My posts about the “inner other” may come across as despairing, as a lament of the human condition, but they are not meant that way. In the end it’s a beautiful thing that we are built for relation even in what is most human about us.
But clearly, the “inner other” needs managing. Anything that boosts objectivity in thought will help to counteract the problems I have outlined in this blog series, so one could go on and on about what to do. In this last post, though, I just want to note three tactics that work directly on the “inner other”:
1. Move in more than one circle.
If the “inner other” is a composite of the people we interact with, we can make it a better and better conversation partner by interacting with people who think very differently from one another. We can make friends in different circles, or just make a habit of reading authors who think very differently from one another. The different circles don’t necessarily have to hate each other or disagree with each other about everything; they just need very different ways of getting to their conclusions. Round him out, make him complex, and talking to the “inner other” may be more profitable than talking to yourself.
The “inner other” comes into play in our moments of interior talking, so we would do well to have periods where we avoid all chatter, exterior or interior, and simply gaze at reality. My own experience has been that the more exterior talking I do, the more interior talking I do, so it is useful now and then simply to shut up for a while. If I am working on a particular question, I need to take some time to look at reality in silence. This always leads to more honesty with myself about what I really think, and sometimes it leads to a breakthrough: the mind has ways of working without words, if we will only let it.
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange once wrote that as our spiritual life progresses, our interior conversation should tend more and more to be conversation with God. Besides contributing to holiness, a habit of talking to God does wonders for your “inner other,” for several reasons.
First, God is not imaginary but real. I don’t mean that he “talks back” in the usual way, although I know several people who have heard God speak to them audibly at least once. But the fact of God’s reality makes him more satisfying to speak with than an imaginary interlocutor, even when we don’t notice a direct response. In itself this doesn’t contribute to objectivity of thought, but it does contribute to happiness.
Second, the more we refine our understanding of God, the more we come to see how far removed his way of thinking is from everyone around us. Early in life, talking to God may be a lot like talking to anyone else, because we think of him as a very big but somehow invisible human, but for a mature Christian talking to God takes the conversation away from the usual reference points and above the usual horizon. Instead of cramping our viewpoint, God expands it. The same is true of speaking to Jesus as God Incarnate: the more we meditate on the mysteries of his life and his glorification, the more we see the degree to which he rises above the current concerns of Democrats or Republicans or any other merely human group.
Third, we know that God actually sees right through us. Unlike our family or our friends or the authors we read, God sees our thoughts and our desires directly, and we imagine him as doing so. Consequently, we are less likely to let ourselves get away with crap when speaking to God. Even with nothing supernatural going on, when we are just interacting with God as we imagine him, we still imagine God as stopping us short, cutting us off, giving us “the look,” when we say something blatantly selfish or lie about our feelings or thoughts. He doesn’t wink-wink nudge-nudge the way the standard “inner other” is wont to do.
So there you have three ways to live with that natural phenomenon, the “inner other”: make him better, shut him up, or baptize him. But if you don’t do anything else, at least become aware of his existence and you will be better off for it.