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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Developing the Capacity to Love Somebody

Dear A.B.,

I read your comment about how it is more of an achievement to give than to receive love. It was a very thought-provoking remark.  In my view, you summed up the central message of the Gospels. In our culture, we hear much about the dynamic of reciprocity in relationships. "Unconditional love" is usually something we are often told to look only to our pets for! 

You have spoken about setting boundaries, saying "ouch," and acting to take care of oneself when another's behavior is not loving.  These are ways of loving ourselves. 

When thinking about "unconditional love"  the challenges are evident, and it becomes obvious that it is rare. 

Shared interests, emotional support, communication, are "conditions" most people expect. If love is unconditional, it remains present through betrayal, lies, long periods of no communication, severe moodiness, irritability and dramatic divergence of lifestyles and interests. How many relationships hold up under these circumstances?   Also, when we love someone's sense of humor, personality, intellect, or any other aspect of their identity, our love is conditional. Does our love depend on the presence of these pleasing qualities, or if the person ceased to be or have all the things that we enjoy about them, would our "love" still be available? So many times, clearly, the answer is "no."

Relationship gurus tell us that many conditions are reasonable expectations.  Better to be single, they tell us, than trapped in a one-way relationship.  Any lifestyle is better than being caught in the role as somebody's "doormat."

It's a slippery slope, defining where loving someone ends and becoming a doormat begins.  There's not a simple, one-size-fits-all answer, I know. 

Love is not easy!


Dear G.

In any case where the philosophy is tricky, it is good to use precise language—at least for one person to talk about another’s ideas, they should attempt to use the same terms. I didn’t say “give love to somebody” is the greatest achievement. I said “to be able to love another” is the greatest achievement. The idea is that you should spend your energy to develop, in yourself, the capacity to love someone rather than manipulating someone to love you.

Then there is the question of the object of one’s love. Does it make a difference if the object of one’s love is noble, kind, and cheerful or dishonest and angry? Of course. How does one manage to love under what kind of conditions? As they say, the devil is in the details.

What can you say for sure that will put you on the right track? What is the truth of loving? What is the truth of relationships. Is there a “right way” to do relationships—some hard and fast rules that we can commit to that will assure us of relationship happiness—like don’t put up with verbal abuse?

I’m afraid there isn’t any “right way” to do relationships except to continue to head yourself in the way of generally accepted human excellence—be kind, considerate, self-aware, understanding, wary, rational, develop your skills, etc. These traits are the tried and true standards that human beings are supposed to measure themselves by. A good guide for me has always been the Desiderata.

We have to always remind ourselves, as wise men have said before, that truth cannot be known as an object because truth is absolute and the human mind is finite. Joel Goldsmith said it this way: “One cannot arrive at truth through the reasoning process.” The truth of any situation only reveals itself to us when we work on ourselves, not on others--when we clean out our own closets of anger, fear, pride, and all those hidden emotional blocks that keep us from being loving people. Then, to the extent, that we have raised our own consciousness, our behavior toward “the other” is likely to be the most appropriate. We will find that, to the extent that we develop our own self-awareness, we will develop the capacity to treat our interactions with “the other” in a more and more satisfying way.

I know a lot of people think that relationships depend upon good negotiation of differences and balance of personal power. This, to me, is mechanistic and ultimately people who go this route of end up chosing power over love.

Our own appropriate behavior is the clue to our successful relationships. As our behavior becomes more and more appropriate, our whole life changes to accord with that fact. We cannot plan relationships because we cannot plan reality. Reality is like truth, an absolute. The only thing we can do with reality is to learn to recognize it by getting rid of our emotional blindfolds.

We can use these rather high-flung esoteric ideas and make them relevant to our lives by applying them to specific small interactions in our lives so that we can better understand them, one at a time. And it’s always good to start with “little stuff.”

I'm not sure that loving someone's good qualities like honesty and good humor is conditional love. What is conditional about it?

A. B. Curtiss

1 comment:

Gayle said...

I love this discusssion.
"Unconditional" covers a lot of territory. I doubt if we have ever plumbed the depths of it. But the discussion is wonderful!