Introduction

This message is a new teaching on love.  Take it or leave it.  Whether or not this new teaching on love meets your needs will be up to you.  So is whether or not you want to integrate it into your belief system.  I am not going to tell you that I am right and you are wrong or vice versa.  I am only going to offer you a new possibility of thinking about love.  Although I have a great bias towards these teachings, it is still one of many possible ways of viewing love. This new teaching, if applied, can give meaning and purpose for you and those you encounter.  If this is something you need in your life, then read with an open heart, mind, spirit, and soul.  Please share with others how these teachings are helping you and those around you.  Share how you practice these teachings with others.  Sharing ideas will benefit us all.

So why do we need a new teaching on love, especially if the current viewpoints are acceptable for most people?  While the current teachings of love do meet people’s needs, I would like to see our needs being met in a different way.  I do not see the current teachings on love being applied as much as I expect them to be.  It is my hope that a new teaching on love can revive the application of love in every day life, and bring meaning and purpose to all that practice it.  It is also my hope that we can drive out fear in our lives.  I have observed too much fear in the world.  Fear is not in itself a harmful thing as long as we see it as a sign that we have a need not being met.  However, if left unchecked, fear can lead to outward or inward violence, or both.  Human life is too precious for either type of violence to occur.  So let us learn and practice love.  Through the writings and ideas of many respected people, I give you these new teachings on love.

These teachings are not dogma or to be applied as letter of the law.  These teachings are meant to be applied in the spirit of the law.  Please leave room for error, humor, bouts of depression, mystery, suffering, and pleasure.  These are all a part of the journey of life.

I would like to say that I am just as much a student of these teachings and need them as much as those listening.  I am not a perfect student, which shows the difficulty, work and time involved in integrating these teachings into everyday life.  Keep in mind that anything worth doing is a lifetime of work and worth doing imperfectly.

Although I write this as a Christian and cite the Bible a couple of times, it is my hope that anybody from any faith or life outlook can apply these teachings to their lives.

Whenever possible, I have cited my sources to help support my teachings.  My teachers are all around me; family, friends, and strangers have helped me form my viewpoints on love.  I cannot possibly name them all here, primarily because much of my learning was observed in anonymity.  But please know that this is an effort to bring together great teachings into one teaching on love.

I quoted authors that I admire and respect.  This was done out of admiration for their work.  It is my hope that you will pick up their books so you can fully understand the intent of their message.

This web version may seem like a word for word reading of the in print book, but I have added some much needed further explanations of ideas.

When I first wrote this book I was still married and I will explain later how divorce can be a loving action. With that said, I would like to thank my ex-wife for her strength of making things more reader friendly. I would also like to thank my ex-mother-in-law for proofreading the in print book.

And finally I would like to thank the Religion Department at Greenville College that taught between the years of 1996-2000.

Love Is The Opposite of Fear

The opposite of love is not hate or ignorance, but fear.  Fear is the easier path.  Let me suggest that fear, not money, is the root of all evil.  When we play on people’s fears, we can get them to do just about anything.  Fear is what keeps power over others intact.  As I will point out throughout this audiobook, fear in itself is not a bad thing.  Fear lets us know that a need is not being met.  It is the unbridled, unchecked fear that is not put into perspective that is the root of all evil.

A professor of mine taught that we all have an objectified reality, a life outlook, if you will.  It is a lens in which we look through to see the world.  How we see the world determines how we interact with it and, more importantly, how we love.  This lens is shaped by religion, philosophy, and everyday experiences.  It seems from my observations that fear is the lens that most of us are looking through today.

Fear creates the looking-out-for-number-one attitude that I see in the world.  We have become focused on competition, winning, and the bottom line.  We fear that there is a lack of resources so we compete for them, make others lose, and only give worth to those things that raise our bottom line.  Many of us do not consider reacting to our fears in this way as violent but it is.

We also fear being alone so we become dependent on others, consumer goods, and noise.  Sadly, marketing firms know this and use it to sell their products.  Fear is also used to control others.  If we give people something to fear, for example Hell, terrorist threats, or abandonment, then we can play them like a fiddle.  If these same people free themselves from these fears, then we lose our control over them.  What most call the domination system thrives on fear.  To keep power over some one, those in power must give their minions something to fear.  This happens in families, workplaces, communities, religious groups, and countries.  In order for the minions to free themselves from the powers that be, all they have to do is recognize their fears for the power play that it is.  I will talk about this more later.

An example from my own life of how fear operates is the countless times I have feared losing my job.  My daily actions on the job were driven by fear.  Every day I allowed abuse to happen to me and my co-workers.  In turn I abused anyone that kept me from looking good in the eyes of my bosses.  I was an obedient servant, never standing up for myself.  I acted superior around new workers and made sure they suffered the same abuse I had suffered.  Surprisingly, I also tried my hardest to help them in ways that no one had helped me.  It was as if love and fear were fighting over my soul.  At the end of the day, counting the many times I had lost my temper, fear had still won out.

