We talk a lot on this blog about the idea of being “mutual.” We know it’s a good, beneficial thing for relationships, but what does this mean? What does it look like and how do we become more “mutual” people? I think these are really significant questions because I believe that before we can engage in mutually supportive relationships, we need to know what it is and assess our own capacities to become “more mutual.” We need to understand how we were raised to be inclined towards being mutual as well as if we know how to receive “mutualness” from others. In this blog, I will be exploring the “two sides” of mutuality: giving and receiving.
The Merriam-Webster thesaurus offers these synonyms for the word mutual: collaborative, combined, common, communal, concerted, conjoint, conjunct, cooperative, joint, multiple, collective, pooled, public, shared, united. And these are the antonyms: exclusive, individual, one-man, one-sided, one-way, single, sole, solitary, unilateral.
I am a Taiwanese American female and when I read these synonyms and antonyms, I can’t help but think about Eastern vs. Western values, or Confucian vs. American ideals. From the day I was born, it was drilled in me both directly and indirectly, that the well-being of my family/community/people was intertwined with my own well-being. My successes were my parents’ successes, my grandparents’ successes, and would impact how other people viewed the success of Taiwanese people. If I was polite, well-mannered, and served others well, my parents would be proud and this would lead to others praising my parents for their excellent job in parenting me. If I was rude and disrespectful to others (which almost never happened), I would be shamed and I knew my parents would be embarrassed for my dishonoring of them. My sensitivity towards others in relationship was developed at a young age: the synonyms such as “communal,” “conjoint,” “collective,” “shared,” and “united” were realities we lived and breathed.
So on one hand, it is not difficult for me to consider the well-being of others. Is this important in learning how to become more mutual? Certainly. However, does this make those from Eastern Confucian backgrounds more mutual than Western American counterparts? I don’t think so.
I think there is another equally significant part of learning to become more mutual in relationship: receiving mutuality. As a Taiwanese American female, I was also trained to be “selfless” – not expressing my needs to others because this was not displaying humility, to go above and beyond in serving others because this would demonstrate that I was raised to be a good daughter. So I could intuitively sense the needs and desires of others and thus was willing and happy to change my behavior in order to meet those needs, but at the same time had little to no awareness of my own needs and desires. As a result, I had little expectation of others meeting my needs because I had such little access to them. If this way of relating continued without my being aware, then I would find myself in friendships and relationships where I am constantly giving, but challenged in receiving or being served by others.
Since I did not grow up being comfortable expressing my needs and expecting others to meet them, then of course it would be hard for me to choose relationships and friendships that reflect mutuality. As I have been studying and researching as part of this group, I’ve been challenged to assess my own capacity to develop mutual relationships in my life. I think there are wonderful attributes my culture has taught me in fostering care for others and considering the needs of others. My hope now is to have fuller access to my own needs and desires so that I can express these, and anticipate that they can be met.
So as many of us may be going home for the holidays, spending time with family, and old friends, what do we observe about the ways we were raised? Do the people we grew up with demonstrate the giving and receiving of mutuality? May you have safe and blessed holidays with loved ones and may we together grow towards mutuality in seeing others as fully as we also see ourselves.