because it is profitable to you. You will most likely slip into bad-faith when your choice of transcendence becomes limited to the range of choices that is available to an actor-thing.

Most of us are not celebrities like actors, but we are celebrities in other ways. In your gated community, you may be the prettiest looking person. In your cricket team, you may be the best bowler. In your school, you may be a rank holder. Within your gang of friends, you may be the most intellectual person. Within your alumni group, you may be the richest and so on. In each of these cases, you “suck-up” to your objectification and find yourself slipping into bad-faith. You may also find yourself resisting certain forms of objectification. For instance, people in your gated community may be judging you as a unsuccessful person because you are still living in a rented house, while everybody else has purchased their own house by the time they got to your age. Or they may be objectifying you as a bad parent, because your child is constantly caught doing some mischief or the other. You may find yourself limited by such labels or with an urge to constantly fight such labels.

By the way, this works both ways. We objectify celebrities and fix them as objects. The negations we direct towards celebrities lets us find them either in their objectification or outside of it.

Consider your experience, when you suddenly happen to meet Shah Rukh Khan in a simple social setup (no paparazzi, no fans, no crowds, nothing). Suppose that you are able to shake hands with him and speak to him for a couple of minutes about a book or about some technology of mutual interest. Suddenly, you may find yourself struggling to come to terms with your experience of Shah Rukh Khan, not as an actor on the silver screen, but as a human being with interests in books and technology. Ultimately, you might find yourself unable to come to terms with it, so you continue relating to him as a star you met, but a star nevertheless. However, to reconcile your new discovery about him (as someone who loves books and technologies) with your addiction to objectify him as a star, you may come back with a feeling that “he is such a simple star, so down to earth” and so on.

Now suppose that you are a star and that a fan comes up to meet you in a social setup and indulged you in a conversation about books and techology. In that conversation, you may come in touch with the label that your fan is now newly associating with you; that you are a simple and down-to-earth person. You may want to suck up to such a label and even nurture it to your benefit.

Pretty women may find themselves subjected to similar objectification in their social circles. Their being-for-other is primarily limited to looks within their communities. When they happen to meet and speak with their “fan” for even just a bit, a similar thing happens.

In summary, as a celebrity you will be subjected to objectification such that it reduces you to a stereotype. Specialized variation of a stereotype, but a stereotype nevertheless. As a fan, notice how you may be unknowingly subjecting celebrities to stereotypes.

Stranger / Acquaintance / Employee

As a stranger, acquaintance or employee you are a instrument or tool for the Other in his/her project(s). Suppose that you are walking on a country side road and a car stops by you and the person driving the car is asking for directions. To that person you are basically a direction-suggesting-object, an instrument or tool that helps him with his traveling project. As such: for him, the car he is driving and you, a stranger on the road, are ontologically similar. Both are tools that aid him in his project. For your boss, you are a tool that aids his business project.  For your customer, you are a tool that aids his personal or business project. And so on.

Personally, I hate the kind of social networking fostered by BNI or TiE or alumni associations. Whenever I go to such events, I only experience being evaluated in terms of “how good a tool I am for other’s projects”. What’s worse, I find myself using the exact same attitude towards other people. When I bump into a new person at such an event, my choice of negation is:- “is this person useful to me or not”. As much as I hate this kind of social networking, I also find myself constantly relying upon it for my personal projects.

In the previous segment, I spoke about how we objectify celebrities. It is also true that celebrities objectify us. We are instruments or tools in their stardom. We are not individual people with personal choices, we are a herd whose attitudes can be shaped by advertisement, interviews, public appearances, speeches etc. For a movie star, we are simply fans. There are no individual fans, there are just a herd of fans. Like a pack of wolves or dogs. For a politician, we are simply a vote bank. And so on.

In both of the above cases, being-for-other has a air of permanence to it. She will always be pretty, she/he will always be successful (or unsuccessful), he/she is just someone who gives driving directions, he/she is just a teller at the bank, they are all just fans, they are all just voters, dalit votes will always go to this party and so on. The Other is hardly interested in you as a being-for-itself, which apparently is fine by you. At the very least it is not a deal breaker. I dont think it will break your heart to know that someone who is asking you for driving directions doesn’t relate to you as a friend OR for that matter if a movie star doesn’t relate to you as a expert computer programmer.

In summary, notice that in certain relationships you are either using the other as an instrument or are yourself an instrument for the Other.

Close Interpersonal Relationships

Close interpersonal relationships are profoundly different in that you are both a being-for-itself and being-for-other for both you and the Other AND you are deeply interested in all of those facets. For instance, your friend recognises that you are a free transcendence of your facticity while at the same time he/she may be objectifying you in some ways, all the time knowing that you also recognise his/her freedom to transcend his/her facticity while objectifying him/her in some ways. In such a close relationship it is very important for you that your friend recognises your freedom, even though he/she is objectifying you. At the same time, you are aware that for your friend also it is important that you recognise his/her freedom, even though you are objectifying him/her. Close interpersonal relationships are a power struggle. On the one hand you want to be a free transcendence of your facticity, on the other you are sucking-up to OR fighting your being-for-other. You find yourself constantly shuttling between your being-for-itself and being-for-other. Close personal relationships are never at ease because of this.