There are many examples of this played out in history as well.  Anytime in history we see the domination of others or the allowing of domination, fear was the driving force.  In theological circles this is recognized as Royal theology versus Peasant theology.

We fear what we cannot control.  We fear the possibilities.  But a fulfilling life is a life of possibilities.  A life trying to control everything is a stressed out and unfulfilled life.  As John Lennon put it, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  As much as we like to think we can, we just cannot control what happens in life.  Life just happens.  We want to control life because we want to make sure certain needs are met.  It is understandable because we all have basic needs that we want to see met.  In the Pink Floyd song, The Gunners Dream, there is a excerpt that really touches on the needs we all want met.

The middle of the song starts to talk about the dream world the gunner wishes to live in.  This place has food and shelter for all.  It is safe from terrorism, legalism, fascism, and most other ism’s.  People don’t need to hide their doubts and fears inside themselves.  One side of the track is not better than the other.  The laws are reasonable and followed willingly.  Most importantly, the vulnerable are taken care of the best of all.

To what was listed in the song, I would add that we need to have a purpose.  When we fear that these needs will not be met then we act in ways that are aggressive, active or passive.  We try to control all circumstances to get our needs met.  This of course goes against the concept of life just happening.  We may wonder, is there any action we can take or are we to just let life happen?

Let me suggest that love is an action we can take because it does not seek to control, nor is it busy making other plans.   Love goes along with the flow of life.  In fact, love is the only tool we have to help us deal with life just happening.  We love in spite our fears, struggles, and/or dangers we may face.  We do it to help each other out and not act aggressive towards each other.  Using love is the best way we can get our needs met and also meet the needs of others.

Those we fear we cannot love.  I personally fear those we have allowed to have power over us.  Particularly, those in corporate settings.  I fear the tactics they use to get and sell goods to us.  I fear their lack of ethics.  My fear leads me to have nothing but disgust and hatred towards them.  However, I will become no better than my perceived enemies if I let my fear consume me.  It is only when we work through our fears, understand or embrace them that we are able to love.  When we use love as our lens to see the world, we still will face our fears.  However, when we do the work of love that I will lay out in the coming chapters, we will no longer be consumed by our fears.  We will take loving actions to counter our fears and the violence that accompanies fear.  It is my hope that my definition of love will give you concrete actions to help you with your fears.  Before we look at my definition of love and the work it involves there is still one more thing to address about the current state of love.

Love Out of Balance

When it comes to love it seems that we all fall on one side or the other of a specific spectrum.  Some land in the middle.  How we get to be where we are on the spectrum, I really don’t know.  It could be dependent upon how we deal with our abandonment issues as a child.  It could be how we were raised.  I really don’t know and I will leave it up to the experts to decide.  What’s important here is to acknowledge that we fall on the spectrum some where.  Imagine a line with arrows going in opposite directions.  On the right side of the spectrum you have Self-love.  On the left side you have love of others or what I will call, Other-love.

lovespectrum

Self-love and other-love are the glue of the world.  We all need both in our lives.  However, what I have been observing and the reason I started writing about love is that there is in the lives of many an unbalance between the two.  Problems arise when there is no balance and we have too much of one or the other.  I am sure we have all met people that only care about themselves or we have met people that neglect themselves to care for others.  If we are honest with ourselves we can identify where we personally fit on this spectrum.  Sometimes we can go from one side to the other and back again.  I hardly observe a balance of the two.  Balance between self-love and other-love is a crucial goal of these teachings.

So why is balance so important?  Because without balance fear can easily pervert these two kinds of love into apathy and sympathy.  If we think about this spectrum again, then we can see what happens when we have too much of one or the other in our lives.

Selflove

If we move too far to the right on the side of self-love, it creates a wedge of  being selfish and self-centered.

I call this state apathy.  Apathy is when I care about nothing outside of me.  If we introduce fear into the equation through self preservation we get acts of outward violence ranging from neglect all the way to murder.

otherlove

On the flip side of the spectrum if we move too far to the left on the side of other-love we create a wedge of becoming a martyr or a self-loather.  I call this state sympathy.  Sympathy is when I, in an unhealthy and unhelpful way, care about everything outside of me.  If we introduce fear into the equation we get acts of inward violence ranging from neglect all the way to suicide.  What is worse is that both types of violence, inward and outward, can easily lead to and feed off of each other.

I fall on the side of other-love with some trips to the self-love side.  Ask your self where do you fall and how far do you allow yourself to go?  Most people land on one side or the other with trips to the opposite side, but few land right in the middle.  What is the middle?  Balance.

Balance is what I would like to see us all strive for.  Not because balance will make our lives free of pain and suffering, but because balance is worth striving for despite the pain and suffering.  Once we start to have it we will begin to see the benefits.  What does balance look like in contrast to the love spectrum?  Well, if we use the Taoist symbol of Yin and Yang or the infinity symbol, we have self-love and other-love melting together into an infinite cycle of balance.

balancelove

One does not over take the other. They are balanced.  To achieve and keep this balance it takes work.  Anything worth doing takes work.  I will talk about the work involved later on.

