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Personal Versus Purposeful Relationships

    There are two very different ways in which we can enter into relations with our fellows. We can, in the first place, associate with others in order to achieve some purpose that we all share. Out of this there springs a life of social cooperation through which we can provide for our common needs, and achieve common ends. We may define this social life in terms of purposes. That is its great characteristic. There is in this field always a reason beyond the mere association for associating and cooperating in that particular way. Because of this we cannot enter into this form of relationship with the whole of ourselves as complete persons, because the purpose is always only one of our purposes. There are others which cannot be acheved by that particular association. We cannot, therefore, live a personal life on the basis of such relationships. The whole complex of activities which are generated in this way is what we mean usually by society or by social life.

    But there is a second way in which we can enter into relationships with one another. We may associate purely for the purpose of expressing our whole selves to one another in mutuality and fellowship. It is difficult to find a word to express this kind of relationship which will convey its full meaning, not because there are no words, but because they have all been specialized and degraded by misuse. Friendship, fellowship, communion, love, are all in one way or another liable to convey a false or partial meaning. But what is common to them all is the idea of a relationship between us which has no purpose beyond itself; in which we associate because it is natural for human beings to share their experience, to understand one another, to find joy and satisfaction in living together; in expressing and revealing themselves to one another.

    If one asks why people form friendships or love one another, the question is simply unanswerable. We can only say, because it is the nature of persons to do so. They can only be themselves in that way. It is this field of human relations which constitutes what we call the personal life, and that is the right name for it. Because that is the only way in which we can live as persons at all, the only form of human life in which we can be our whole selves or our essential selves without self-suppression and self-mutilation....

    If two people are associated merely for what they can get out of one another it obviously is not a friendship. Two people are friends because they love one another. That is all you can say about it. If the relationship had any other reason for it we should say that one or the other of them was pretending friendship from an ulterior motive. This means in effect that friendship is a type of relationship into which people enter as persons with the whole of themselves. This is the characteristic of personal relationships. They have no ulterior motive. They are not based on particular interests. They do not serve partial and limited ends. Their value lies entirely in themselves and for the same reason transcends all other values. And that is because they are relations of persons as persons. They are the means of living a personal life....

    When two people become friends they establish between themselves a relation of equality. There is and can be no functional subservience of one to the other. One cannot be the superior and the other the inferior. If the relation is one of inequality, then it is just not a personal relationship. But once a personal relationship is established the differences between the persons concerned are the stuff out of which the texture of their fellowship is woven. And provided the equal relationship is maintained, it is precisely the differences that enrich the relationship. The greater the fundamental differences between two persons are the more difficult it is to establish a fully personal relation between them, but also the more worth while the relation will be if it can be established and maintained. All great things are difficult, and this is the greatest of all.

    John Macmurray, Scottish professor of philosophy
    Reason and Emotion