Commodity connectedness pervades relationships these days. A chance meeting with former colleague results in an exchange of business cards or a promise to “like” each other on Facebook. Did they talk about the kids? Creative pursuits? What’s important to each of them? Or only what they can get from one another?
A romantic dinner with a beloved can quickly turn into a tit-for-tat conversation—If you do the laundry on Tuesdays, I’ll take Patty to ballet on Thursdays. Did they express profound appreciation of the other in this exchange? Soul-stirring gratefulness?
We all fall into the trap of treating others like commodities. We view friends, loved ones, business associates as things to feed our incessant needs. How often we do this and how conscious we are of doing it matters. Often I don’t know I’m doing it. Experiencing being treated as a commodity, though, is easier to spot. Let’s start there.
A recent phone conversation from a former close associate whom I hadn’t heard from or talked to in years serves as an example. Delighted to hear from her, I asked her questions. I was sincerely interested in knowing what she was up to and how she had been. But then I realized she had called on something business related. That was that, nothing more. She never asked me a single question about myself—what I was up to or how I had been. A dead-give away of commodity connectedness: It’s all about what the person can do for you.
In fact, she ended the conversation with, “Good to hear your voice.” I felt like saying, if you ever want to hear my voice again, text me before you call, I won’t pick up so you can listen to my recorded voice until your heart’s content.”
As I feeler my hackles go up when a person is more interested in what I have to offer them rather than in me—who I am currently, what I’m up to today or this week’s goals or past year desires. If someone I know, or used to know ignores the me in our exchange, I start feeling like a garage sale or worse. I become that broken down rocking chair littering the sidewalk you put there free for the taking because it didn’t sell at the garage sale. And it’s lost all value to you. You can’t even muster up the energy to take it to the dump yourself.
Now there I go, comparing myself to a commodity in order to make my point about how it feels to be a commodity–a de-valued commodity at that. Commodity connectedness lies deep in the psyche of each of us in our commodified culture.
My husband usually gets the brunt of my commodity connectedness thinking. A generous, thoughtful person, he is also practical. So that means my car always has gas in it and our pantry overflows with back-ups—just in case. Our household runs like a well-oiled machine thanks to him. So it’s easy for me to think of this kind man as a well-oiled machine, too. Yet that’s no excuse to do so. But I have to admit, at times, I have to work to remember, he’s a person, too.
When my kids got good grades or scored on the soccer field or basketball court, I mixed them up with their achievements. I got so excited for their wins I had to intentionally make sure I separated who they were from what they did.
And when they struggled, how easy it was to see them as problems. It’s wasn’t their behavior or their choices—it was them. When commodity connectedness took over, all parenting strategies I tried, no matter how aligned with best practices, failed miserably. How could they succeed, trying them out on things?
Yet, it’s only human to do this. Fear makes parents forget facts. Being gentle with ourselves when we slip into the commodity connectedness trap with our kids is hugely important. If we’re too hard on ourselves, ironically, we end up treating ourselves as commodities. God help us if parents ever become programmed robots who never error.
The good news: Since we’re human, we’re built for growth. We can observe and change course, adjusting to what works. I have seen Martin Buber’s concepts of I-It and I-Thou help a lot of parents. So much so, I included these in the Parent Coach Certification® Training Program so parent coaches can use them. Importantly, Buber distinguished two categories: relationships where the other becomes a thing and those where the other remains a sacred being.
Writing about these concepts in her book, The Joy of Feeling, Iona Marsaa Teeguarden, states:
“…what’s missing in the ‘thing orientation’ is a concern for what really matters, like love, beauty, life itself—and the life of the Self. Experiencing oneself as a commodity is the opposite of experiencing oneself. Paradoxically an antidote to alienation is having a sense of self, because that is what allows the experience of relatedness to others …” (pp. 208-209)
Relating to the essential self of the other is always the goal, whether child, spouse, or colleague. Cleaning house of people in our lives who seek to use us may be necessary for our own Thou-ness to thrive. But we need to give them plenty of chances first. Our culture normalizes the I-It orientation. Because of that, many people won’t have a clue they connect to you like a parasite.
But next time you’re talking with someone and you get that dilapidated-furniture-on-the-sidewalk-feeling, acknowledge it and adjust accordingly.
Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.