When you are with your spouse, you are profoundly aware of the various ways in which you are objectified by your spouse. So much so that in all of your interactions with him/her, you either suck up to that objectification or resist it, even as you are making an effort to freely transcend the facticity of your relationship. You constantly find yourself that in the eyes of your spouse, you are boxed into various labels that you either have to make use of to fulfill your transcendence project or get rid of to create space for yourself.

Sartre was right when he said: Hell is the Other!

Mixed Relationships

The very fact that our being-for-other seemingly attempts to unsuccessfully fix us as a in-itself, makes it a breeding ground for inauthentic relationships.

So far we explored celebrity-fan, stranger, acquaintance, employee and close interpersonal relationships. In our examination of such relationships, we noticed the masochistic and sadistic behaviour that drive such relationships. As such they are all acts of bad-faith and therefore inauthentic. It isnt far-fetched to say that all our relationships are inauthentic. By objectifying a star, I consider my choice of transcendence (in this case the particular attitude I use towards a star) as facticity (as the only choice I have for relating with the star) and therefore render myself inauthentic, not that I recommend that you become inappropriately creative in your choice of relating to star (like how Gaurav does to star Aryan in the movie FAN). We also explored how sucking up to your labels limits your transcendence possibilities to those made available to the labels you suck up to. We also saw how most interpersonal relationships are a power struggle.

As inauthentic as these relationships are, it becomes even more inauthentic to ignore the facticity of the relationship and freely choose in a non-standard way. For instance, suppose that I meet with a famous woman movie star. The facticity of the situation is that she is a star and that I am a fan. I am free to transcend my facticity, however I am not a free-transcendence-in-itself. That would be bad-faith. So if I act out being very pally with her, put my arm around her shoulder or attempt to get physically intimate with her (like I would with a close friend), that would be severely inauthentic of me. Such display of affection may be appropriate when expressed to a close friend, but not to a star that I have just met. As a free transcendence of my facticity, I have a few socially acceptable choices at my disposal. I can request for a autograph on a photo of her, or request a selfie with her, or request an opportunity to talk to her about her role in a movie and so on. Any other choice of transcendence, is only authentic only as long as I am willing to be responsible for the repercussions of such a choice. If I attempt to get very intimate with her all at once, I might get beaten up – but I am solely responsible for that. I am also, in a way, responsible for her to construct a barrier around herself limiting personal contact with other fans. I am also responsible for inflicting fear and anxiety in her and for the choices she may make in response to that.

Another example: suppose that you have been friends with a girl for sometime now AND you now want to take the relationship to the next level. The facticity of the relationship is that you are friends. You are free to transcend that facticity and choose to ask her out on a date. Suppose she yes, a new facticity shows up in your relationship. Much the same way a new facticity shows up in your relationship if she says no. In anycase, you will have to be responsible for your choice of asking her out on a date because you will have to freely choose to transcend the facticity that your current choice will make available in the very next moment. Suppose she says NO, and you still choose to ask her out on a date as if she never ever refused to go out with you – that is total inauthenticity. Because you are not freely transcending your facticity. You are attempting to be a free transcendence of your past-facticity OR are attempting to be a transcendence-in-itself, both of which are acts of bad-faith.

There are many examples of relationships where either or both parties ignore the facticity of their relationship, thereby behave inauthentically in that relationship. Bosses flirting with their staff, relatives taking undue advantage of their relationship with rich-and-famous family members, demanding personal favours from vendors who will receive payments from you for products and services and so on are all examples of such inauthentic relationships. Even more serious an inauthenticity is that of a husband who treats his wife as only an instrument (house keeper, cook etc) when the facticity of the relationship clearly demands intimacy. Or that of a wife who treats her husband as only a provider (earn money, build a house etc) when the facticity of the relationship clearly demands intimacy.

Relationships, as you can see, drive people to inauthenticity even more than solitude does. But thats hardly a reason to choose seclusion and run away from the world, into the far away mountains, meditate endlessly, seemingly making peace with your being-in-itself so much so that you willingly and peacefully make choices for life only related to the primal need for survival. It might even seem like you have become enlightened.

I would much rather make peace with the fact that I will forever be inauthentic in all my relationships. That I will always be a jerk, no matter how hard I try not to be. It is in total acceptance of my inauthenticity, I can generate a “Ok, so now what?” attitude. That way, hopefully, I can even inch a lot closer to authenticity than I would have been able to do otherwise.