We make ourselves out of each other

From C. Robert Mesle’s Process-Relational Philosophy:

Occasionally I have the pleasure of performing a wedding ceremony. As a process-relational thinker, I have something I want to say about human relationships in general, and marriage in particular. As John B. Cobb Jr. wisely observed, a soul is not a thing. It is not an isolated stone hidden somewhere inside us untouched by our life’s experience, enduring unchanged by the changes of our lives. A soul is a dynamic process, a bundle of experiences, thoughts, emotions, dreams, and memories. In each moment of our life, we take in all of our past experience and all of our new experiences, and we create our selves out of them, deciding who we will be in that moment.

Two people who join in marriage will be creating themselves out of each other and out of their relationship. Each word, each glance, each touch, each kiss, each shared moment, each thought about each other — everything they do will become part of the material out of which they will create themselves. They will gradually discover that they have literally become parts of each other, parts of each others’ souls. They should have a special care, then, how they treat each other, have a care what material they each give to the other for the creation of their souls.

Obviously, a relational vision of the human soul confirms and helps to clarify our special obligations to children. A child’s soul is not a supernatural Cartesian substance “which so exists that it needs no other thing in order to exist.” I’m sure Descartes never meant to suggest this, but if he were right about mental substances, it would seem to follow that it would not matter what experiences a child had. Whippings, cigarette burns, dark closets, verbal humiliation like “you’re garbage and you always will be garbage” would just be so many accidental qualities that would come and go without changing that unchanging substance. But we know better. Process-relational thought offers us a vision of reality that helps us to understand what we all deeply know to be true. Sadly, as well as happily, we know that children must create themselves out of their relationships. They create themselves out of the genes and the nutrition and love, neglect, or cruelty they receive. They must create their souls out of the relationships they find themselves in. While there is some degree of self-creative freedom that often allows children to amaze us with their resilience, every person who has ever talked to me about the impact of abuse on them speaks of the deep scars they carry and will always carry. Children create their souls out of their relationships with us. Have a care: It matters what we give them to work with.


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