Epistemology V: Unconditional Love

[Originally published on MySpace on August 2, 2010.]

One strain of popular methodology for solving the problem of how to exist in this world suggests that you pick a type of person to be, and then will yourself to be that person.  If this were to be examined, it might be found that what actually happens is you try to deny thoughts and feelings you have that do not fit into the type of person you picked, and then tell yourself “No, I don’t think/feel that because it’s wrong, instead, THIS is what I think and feel.”  Have you ever done that?  You’re sneaking around inside your head, you find a thought or a feeling that you know is perhaps a little off the beaten track, and your mind skitters across it without really seeing it, and instead paints it over with what you’re “supposed” to think, even though that’s not what you actually think?  Let’s call it The Supposed To method.

One example of the Supposed To method has to do with a particular and commonly held definition of “unconditional love;” specifically, that one which requires that you love everyone regardless of any of their qualities, characteristics, attitudes, behaviors, appearance, etc., the point being that none of these things should have a (negative) impact on how you feel or what you think about any specific person, nor even group of people.  Of course, these things ALWAYS have an impact, both positive and negative.  We’re a diverse bunch of folks in every different way that can be imagined.  The differences between us (and none of us is the same as any other, only similar, which implies yet more difference) are by definition going to have an impact.  If we follow the logic out from the premise in bold above, what happens is you’re put in the position of defining yourself as inherently flawed on those occasions when you do feel a negative impact.  I mean, what else can you do if you are required to accomplish something (i.e., love everyone) but always fail at it?  Since it is not possible to avoid any impact, how do you explain yourself in terms of unconditional love as outlined above, I remind you, if not in terms of inherent flaw?

Accepting for the sake of argument (and for the moment) this idea of inherent flaw as a result of unconditional—that is to say, acritical—love, check out this definition from my toe crusher dictionary…

Inherent:  existing in someone or something as a permanent and inseparable element, quality or attribute.

And another definition…

flaw:  defect; fault
Permanent, inseparable defect.  Alas, the popular definition of unconditional love that I posited above does not appear to provide for a means to cope with this that I have observed, other than by a species of denial, in which you must, again, paper over your flaws and pretend to the world and yourself that they don’t matter because you may overcome them by sheer force of will.

Well, my goodness, if it was that simple, the world wouldn’t be in the state it’s in, and Wal-Mart wouldn’t be any different from Tiffany’s in terms of popular opinion, don’t you think?  We could just wish ourselves into being better people, and poof! there we are.

Obviously, it doesn’t very often work out this way.

The difficulty with trying to use this definition of unconditional love as a premise in practical daily life is that whereas it may provide for a temporary fix—a temporary salve to your conscience, for instance—it does not actually solve any problems.  Instead, the problems are bundled into an anonymous, acritical metaphysical mass and tossed into some obscure corner of your mind, where, of course, it typically festers and pops out somewhere else embarrassing later on.

If you wish to actually solve problems, then it makes sense to know what the problems are.  You are less likely to be able to do that if you are denying how you feel or what you think and instead pretending to feel or think something else.  Why?  Because if you’re ignoring the problem, you’re probably not analyzing it.  You’re not being critical of it.  Now, I’m not suggesting we all “go into a coma” considering our own inner demons.  But!  Ignoring obvious stuff like being surprised by a lovely round girl in a negligee at Wal-mart isn’t gonna get you anywhere, either.

In my prior blog, Ugly Stick II, I offered an inside look at what I have since dubbed The Wal-Mart phenomenon, which I define as a caricaturization in popular media/opinion of the patrons of said establishment that is detraction-based, to the extent that such individuals have become a laughing-stock stereotype for bad taste, bad manners, bad form, stupidity, and general failure to conform to conventional middle class aesthetic and practical standards.

What I suggested at the end of my last blog as a means of coping with this and other like phenomenon was this:  go ahead and laugh [if you must].  I find that laughter, far from being impolite, is quite often a means of letting off a little pressure from some underlying discomfort or hurt.  Like crying, laughter can be an indicator of inner tension needing attention, which, if you allow for it, can then serve as a means of calming troubled waters so that you can think.

Then I said don’t forget compassion [including for yourself].  Go ahead and feel what you feel and think what you think.  Acknowledge it.  Become familiar with it.  Just don’t beat yourself (or others) up over it.  Don’t think in terms of inherent flaw (think apprentice…).  It’s a lot easier to change your thinking if you aren’t under attack, eh?  If all your defenses are not engaged?  Easier to be honest with yourself and maybe find a few mistakes in your thinking, if there are any, that you can correct either by thinking it through for yourself, or by talking with others, reading, etc., or some combination of these.

(This is of course not the limit of the concept of compassion, but it’ll do for now, for this blog.)

THEN I said [shoot for the idea that] not a one of us has the right to deprive others of their humanity regardless of the provocation.  This is my humble opinion.  It is also perhaps another alternative narrative you can use to live by.  Laugh and have compassion and take what you find inside your head, measure it against this, and see what shakes out, eh?  None of us knows the whole story of anyone else’s life, right?  I’m not going to say a damned thing about judgment here.  You’re always going to judge.  What I will say is that rarely do you have enough information about another person to be able to ACCURATELY judge their life, nor if you did, would your truths necessarily be the same as theirs.  Although I will mention that your truths and their truths are both likely to be equally valid, and that you might be able to make some pretty astute educated guesses.

It is not that we are flawed, okay?  Rather, the definition I posited for unconditional love is flawed, because it ignores the fact that we are individuals who need each other to be complete, and we often have a hard time getting it right because each individual has his or her own truths which you cannot fully know, nor can you fully adopt, nor can you measure against some archetypical ideal of validity in order to decide who’s right and who’s wrong.

Instead, keep an open mind.  Be humble.  Beat others not over the head with your own path.

But too, pay attention.  You’re not going to be able to love everybody by sheer force of will.  If you can at least remember that each of us is human, perhaps you can employ a little mercy and at least refrain from punishing others for not being who you think they should be.  If each of us does this successfully, of course it’ll swing back around to you, right?  You deserve to be treated like a full-on human being, too.

If ALL ELSE FAILS, consider this excellent idea:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  That’s an old chestnut, but still makes sense and is very useful.  (Caveat: be careful about truths when you do this. Expecting people to wholly accept your truths over their own may not always work.)

No, this is not going to solve all the problems great and small that seem to recur over and over in daily life and in terms of the big picture narrative (of which there are many).  But it might represent a good start.

Thea

2:06 PM  19 Comments  6 Kudos

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12 Responses to Epistemology V: Unconditional Love

  1. Thea says:

    Denese:

    Ah, so true. How helpful to our understanding of ourselves, if we walk a mile in the other person’s negligee, so to speak.

    I find I do this with disagreeable people. I try to figure out how being an asshole improves their life. What does it profit them?

    After all, I always know my own excuses for being a bitch. And they always make perfect sense! Well, until I look at them from the outside.

    So, by trying to understand another person, I often understand myself better.

    Damn it! I hate when that happens.

    Posted by Denese on August 3, 2010 – Tuesday – 2:49 PM

    • Thea says:

      See, the thing about being an asshole is that it’s terrific fun, and a lot less problematic than considering the consequences for someone else for what you do. Now, if it weren’t for the fact that said people may come back around to ya with a tetch of blood in their eye, or that your general behavior (as an asshole) didn’t attract like behavior from seemingly random sources other than your victims, it’d be the perfect way to act, eh? Sigh. Dare to dream, Denese! LMAO!!

      There’s more to it than this, of course, little more serious here. You see, you don’t have to wait for karma or whatever to catch up with you. Acting like an asshole harms you directly right away. Kinda like drinking water that doesn’t quench your thirst, eh? And from MY perspective, which is part of this equation and can be extrapolated to other points of entry (i.e., other people), I don’t like to see a buncha thirsty people running around. It saddens me significantly, because said people are missing out, and possibly missing the point, AND it makes me feel tired, because there’s only so much I can do about it all by myself–not the least of which is being required to practice self-defense. Lotta wasted energy there, just to try to put a stop to a destructive dynamic (the old “throwing yerself in front of a freight train” metaphor leaps to mind). Better to be good, insofar as it’s possible, because it feeds us and ultimately generates energy, rather than depleting it–which feels good.

      (Love isn’t just about yearning. It’s also about consummation–tricky, and requires that you pay attention, keep an open mind–but well worth it.)

      Posted by Thea on August 12, 2010 – Thursday – 3:43 PM

  2. Thea says:

    M. TERESA CLAYTON:

    It takes us such a long time to figure it out, doesn’t it? I find that so many people are really afraid to see who they really are. Eventually, your mask will be ripped off your face and the charade will be over – there you are looking at your own reflection… naked and honest.

    The amazing thing – we find out that we actually prefer the person we are over the person we try to be. I remember the old story about the ugly duckling – trying so hard to be liked and accepted – then one day…. a swan appears. When I was younger I thought this referred only to outward appearance but as I grow older I realize it refers to something much deeper still.

    There are an infinite number of those who are not me…. this is why I prefer to BE ME. I stand out from the crowd, I am different and unique, I am interesting and interested. hahahahaha

    On the note of accepting others as they are: We can’t always accept but we can choose to let them be. They have the right just as I have the right. Perhaps the key is to be able to do just that – let everyone be.

    You are a sweetheart. It shows.

    Posted by M. TERESA CLAYTON on August 3, 2010 – Tuesday – 4:10 PM

  3. Thea says:

    Jared: Genibus Tuis Canis³:

    We are not flawed, or broken, or perfect, each person is influenced first by what happens in the womb, then as a small child, I for one do not like drinking out of pop cans, I was stung by a bee on the lip by one that got in my can, that is an instinct for me, a bad incident on a bike when young, you never learn to ride, or with the police, or just simply habits that you pick up from your parents, such as a dirty house or clean house.

    Posted by Jared: Genibus Tuis Canis³ on August 5, 2010 – Thursday – 9:56 AM

  4. Thea says:

    Jared: Genibus Tuis Canis³:

    It said it was too long, here is part 2: All the way up through adult hood, the various events that make up your life are what effect the decisions and what ultimately create the person who you are, some good some bad. For some the good things they learn are turned to an opposite, parents that don’t drink and have a strong objection to it, may find their children like to drink, or vice verse.

    Posted by Jared: Genibus Tuis Canis³ on August 5, 2010 – Thursday – 9:57 AM

  5. Thea says:

    Makinamark69:

    love this stuffy stuff. Jus wanted to let u know i stopped by… Tirod now… Will be back to leave my atonement in 600 increment commeots.. Lol. Oh btw… Borrowed ur fn meow (nice)… 😀

    Posted by Makinamark69 on August 8, 2010 – Sunday – 11:33 PM

  6. Thea says:

    Makinamark69:

    Okay. I am going to post fragments at a time. Based on the fact it is difficult for me to view the whole blog at once… Becoming an object of others is a miserable life, because it entitles you to imagine what others may be thinking of you, and if the brain processes 300 to 1000 words per minute, then it is impossible to really know all of anothers thoughts. Oddly enough, we could say a thought became famous somehow and we may actually have a bunch of peeps being who they are not. This is where I think identifying with your core is a great foundation to begin the process of becoming the person you actually are, and if you and your intent…

    Personally, I have found a process that helps that. I will start with a quote from…

    “I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle, but if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” Marilyn Monroe hugs to ya. I will be back.

    Posted by Makinamark69 on August 9, 2010 – Monday – 10:03 AM

  7. Thea says:

    jcmmanuel:

    (Seems like myspace fixed the comments since today?)

    Your toe crusher brains leave me limping. This is good stuff.

    Notice that C.S.Lewis, inspired by G.K. Chesterton, advanced the idea that Love is not blind, but accepts a beloved one while still wishing to correct what’s not right in the other person. This was much against a settled idea about agape (divine love) being applied directly to how Christians should behave.

