Communities of Virtue
Crawling on the floor to get vitamins
I’ve recently read “The Pragmatist’s Guide to Relationships”. The authors are batshit insane,1 and come with some interesting ideas. One such idea is that of a “Pygmalion relationship”. In Pygmalion relationships, you use the promise of continual personal development as a way to attract and retain partners.
The Pragmatists suggest forming long-term relationships centred around mutual empowerment and development, where partners train each other to become better versions of themselves.2 The Pragmatists’ end goal is forming a monogamous hivemind business-marriage3, which is interesting, but not really my cup of tea.
Being a heathen, my life is rather far from the monogamous norm. I’m into communities, collective living and polyamory. When I try to translate the Pragmatists’ ideas to my life, I end up with something that is closer to one of Aristotle’s top life hacks.
Friendships & Communities of Virtue
Aristotle’s top life hack is forming “Friendships of Virtue”, friendships oriented towards making each other more virtuous.4 I picked up this idea a while ago while reading Peter’s blog. I liked the idea, but I didn’t make an effort to move my friendships in a virtuous direction. My relationships tend to take on aspects of mutual empowerment naturally, and I choose to settle for that.
No more! We can do better! :D
When hanging out with people one-on-one, my natural drive towards virtue is usually enough to influence the focus of the relationship. When more people get involved, the drive towards virtue needs to be stronger, or it will get lost in the bigger group.
I’ve recently become interested in influencing the communities I move in, moving them towards mutual growth. Given the size of these groups, I need to hold a strong intent, or else nothing will happen.5
The context-intent I want to offer is the formation of Communities of Virtue, where people support each other in mutual empowerment and growth. Dreaming with great intent will make it possible for reality to move in that direction.
First Steps and Reactions
Dreaming is all good and well, but I also need to do something!
Inspired by the level of effort encouraged by the Pragmatists6, I’ve started walking some practical steps towards a Social Life of Virtue. As a first step, I’ve started telling my friends about “Friendships of Virtue”, and that I intend to move my social life towards that ideal.
Some of my friends were enthusiastic. Some had mixed feelings.
The friends with mixed feelings expressed sentiments like: “As long as it feels joyful and not a lot of pressure.” and “I’m not sure I have the capacity to commit”. Serious concerns and great feedback. Being an unrepenting tryhard, I didn’t take these comments seriously at first.7
Then I read one of Peter’s latest blog posts: “The Antidote to Terrible Communities”. In the post, Peter shares how he’s been pushing his friends to an unreasonable degree in the pursuit of virtue, causing harm in the process.
This put my friend’s concerns in a new light. I have a tendency to push myself in unproductive ways, turning pleasant activities into chores. Given that I’ve struggled with this tendency a lot, I should take my friends’ concerns seriously.
I’ve gotten another kind of feedback I want to take seriously. Some people have told me that they sometimes feel constricted by the way I influence social spaces.8
I want to influence groups in ways that benefit everyone involved, opening up and supporting the space rather than constraining it. My current guess is that the sense of constriction comes from me pushing my way of seeing things on others. If I stop relating to my viewpoint as superior, I hope that this sense of constriction will disappear.
So, how can I point toward virtue without pushing others or imposing my perspective on them?
The Power of Serious Play
I want to find a skilled grip, where I orient groups toward virtue without pushing or grasping for control. I want to keep my own blind spots in mind, making sure to take in others’ feedback, viewpoints, and help. I want the path towards virtue to be a fun exploration, rather than a strict commitment.
After talking to some friends, I realized that I know of a promising way forward. I’m going to engage in “serious play”, an idea I stumbled upon while watching John Vervaeke’s “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis”.
In the series, John presents a challenging state called “Existential Inertia”. When stuck in Existential Inertia, making changes to one’s life feels very challenging. It’s like standing on top of a high diving tower, hesitating instead of jumping into the water. Changing one’s life feels dangerous - it’s easier to stay put than take a step that’s impossible to take back.
To get out of Existential Intertia, John proposes Serious Play. Instead of pushing yourself to take a difficult step, you find a way to play with the idea. Instead of pushing yourself into marrying someone you don’t know, you can “play” by going on a date. Instead of taking a leap of faith and moving across the country to an unknown city, you can go visit a few times to feel the vibe.
If you feel stuck, and consider a step that feels both exciting and scary, try playing with it!
Initially, I thought of serious play as a way to support friends who are scared of committing to something that will turn into a strain. I thought of myself as way past being hard on myself - I’ve even blogged about how to avoid it!
I realized I was in denial when I was talking to one of my friends - a real friendship of virtue moment, helping me see my blind spots. The habit of pushing myself in unskilful ways is strong, and I need all the help I can get to handle it. I don’t want to be a virtuous know-it-all, pushing my friends to grow. I want to grow together, mutually supporting each other.
And to make things fun for everyone, I’m doing my best to keep things fun and light-hearted, starting with the way I relate to myself. As a practical step towards play, I’ve started crawling on the floor to get my daily vitamins. Why? Because it’s silly and funny.
I feel grateful that so many of my friends and social circles are open for silliness mixed with mutual learning and development.
If you struggle with stress, performance anxiety or boredom, I suggest trying play out. Do something in a really silly way, for no good reason, and see what happens.
Let’s go play!
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This post is mainly about my personal struggles, but I still want more people to read it. I guess it’s the widespread narcissism they talk about. Or maybe a hope to inspire and help someone who needs it. Yep, that sounds better.
So if you know of a person who is a bit stuck up and too serious, tell them about this post which combines Aristotelian philosophy with a recommendation to crawl on the floor for vitamin pills. They will thank you for it, turn into an even more awesome person, move to India and become a guru.
And maybe, if you look deep inside, you are that stuck-up person. Then I recommend crawling on the floor and being silly. You don’t need to move to India to pick up guruhood immediately, you can try visiting first if that feels like a safer step.
They suggest spending 2 hours a day for 8 years to mass-date potential partners, finding the perfect match for a monogamous hivemind business-partner marriage.
These relationships tend to be long-lasting since the “aggregate value” (attractiveness to other people) tends to be lower than the mutual attractiveness between the relationship participants. This makes sense since a model centred around mutual empowerment implies loads of investment into the relationship.
= learning to think together with your partner, always working together until your thinking processes start to meld together. An interesting way to get more shit done, if you are batshit insane.
He talked about two other (sub-par) kinds of relationships: friendships of pleasure, and friendships of utility. This is interesting to me, what kinds of relationships do you have?
To be clear; I’m not going to manipulate or force people. That’s rude.
Again, they suggest spending 2 hours a day for 8 years to mass-date potential partners, finding the perfect match for a monogamous hivemind business-partner marriage.
As in “listened to them without changing my approach”.
I’ve been practising taking a step back and not influencing the frameworks of the interaction too much. I’m generally better at it nowadays :)