02/04/2015 10:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Relationships Deserve More Than a Cost-Benefit Analysis

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"The one who cares the least has the most power," my aunt said. I knew she was right, but it sounded so hollow.

We live in a culture that teaches ambivalence towards the rest of humanity. Perhaps we're taught economics too young, ushered into a land of cost and benefit where utility guides the hand, mouth, and heart and we outstay our welcome as soon as we've served our purpose. Perhaps it's that we look at everyone around us as the "other" who is not "me," and the magnetic web of empathy that used to connect us has withered away as faces are replaced with touchscreens and nothing feels quite real. Perhaps we're blinded by our own ambition and prioritize ourselves, our schedules, our worlds over everyone else's. Or perhaps we're just terrified, shaking, hoping not to care because it's too dangerous.

I come from a highly competitive universe where backstabbing isn't so much the problem as complete self-involvement and insularity. People slander the Wall Street workers, but really the writers, artists, and academes are just as toxic. I would know -- I'm one of them.


I've been on both sides of the power play in my community, too. I've hurt someone deeply without any consideration of their feelings or sense of remorse. I've had the same done to me. It's funny because we've almost developed a switch, a valve that completely shuts down our systems. We overheat -- the relationship gets too hard or loses its utility -- and like robots, we turn off. Sometimes, we look back and it's too late. Other times, forgiveness looms on the horizon, barely in reach.

I see relationships as a chain. We're all linked to one another. If we've met, we have a relationship, albeit a fairly shallow one.

I'm young, so I don't really know, but from what my parents have told me, that chain used to mean something. A lot of philosophers have said it, too -- we're supposedly born with benevolence, or empathy, or whatever word means I care about you because we're both flesh and blood and you need compassion. Hume wrote that. I don't know what's happened since the Enlightenment, but it seems we've devolved. We, as humans, aren't human anymore. We're a graph, charting slopes and marginal cost versus benefit. We're checklists, searching for propriety and perfection where they will never exist because we so want our lives to be ideal. We look until eventually we grow weary, but still we can't believe that caring is the answer because it seems antiquated, time-consuming, and possibly painful. We can't trust that the person with the power will be benevolent, and so we shy away from that crazy chain and return to our checklist, our graph, our everything "objective" and "rational" so that we don't have to risk feeling something.

That's the most frightening thing of all -- the fact that we are slowly transforming into a population that physically can't feel. We're too scared, too egotistical, too desirous of perfection. Too afraid that if we take a leap of faith, we'll fall.

We all know what it is to fall. Why would we be so hesitant to care if we didn't? We've done it once or twice and decided no more. Kant thought that as independent, free-thinking people, we'd fall only a few times before we found our feet, but those few times might be enough to deter us from ever standing again. I think he was right.

But the thing is we must stand. We must. Because the future of the human race lies in the balance. The future of the chain. It matters. We matter. Relationships matter.

It's time to throw away the graph paper and the checklist. We're worth more than calculations, and nothing good ever came from filling in boxes.