Monday, 29 August 2011

Is there such a thing as unconditional Love?

If love is unconditional acceptance,without judgement or demands, then how do we establish boundaries, standards or civilization?

How do we teach our children if we do not make judgements, have demands, establish boundaries and set standards? And if we are to enable our children to learn, even if we choose not to teach, then we must establish through our actions boundaries and standards and that requires judgement and demands.

Learning to talk, walk, become toilet trained, write, read, eat with a knife and fork, clean up after yourself, make your bed, tidy your toys..... all of these things require demands from parents and the establishment of boundaries and standards. One could argue about those boundaries and standards but whether minimum or maximum they will exist, they must exist.

As human beings we learn to be functional, productive, loving members of society by taking into account the feelings and needs of others. Interestingly those who give the most in this way are also going to be healthy as studies show. We are hard-wired it seems to be kind, considerate and helpful.

And yet, to be any of those things we have to be aware and respectful of boundaries and standards. There are quite simply things which a civilized society rejects. We are called to control our anger and not to take it out on others; to apologise when we have hurt others; to respect other people's possessions; to be mindful of the needs others might have for space or privacy;  to be grateful when things are done for us or given to us; to remember things which are important to people like birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas and any significant family anniversaries.

All of these things amount to standards and boundaries and are in essence rules. There is no absolute freedom in any relationship or in any society because that would create chaos if not anarchy. As human beings we have no choice but to establish and abide by certain codes of behaviur.

Those who do not generally have few friends, limited family contact and lonely lives. Instinctively we know this and that is why we respect those rules, as they function in our culture. When we live in another culture it behoves us to learn the rules of that society and to respect them.

All of which means there is no loving relationship without some sort of rules of behaviour.

Which begins to suggest that there is no such thing as unconditional love and perhaps it is our misunderstanding of what Love is which creates such confusion. When someone treats us rudely, meanly, unkindly, discourteously or without consideration we have the right to state our needs and to tell them how we feel. And in the doing, even if it is done with compassion and an attempt to understand the woundedness which makes them what they are, we are establishing boundaries and standards and we are making demands.

Just because someone is damaged or wounded it does not give them the right to inflict wounds or damage on others and that means, at some point we must take action or speak out, or both, to show them that some things are simply not acceptable in a courteous, civilized world.

One could argue that 'courteous' to some degree is in the eye of the beholder. Indians for instance do not have a word for thankyou in Hindi and yet they have standards of courtesy that we do not understand. One of the first things we do in the West is teach children to say please and thankyou. And this is because they are not just words, they are indicators of consideration, of courtesy and because they are not necessary in terms of understanding, they are symbolic of consideration.

Small children are often naturally kind but they easily become distracted and have to learn to be considerate of others. Most children learn this but clearly some because of nature or circumstance are better than others at mastering this skill; for it is a skill.

Some people grow up to be more considerate than others but most have a reasonable level of courtesy which is automatically a part of who and what they are. But some do not.

My mother was like that and I have met others like her, people who have an almost total obsession with and focus on Self. It is as if to consider the needs, feelings or circumstances of others is too terrifying to comprehend and so there is no consideration given .... all thought, all action, all focus is turned toward the needs of Self.

It is hard to live with people like this because, as I discovered with my mother over many years, it is actually impossible for them to change or to understand how selfish and inconsiderate they are. No doubt to see the impact of their own actions would imply some responsibility which in turn would suggest some need to change and change is something they cannot countenance.

So what do you do with such people if you must interact with them? If they are friends or acquaintances you can choose to see little or nothing of them but if they are family that is not possible. And few of us are saints and will tolerate such behaviour without question.

I would just say if you have difficulty with a person and you are the only one who does, there is a good chance that the problem lies more with you than them. But if you are one of a few or even many who experience the same difficulties, as clearly happened with my mother and with others in my life, then it is clear that you are dealing with someone who is deeply wounded if not irrevocably damaged and you have to find a way to work with them as a part of your life.

In reality the only person we can change is ourselves but generally when we do that, others around us will change.... not so with those who are emotionally and psychologically damaged. All you can do is work to the best of your ability to keep your relationship with them civil and hopefully harmonious. And there are a few guidelines which can help you to do that.

First of all, hard as it is to do, it is important not to take it personally but to see the insensitivity, rudeness and lack of consideration as arising from their woundedness rather than anything you or someone else might do.

The second thing is to establish boundaries and standards which you clearly articulate as and when it is needed without actually demanding that they change.... you merely deal with the situation at hand. This may require limiting interaction to some degree in order to keep the relationship civil, if not bearable.

And the third thing is to use them as a teacher to become more aware of your own thoughts, actions, reactions and responses and your ability to live through any interaction with compassion and with love.

It can be a tall order but if you can remember not to take it personally and to establish boundaries based on courtesy, grace and kindness you can make the unworkable, workable.

I suppose in a way it is tough love. It is also pragmatism and making the best of the bit you are in. I know with my mother I reached a better place once I stopped needing her to be other. She was trapped in her woundedness and the only thing I could decide was how much time I needed to spend with her and how that time would be spent.

Sometimes you just have to do the right thing, the courteous, considerate thing, but you don't have to do any more than that.

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