Rewriting Humanity’s Relating Renaissance

In 1957 a deceptively simple psycho-social formulation from an outsider psychiatrist took root in popular culture. A book was published by the same name. I’m okay. You’re okay.

I’m okay. You’re okay led to practices broadly referred to as transactional analysis. Its formulation can be traced to a complex array of relational strategies common today. Consider it the e=mc^2 of psycho-social phenomena. It gave rise, directly but also indirectly, to a multitude of methods in the last half century and even into the now burgeoning field of cognitive sciences and the new field of behavioral economics.

Early on, through books by titles like Games People Play (Berne, 1964) and Scripts People Live (Steiner, 1975), transactional analysis attested, in a rye psycho-social fashion, that there are inevitable ways people establish okay-ness. Rather than pushback about homogenizing people’s diverse experiences, at the time, it was embraced. This speaks to the perception of psycho-social patterns as itself a powerful insight. There are hierarchies in terms of leadership; there are patterns in seeking and achieving of psycho-social balance.

From this perspective, functioning in a psycho-socially complex role, from social worker to psychologist, diplomat to schoolteacher, would not necessarily, despite the ups and downs of real relationships, resign one to an unfortunate position. Pandora’s “only hope” and her box of suffering begone! Games and scripts predominate, perhaps in the background, perhaps in the foreground, which is okay as long as options and choices (or the perception of them) are there too.

The real traction in the I’m okay You’re okay formulation then is a subjective driving force: that humans are capacitated – through our relationships with “other” – to recondition ourselves out of difficult pasts. Bootstrap thinking. Fast forward to today, and we face the difficult future humanity seems to be speeding towards, speeds reached in part by capacitating humans so that they might surpass each other (a generalizable measure of success still being okay-ness).

OKIC not only questions the inevitability of vacuous okay-ness but answers the problem that, from the current state of psych-socio-cultural state of affairs, humanity has not yet arrived at an adequate formulation for its own thriving. The bootstrapping towards I’m okay You’re okay seems, ironically, to resign humanity to a collective death sentence. It’s a timeline, so far, by which the evidence for “relating does not center around humans” includes reactively cycling activities around violent populism, computers destroying the world, climate crisis, fear of alien invasion. On the non-reactive side, we find an inspiring assortment too. Biomimicry, indigenous skill-building including animistic practices, collective intelligence, and computers saving the world.

So if relating does not revolve around individuals and their relative okay-ness, why bother examining or believing in OKIC’s universality of relating? If relating is possible so as to activate new optima of inter-relatedness, it is possible to transform human creative endeavoring through centering and balancing, such that businesses, economies, art, and technology can themselves repair the human dependencies that have come asunder: nature, health, education, innovation?

The trick is, the orientation has to capacitate a shift from okay-centeredness to widescale centering. In this is a counterintuitive condition, like heliocentrism still triggers. Our “I’m whizzing through space rotating in two directions at once around a ball of fire” wtf moment. Humans are resilient in the face of disorienting information though. Even though widescale centering is unlikely to be perceptible to us as individuals, we can learn to, and be given digital tools, relate to and through it. In OKIC I will use the word generative to point to the real effects of widescale centering, which can also be given the technical term integrative meta-relating.

Relatedness is a characteristic of all things. It does not revolve around humans any more than the sun revolves around the earth. (Despite the fact that it can’t and won’t stop feeling that way.) In timeless relating are real solutions to seemingly intractable problems so far thought to be inherent to the human culture machine, like “human nature” is (tautologically) inherent to humans. Including the solution that it is time to replace the machine metaphor of dependent (and breakable) parts.

On an intimate scale, we no longer need hinge the future on tireless admonitions to children that they not be self-centered. Nor do we need disorient our minds by experimenting with hallucinogens or superstitions that are mumbo-jumbo (to us) in ways that remove us, when we are lucky just temporarily, by huge scales from real and pressing cultural concerns.

Humanity will not get to optima of interrelatedness by catering only to our well-meaning impulses for kumbaya relating games, healing our inner child wounds, or “saving” or “waking” us one soul at a time. We will not get there by entire countries simultaneously (as if by magic) shedding their imperialistic ways, such that no one country has any particular advantage. And we will not get there by continuing beyond the stage of reality hypoxia whereby we hold our collective breath for theoretical physics (and now computer science) to build a relating-to-reality black box or superintelligence.

Those are not the problems, and therefore cannot provide direct solutions. The basic misrepresentation about relating – the lack of universal style – is. The human culture machine finds itself now peering down the barrel of serious global disruptions, resigned to an inadequate trifecta of well-meaning non-solutions. This is humanity’s humility moment. Personal humility, and also “the machine”, “the system” type humility, leaving us, it would seem, with no option but to increasingly humiliate ourselves through righteous indignation fueled by equal parts futility and guilt, while seemingly having no possibility for reprieve. Peace-less pieces.

Relating that is limited to humans relating to each other, affecting each other, is a “funhouse” (uncentered) version of relationalism. Its fuel, also a magnifier, is polarities prone to distortions. No one’s experience is the same as anyone else’s, for sure, yet this needs to spur innovation rather than grinding to a halt all progress towards not just reprieve but repair.

We can’t get there by dismissing how humans actually relate in real time. By brushing off difficulties as “human nature”, whatever that means. The patterns point to something altogether more interesting. “Human nature” as an explanatory framework can be replaced by how we integrate meaningfully to our inseparable, timeless dance of co-existence.