I had a friend ask when it’s OK to sever a relationship – if there is a priority or hierarchy we need to follow when building our relationships and when we cut them off. They had came up with a list of ‘inviolable offenses’, and challenged others to do the same. Here was my response:
This is an interesting view. Personally, I look at this very differently. I would say we never really sacrifice relationships. Instead, whether we like it or not, we are always in relationship with each other.
I would classify relationships as an always present reality with two axes. One axis is the amount of physical interaction/contact with the person (letters/phone/in person/etc). The second axis is the interpersonal boundaries we have in that relationship – such as emotional, physical, spiritual boundaries. We modulate our relationships with others by moving back and forth on those axes, but there is always relationship. Certainly as finite beings with a finite life we cannot exercise even 1 millionth of the possible relationships we could have in this world. It does, however, mean we are in a relationship with the traffic cop, the garbage man, the people that utilize the work we do, and so forth. We might only have the most minimal ‘setting’ on both our relational axes, but it’s still there. As proof, one notes that even in the most mundane interacting with a traffic cop – which might only last half a second and there are no words spoken – we still have boundaries, shared goals, communication (verbal and nonverbal), etc. On the other end of the spectrum we are in very deep relationships with family, spouses, children, and God.
You can even have relationship if one of the axes is set completely to zero as in the case when we choose to stop physically seeing/speaking with someone. As in the case of alcoholics or others that need help, one might indeed be using the cutting of physical interaction as a communication device to help the other towards really loving (though that’s not always the real spirit its done in and this method should only be used after everything else has failed). In this way, you’re not so much ‘cutting off’ a relationship as communicating to the person your boundaries or approval/disapproval.
While this is a really cursory explanation, for me, we are all one large family in this world with relationships always ready to spring up – with one father/parent/God in heaven that we all share. I try to remind myself at each moment to look at everyone I meet as a distant relative. I certainly have a lot of estranged aunts, crazy bachelor uncles, and second-cousin’s one-hundred-times-removed. When looking at the people on the street, in shops, in cars next to me, in the pew in front, at work, or in the old folks home as family with which I’ve only begun my relationship with (and *will* be spend eternity together with a large collection of them), things become much different when looking at the world.