Unquenchable Love

Isidor and Ida Straus were a Jewish German-American couple who died together during the sinking of the Titanic. They were last seen seen standing near a lifeboat in the company of their maid. Despite being allowed to board the lifeboat, Isidor Straus refused to go as long as there were women and children still needing to escape.

However, he nonetheless urged his wife to board, though she refused, responding that “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.” Her words were heard by several eyewitness. The couple were last seen standing arm in arm on the deck; they had been married 41 years and were survived by six children.

News of the their sacrifice and loyalty spread shortly after the disaster, including in Yiddish and German newspapers. There was even a popular song featuring the story of called “The Titanic’s Disaster”, which became popular among Jewish-Americans.

Although Isidor’s body was recovered, Ida’s body was not. A memorial dedicated to the couple can be found in their family mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Its inscription, quoted from the Bible, reads: “Many waters cannot quench love — neither can the floods drown it.”

Those who have seen James Cameron’s Titanic, might recall the following scene, which is allegedly based on the couple:

How Does a Polyamorous Relationship Work?

Polyamory, a term which entered the Oxford English Dictionary seven years ago describes the practice of having simultaneous intimate relationships with more than one person at a time, notably with the knowledge and consent of all partners. Unlike “swinging,” the intimacy isn’t merely temporary or recreational, but a full-blown romantic and sexual relationship. (Polygamy, which is much better known, is a kind of polyamorous relationships involving more than one spouse.)

Needless to say, while the practice has become comparatively more common — an estimated 500,000 such relationships are said to exist in the US alone — it can be very difficult wrap one’s head around it. After all,  isn’t sexual and relational exclusivity the cornerstone for deep, committed, long-term and truly loving relationships? How does one get around the jealousy and possessiveness  that seem intrinsic to intimate relationships?

Well, aside from trying to do more research yourselves — including seeking out polyamorous people  to engage with — the BBC offers a very good inside look at a polyamorous relationship involving four people. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to comment on it or explore the topic further, but it did certainly raise a lot of interesting reflection on the nation of human relationships, love, sex, boundaries, and the like. It’s important to note that just as with “conventional” romantic pairings, no two polyamorous relationships are alike.

It’s even more vital not to generalize or caricature what most of us immediately assume to be a degenerate or “lesser” kind of love. As with everything — especially interpersonal relationships — it’s a lot more complicated.

Please share your own thoughts, comments, or experiences. I’m hardly an expert on the subject and have only recently begun to explore it academically-speaking.

Human Nature and Apathy

Many people, myself included, lament the fact that our species is so apathetic to the widespread suffering that is plentifully around us. However tragic, such indifference is both natural and expected. Our minds were not evolved for absorbing the sheer amount of stimulus that exists in the world.

Only very recently have most humans become regularly exposed to the overwhelming amount of people, events, and information that exists and multiplies all around us. There is a limit to how much we can think about or emotionally react to, and that’s why our immediate suffering — our trivial “first world problems” — is felt far more strongly that the more horrible but distant misery that exists out there. Telling someone that others have it worse is admirable but futile because our brains feel the personal circumstances more substantively and intimately than abstract ones.

It’s for this reason that society will obsess more about individual negative events highlighted in news versus the bigger but nameless and faceless statistics of human poverty. In fact, this is the same reason you’re more likely to donate to an individual suffering person than to broader charitable in general — look up Paul Slovik’s “psychic numbing” phenomenon. In some sense, this may even be a merciful defense mechanism — imagine if all the tremendous suffering in the world was equally impactful. We’d likely succumb to severe depression and misanthropy, or become very withdrawn.

Of course, I’m not saying this excuses callousness or apathy. We can still love and care for one another beyond our closest loved ones. We don’t need to be deeply affected by all the human suffering in the world in order to be troubled by it and seek to alleviate it. Empathy and social responsibility are intrinsic to our species. We must simply adapt to the existence of this new global community and expand our circle of compassion and consideration to be far wider. It’s difficult but not impossible, in my opinion.

What are your thoughts?


Homeless Man Donates Handouts to Fellow Homeless

This exemplary human being has given away over $9,000 he’s collected through panhandling to a fellow homeless mother and child. When many better off people can’t be bothered with giving the less fortunate the time of day, a man who is scarcely getting by still find the means and the love to give to others. This is a very inspiring story. I especially like the news anchors statement towards the end.

Hat tip to my friend Ray for sharing this with me.

Reaffirming My Faith in Humanity

There was food left over from a luncheon at my job. I decided to take about a dozen bagels to give to some homeless people I often see while walking back to the metro. I came across a woman who was clearly malnourished. I offered to give her the whole supply, but she politely (and strangely) refused, and only with my insistence did she bother to take at least one. She did not want any more than that.

When I asked her why, she replied that there are other homeless folks that could you that food. That sort of altruism even in the face of desperation is Earth shattering. Would I have done the same in her position?

Our Love of Hate

Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure;
Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.
-Lord Byron

I’ve noticed how it’s typically far easier to hate someone than to love them. For most people, it takes a lot to earn their trust and love, but far less to earn their contempt and suspicion. By my own experience at least, it seems far easier to hate someone you once loved, than love someone you once hated.

Love takes work. It takes dedication and commitment. Sadly, hate works the same way for some people: they’re knee-deep in it, and it’s a full-time occupation. But by and large, hate is far more visceral. It doesn’t take as much thought to be prejudiced or intolerant. If only love and acceptance were as easy.

Then again, a lot of people fall in love pretty easily. One wonders if we’d call that real love though. But now that I’m getting off topic and going into semantics, I think I’ll stop here.

Labor Movement

Whenever I see people passing by, whether as motorists or pedestrians, I sometimes wonder: who are the occupants of those vehicles? Where are they going? What are they like? We’re so accustomed to seeing a lot of strangers in our everyday lives, that we scarcely acknowledge them as fellow human beings, with their own stories, personalities, and histories.

It’s hard to remember that we share this planet with seven billion people just like us, with their own fears, dreams, experiences, and beliefs. People who are living out their narratives at this very moment; some of their stories ending, others just beginning.

This reflection was brought upon by the work of one enterprising and creative photographer, who decided to stand on a bridge and take pictures of the various migrant workers passing underneath in their iconic pick-up trucks. Here’s just a sample:

These are the people that are often behind the scenes, raising our children, caring for our elderly and infirm, and picking our produce. They have stories of their own, mostly of tragedy, hardship, and perseverance. I wonder what they’re all like in person. What kind of perspectives would they give me?


The Ties That Bind

In my lifetime, there have been few experiences as pleasant and gratifying as the moment when strangers become acquaintances or friends. Unlike for most of human history, we now live in a world where we come into constant contact with unfamiliar human beings. In our lifetimes, we interact with tens of thousands of different people a year – if not more – whereas most humans who have ever lived rarely knew of anyone else’s existence outside of their tiny and insular community.

The internet has radically amplified this trend, granting us the unprecedented ability to contact people from across the world. The once imposing scale of time and distance are being increasingly eroded. I can now establish a companionship with people who I have never physically met, and I would have otherwise never known these individuals existed had it not been for the web.

I love meeting new people and establishing new bonds. I love the feeling of connecting with a person on a deeper level, whether it’s through a shared interest or activity, or by empathizing with a more personal experience or feeling. It makes me feel less lonely, and opens me up to experiences, ideas, and perspectives I would otherwise have never known.

We often go about our daily routine without ever thinking much about the people who surround us, who are engaging in the same day-to-day activities as we are. Who are those individuals waiting in line with me? Or those people driving by in all those cars? Where are they going and why? What are their dreams and ambitions? What are there story?

Indeed, it’s hard to realize that as we go about our lives, billions of other individuals just like us are doing the same. They all have a story that they’re living out. They all have fears, desires, ideas, and experiences. The majority of them wants and need companionship too. They need that bond with other humans, whether it’s a friendly associate or an intimate lover. We all need someone in some way.

