“At the end of life, our questions are very simple: Did I live fully? Did I love well?” ~Jack Kornfield
We all grow up with some healthy stories about love and some unhealthy ones. I learned some beautiful, life-giving ideas about love, ideas like these:
- Loving people means believing in their potential.
- Love means treating people with kindness and gentleness.
- Loving the people in your life means celebrating their successes and cheering them on.
But I also grew up with some stories about love that I came to see weren’t so helpful. Those ideas about love bred problems in my relationships.
One of those stories was: Loving someone means always being available to them. (Turns out, it’s not true, and living as if it is breeds resentment.)
Another was: Loving someone means always having space for what they want to talk to you about. (Turns out, not true either!)
Another myth about love: If you love someone, you do what they are asking you to do, out of love, even if it feels difficult. (I can tell you, that doesn’t work so well.)
I’ve developed my own guidelines for loving the people in my life, guidelines that express how I want to relate to the people around me.
These are some of my guidelines for loving:
1. Tell them about their brilliance. They likely can’t see it and they don’t know its immensity, but you can see it, and you can illuminate it for them.
2. Be authentic, and give others the gift of the real you and a real relationship. Ask your real questions. Share your real beliefs. Go for your real dreams. Tell your truth.
3. Don’t confuse “authenticity” with sharing every complaint, resentment, or petty reaction in the name of “being yourself.” Meditate, write, or do yoga to work through anxiety, resentment, and stress on your own so you don’t hand off those negative moods to everyone around you. Sure, share sadness, honest dilemmas, and fears, but be mindful: don’t pollute.
4. Listen, listen, listen. Don’t listen to determine if you agree or disagree. Listen to get to know what is true for the person in front of you. Get to know an inner landscape that is different from your own, and enjoy the journey. Remember that if, in any conversation, nothing piqued your curiosity and nothing surprised you, you weren’t really listening.
5. Don’t waste your time or energy thinking about how they need to be different. Really. Chuck that whole thing. Their habits are their habits. Their personalities are their personalities. Let them be, and work on what you want to change about you—not what you think would be good to change about them.
6. Remember that you don’t have to understand their choices to respect or accept them.
7. Don’t conflate accepting with being a doormat or betraying yourself. Let them be who they are, entirely. Then, you decide what you need, in light of who they are. Do you need to make a direct request that they change their behavior in some way? Do you need to take care of yourself better? Do you need to set a boundary or to change the relationship? Take care of yourself well, without holding anyone else in contempt.
8. Give of yourself, but never sacrifice or compromise yourself. Stop if resentment is building and retool. Don’t do the martyr thing. It helps no one and nothing.
9. Remember that everyone you encounter was created by divine intelligence and has an important role to play in the universe. Treat them as such.
10. If you want to keep growing emotionally and spiritually for the rest of your life, accept this as your mantra and try to live as if it were true: Everything that I experience from another human being is either love, or a call for love.
What are your guidelines for loving the people in your life?
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt.