The other day I happened upon a friend’s Facebook posting, one of those pithy sayings that go viral faster than a sneeze. In truth, I like many of them. I’ve even been known to repost. At first glance, I thought this one carried a thoughtful message.
Sometimes we expect more from others because we would be willing to do that much for them.
OK. I nodded at that. There’s truth there. There’s not one of us, I wager, who hasn’t been disappointed in a child’s actions, a friend’s response, a spouse’s oblivion. And most of us like to think in line with the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like others to treat you. And some of the lesser rules, like “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” or “a tit for a tat” (which actually means giving like for like or giving as good as we got). I’m sure there are more. (By the way, did you know there’s a Silver Rule? It’s the negative version of the Golden Rule and it goes like this: Don’t treat others the way you would not want others to treat you. I had no idea.)
Still, something kept tapping at my awareness. And as I tried to wrap my head around the full meaning, I even found myself a little repelled, a surprising response. When I’m vexed, I think. So I thought. I thought some more. I went to work and thought about it with a good friend (which is nothing more than thinking out loud).
I’ve finally arrived here: somewhere along the line, we lost sight of something called unconditional love. Now, I get it. Unconditional love is probably the hardest thing in the world to practice. Doing for others, loving others without expectation, enjoying the person they are … crazy, right? But you see, unconditional love embraces hope, not expectation.
What’s easy, on the other hand, is conditional love, the kind of love that’s filled with expectations and strings and requirements and disappointments. We feel more protected when we practice it. There’s a sense of getting what’s ours, what’s deserved.
Ultimately, I my issues with that quote is that it smacks of expectations and conditional love. Its message is “me” … the impression I’m left with is that what matters is me. “What’s in it for me? Where’s my cut? What about my needs?”
- What matters is that I am disappointed because you did not do for me as much as I did for you. This isn’t the Silver Rule in action, by the way. The Silver Rule says nothing about expectations.
- What matters but is unspoken is that I did what I did because you are supposed to reciprocate.
- What matters is inequality – you broke the candy in two and gave me the smaller piece; I would have cut more carefully. Or taken the smaller one.
- What matters is that I’m attached to an outcome. I do because I expect. I don’t really do because I want to do. There’s a difference.
It’s a complicated thing to let go of all that, to give up the notion of expectations of conditional love for the hope of its unconditional sibling.
Conditional love is a strong taskmaster that’s really hard to shake. It thrives on expectations and calculated actions. It metes out emotional strokes that keep us tethered. It attaches us to outcomes. And when those outcomes evaporate, those expectations are dashed, or our sense of worth withers, that conditional love becomes as elusive as a will-o-the-wisp. When we approach things conditionally, each outcome, each expectation, and each piece of self-worth depends on others for sustenance. Yeah, there lies disappointment, hands down.
I believe unconditional love thrives on hope. I don’t expect anything, although I may hope for it. I don’t base my self worth on what I receive, but I bask in the joy I feel in giving. I don’t base my love on what others do or don’t do. Although I may hope for outcomes, I try to remain unattached to them. I’d like to think I’m moving toward that place of unconditional love. Sometimes I hit it. I really feel content with whatever choice someone makes or whatever action they choose. I don’t expect anything from them but acknowledge what they can or are willing to give. When that happens, I feel real curiosity about the whole process, and I acknowledge how different it seems.
Of course, sometimes I miss the mark entirely and remain far too attached to the outcome. When that happens, I’m intimately connected with worry and anxiety, with sorrow and pain. But I’m working on that. It’s a journey.