    The early Christians used the Greek word Agape to denote God’s unconditional love. Yet it is not really unconditional in its consequences, just in its reach. Love basically accepts and reaches out to improve. Love won’t overrule someone’s behavior by force, but it may overruled it by the effect of love itself.

    “It’s a lot easier to change your thinking if you aren’t under attack, eh?” – Good point. Seems naturally so, yet criticizing seems also our ‘natural’ reaction to observing error. I always think of the story in John 8 at this point (first part – the famous story where Jesus is asking who will cast the first stone). Jesus didn’t judge the woman, in stead, he’s telling her, when all her accusers are gone: “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you? (…) Neither do I condemn you.”

    Ergo (and I’m a little “psychologizing” here): Jesus held his fellow neighbors in high esteem, he didn’t think they couldn’t make the right conclusions themselves.

    PS. He also adds: “Go, and sin no more” – which refers to responsibility (still no accusation at this point).

    Another point: the crux of what you’re saying is what you summarized as follows: “You’re not going to be able to love everybody by sheer force of will”.

    Knowing our own limitations may indeed offer to others the advantage of real. If we can handle this tactfully, it may work out fine.

    Yet, more in general, I think it can also be a good think to think of unconditional love as a legal target – IF just we don’t think too lightly of it.

    The point is that, even if you can apply this kind of love, you may still have to know when and where to apply it. Compare to offering the other cheek to someone: you shouldn’t do that just in order to offer the audience a nice show. They could take it as hypocritical (compare the tears of a couple of TV preachers in the early 90s). It only works if there’s no reason for people to doubt your authenticity.

    Posted by jcmmanuel on August 11, 2010 – Wednesday – 3:48 AM

  8. Thea says:

    ROBERTOelDRAGÓN&IDYs!:

    THE DRUMS, ON THE VIKING SHIP BEAT; LOUDLY. AND, BY, ONLY, THIS, THE TOWNS; ABOUT TO UNDERGO THEIR ATTACK, WERE, ALREADY AND HOPELESSLY, SACKED, PILLAGED, AND DUE FOR SOME TEARS, IN GREAT MEASURE. WAS THIS THOR? ODIN? VIKING LOVE OF THE PILLAGE, OR ANY, OF ANY REASONS, OR COMBOS OF, SAME? OR, WAS IT HUMANS; DOING AS THEY WILL? GODS OR NAY…
    PLEASE NO REPLY; ANYONE? NOT ROOM ON MYSPACE.

    “Logical positivists have never taken psychology into account in their epistemology, but they affirm that logical beings and mathematical beings are nothing but linguistic structures.”-Jean Piaget I, FIRST, LAUGHED @ THIS. THEN; GRADUALLY, MY WEE MIND CAUGHT THE WINDS OF KEEN THOUGHT, @ THEIR BETTER ANGELS, AND, NOW, w A TOUCH OF FEAR, I FIND IT FASCINATING!
    I LOVE READING YOUR BLOGS, THEA! EVEN IF I REFUSE TO EXCEED MY 25-WORD LIMIT, HERE (MYSPA), 99% OF THE TIME? YOU SEE? A LIMITLESS LIMIT IS -NOT- ! EVEN, IN ITS LIMITLESSNESS; THERE IS NEVER ENUFF?! AND, I HAVE MILES TO GO, AND -NO- DAMN PROSPECT OF ANY SLEEP; NO MATTER! (AND, YA; I’LL PUN, bc IT FROSTS MY TUSHEEE!)
    SO, “There are few efforts more conducive to humility than that of the translator trying to communicate an incommunicable beauty. Yet, unless we do try, something unique and never surpassed will cease to exist except in the libraries of a few inquisitive book lovers.”-Edith Hamilton
    KEEP MAKING YOUR BEAUTIES MORE WIDESPREAD, w YOUR BRILLIANT THOUGHTS AND THEORIES?
    ILY,
    T.G./RtD

    Posted by ROBERTOelDRAGÓN&IDYs! on August 12, 2010 – Thursday – 4:52 AM

  9. I included a link to this post in my poem about resolutions and wacky rhymes. I hope you’ll come over to read it when you get some time. :o)

    Rhyme Me a Smile

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