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Becoming a Better Friend

Løgstrup: Holding Something of the Other Person’s Life in Our Hands

ACCORDING to the Danish philosopher Knud Løgstrup, human beings are interdependent. On a day-to-day basis, other people are an ingrained part of our experience, and we are an ingrained part of their experience. We depend on other people throughout our entire lives, and our lives are intertwined in a complex web.

When we meet someone, we affect them in small and big ways. And they affect us. We pick up signals from each other subconsciously. Involuntary microexpressions on our faces reveal what we feel before we can hide it. Our emotions, heart rate, blood pressure, dopamine and oxytocin levels (and more) get affected by the gaze, body language, voice, silence, words and actions of others. Being around someone causes neurons to fire in both of our bodies.

The totality of these signals affects whether we feel liked or not, accepted or not. We can feel it, even if we cannot explain it.

According to Løgstrup, trust is a basic precondition of our existence. Trust comes prior to distrust. Unfortunately, many of us go around with an inherent distrust towards others, often because of bad experiences growing up or because we have been taught that others will take advantage of us.

While meeting people with distrust may keep us from harm, it will also keep us from warmth and love. To have good relationships, we must put something of ourselves out there. When we expose parts of ourselves, there is obviously a risk that others could hurt us. But there is also a high likelihood that they will meet us with care. Especially if the people we choose to surround us with are people of high character.

Since we always have an impact on the person we meet, Løgstrup says that we hold something of the other person’s life in our hands when we meet them. The way we handle the other person will affect their life trajectory in some way. This means that we have power over them. Løgstrup therefore asks us how we will use our power. Will we use it to impact others positively? Or will we use it to impact others negatively? Do we handle others with care, with their best interest in mind because we value them for their own sake, or do we use them as means and take advantage of them for our own self-interest and short-term benefit? Are we kind, forgiving and honest, or are we cold, deceiving and envious? Do we take responsibility for our actions, or are we stuck in self-deception?

The choice is ours.

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