Going to any social setting – a party or classroom or department store – I always feel that latent sense of interconnection that pervades all collective gatherings; that palpable sense that any moment, I can create a bond with someone by recognizing their mutual humanity and engaging in conversation. It won’t always work of course, but the fact that it can is what excites me. The fact that I can tough another person’s life in some way, or visa versa, is what makes life great. Any stranger has the potential to be my next confidant. Any one of them has the potential to change my life.

These interactions could be brief or shallow, but that doesn’t diminish their value to me. Human interaction in general is the spice of life. It makes things more interesting. It enriches our worldview and our experiences. Most importantly, such contacts forge the ties that bind – the knowledge that we all share this world, that we’re all individual human beings who are capable of the same basic feelings and thoughts. This realization is that makes me a humanist, and what has driven me to care deeply about others I otherwise should have no reason to concern myself with.

I advise others to never pass up the chance to establish some sort of connection with another person – the store cashier, the person stuck in line with you, friend of a friend you meet at a party; make an opportunity to say something nice, to find some sort of icebreaker, or to simply smile and express your mutual interest in their humanity. In this fast-paced and materialistic world, it is easy to go about our lives without taking the moment to stop and just enjoy the company of strangers. Arguably, there is no such thing as strangers – they’re all prospective or future companions.

Equality and Power in Relationships

Every human relationship – platonic, romantic, and familial – encompasses two competing desires: for an equal partnership but also for power and control. This conflicting dynamic is unavoidable, as they are each reflective of a wider human tendency.

As social creatures, we innately want – and need – to work with one another amiably in order to be healthy, stay alive, and continue the species. Both our neurological and hormonal systems attest to this, as they facilitate and encourage intimacy, cooperation, and empathy.

At the same time, however, we have something other organisms don’t: an ego. Our higher cognitive ability grants us a sense of identity, purpose, and individuality that, while wonderful, can conflict with our collective and cooperative inclinations.

Thus every interaction we have with one another, particularly the most intimate, necessarily entails a struggle between these driving forces. We want to be in control of our relationships (and everything else for that matter), but we also desire the sort of equality and fairness that makes such partnerships thrive. And since the same goes for everyone else we deal with, we’re faced with a very complicated layer of internal and external clashes.

Again, we see this on both the macro and micro level: not just between individuals, but between societies, cultures, and the species as a whole. Human nature is variable and difficult to pin down, but it’s clear that we’ve always had a contradictory tendency to work wonderfully together (hence all the progress we’ve made in so many different human endeavors) but to also be utterly incapable of harmony and tolerance (hence why we still struggle with inequality, war, and other social ills).

Many other factors account for these failures of course, but the point is that we seem destined to fight with ourselves in trying to find a delicate balance between these two potent drivers. However, we have come a long way in this regard though: relationships, especially among younger generations, increasingly emphasize egalitarian values. War and civil strife are historically low, despite their continued horror. On the whole, we’ve gone father than ever in keeping our desire for power in check, significant lapses notwithstanding (remember, progress is never linear or absolute).

I think being cognizant of this dynamic is an obvious first step to promoting a cooperative and equal relationship with our fellow humans. But it will never be enough; it’ll take constant practice and a lot of trial and error to keep the equilibrium.

Besides, every relationship needs an element of both: we need those individual egos as much as we need parity. Compromise is the foundation of every relationship: when you love someone, you submit yourself to their needs, promising to do whatever you can to help them. But at the same time, no healthy relationship should consist of one-sided compliance. As much as we want to be there with one another, we also want someone with a mind of their own, and having entails dealing with differences in personality, desires, and the like.

This isn’t the case for everyone of course – a lot of people want full control, while a lot of others don’t seem to mind being obedient to their partners. But I think the trend is increasingly in favor of partnerships that offer the best of both worlds. Being able to live in harmony with one another without giving up your personal aspirations makes for a thriving relationship. There will always be a give and take to some degree, but that’s a necessary part of any close social interaction.

What are your thoughts?