Friday, June 23, 2006

psyche, cupid and the rest of the world

One of the Greek myths tells the story of Psyche. An oracle foretold that she was to marry a monster; her parents abandoned her to her fate. Instead, she found herself in a paradise - a beautiful, isolated palace where invisible servants tended to her every need - and some of her wishes.

There's the rub. She was not entirely alone (a mysterious husband appeared in her bed each night), and yet she was completely cut off from everyone human. What price would you ask in order to live without human connection? Psyche had everything she could want - every physical need met (the mysterious husband in her bed was Cupid himself, the God of love). It wasn't enough. Before long, she was pleading with her husband to let her visit with real people again.

We are all like Psyche: what we want includes other people. As human beings, we have evolved precisely for social connection. Like Psyche, we all find that connection a mixed blessing. In the myth, Psyche's sisters influence her in ways that cost her the palace in paradise. And yet, they also set her on the path that takes her all the way to Mount Olympus, the only mortal to be granted immortality and a place among the gods.

Our connections with other people make us more than we are alone - we can learn and gain an almost unlimited amount from other people and the way we change in their presence. We can even form teams that allow us to experience thoughts and achievements we would not be capable of alone, no matter the circumstances or the gifts we received. Like the gods of ancient Greece, we can move beyond natural limitations and ordinary boundaries.

How many of your goals could you achieve in an isolated paradise? Which of your goals depend on your ability to connect with, learn from, and collaborate with other people?

Social connection is not a necessary evil. Social connection is a necessary wonder.

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