The state of this balance I call empathy.  Empathy is when I care to understand what is going on both inside of me and inside others.  This can be emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological.  And when we introduce fear into this balance, fear transforms into love.  If a person is empathetic and meets someone that is fearful, the empathetic person transforms that fear into love because that person understands at a deep level that fear is the response to an unmet need.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan empathized with the beaten Jewish man.  The Samaritan put himself in the Jewish man’s shoes and transformed his fear of the Jewish culture and religion into love for him.  He put aside his preconceived ideas and prejudices and helped.

This kind of love is not easy.  It involves work and being unselfish, yet there is something wonderful about it.  Love is all we need to make this world bearable.  There will always be suffering and hardships, but if we put a new perspective on our thinking, we can live a more fulfilling life.

Love Defined

What is love?  Love is different things to different people.  Love has many different definitions.  Finding one that meets your needs and that you can live out every day is important.  A definition that I have found that meets my needs is this:  Love is choosing to humbly find ways to holistically nurture the true self of both ourself and others.  I have found that this definition brings balance to self-love and other-love.

I came to this definition by starting out with M. Scott Peck’s definition of love.  He states that love is, “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”  This definition served me well for some time.  However, as I became increasingly influenced by Progressive Christianity’s call to liberate the oppressed, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, being all we can be, and loving others as well as ourselves, I needed a definition that encompassed the actions of all those things.  I needed a definition that dealt with the soul as well as the spirit and sees all the parts as a whole.  On top of all that I wanted make sure there was balance between self-love and other-love.  That is why I reworked Peck’s definition into my own.  Even though Peck’s definition and mine sound very similar, as you will see they are not the same.

Another thing I think needs to be addressed is where love comes from.  This really depends upon ones life outlook.  If ones life outlook is religious then love comes from God or gods.  If ones life outlook in nonreligious then love comes from the evolution of human kind.  Since neither the religious or nonreligious life outlook can be proven or disproven, it is not important to go into which one is right.  For all we know it could be both.  What is important to acknowledge is that either life outlook can apply my definition of love to their way of life.

As I said, this definition meets my needs.  If you find that it meets your needs as well, then use it to guide you every day.  If not then I urge you to find something that meets your needs and let it guide you every day.  But before you decide whether or not my definition works for you, let me explain it in summary form.

The band, The Choir, wrote a song in which the chorus states, “There is something wonderful about love.”  The writer was expressing his thoughts about his marriage relationship.  However he was not saying that love is wonderful because it makes his relationship with his spouse “problem free”.  No he says love is wonderful despite the fact that the relationship is full of problems.  Yet he is still able to say love is wonderful.

Love is work.  Whether it is the love you give to your spouse, children, enemy, neighbor, or yourself, love is work.  It is a choice to humbly find ways to holistically nurture the true self of everyone you meet.  It is a struggle.

First you have to choose to do it.  You have to choose to make the effort despite the opposition you may face from yourself or others.  Second, you have to be humble in knowing who you are and who you are not, unabashedly using your strengths and asking for help with your weaknesses.  Accept the fact that you may not have all the answers of how to love and stand in the helpless feeling it gives you.  That does not mean you give up.  Remember, love is work.

Thirdly, you have to observe what will enrich and what will not enrich every aspect (mind, body, spirit) of the person you are choosing to love.  Then humbly meet their mind, body, spiritual needs.  Fourth, you have to balance your love of others with self-love.  Never let one overtake the other.  Lastly, you have to accept, be it yourself or some one else, who that person truly is, their strengths and weaknesses, and not what you wish them to be.

Love is work and a struggle.  But in the end the work is well worth it.  Think of the strong bond you will have with the person you love, be it yourself or others.  This is why there is something wonderful about love.

This of course is a quick summarization of my definition.  I will spend the rest of this book dissecting each part  and in doing so I will give you the concrete actions that are the work of love.  So let us go deeper into my definition.

Love Is A Choice

First thing we need to understand is that love is a choice.  It is a choice we make every waking second of every day.  It is a choice because love is a gift.  It is like the gift of breath that we receive from the Source of all that is.  Unlike the gift of breath, which is automatic, love is work.  We have to make a conscious effort to do the work of love.  We have to choose to use the gift so graciously given to us.  When we wake up in the morning we choose whom we will give the gift of love to, be it others or ourselves.  We can also choose not to use the gift at all.  The important concept here is that using the gift of love is a conscious choice.  Let me share why it is an important concept to grasp.

I had a friend that was reluctant to get engaged.  His girlfriend was sure that being engaged was what she really wanted.  So he caved in and proposed.  However, after the novelty of it had worn off, she became fearful and doubtful of the decision.  It could have been because some friction in the relationship or meeting someone she thought was a better fit.  Whatever the reason, the doubt and fear was there.  She didn’t know if my friend was “the one.”  She has bought into the current marketing scheme that there is one true love out there and all she has to do is find him.  She is not alone.  However, the truth be told: there’s a plethora of people you could possibly spend the rest of your life with.  It’s really a matter of choosing one and choosing to love them everyday.  It’s also a matter of choosing to make sure neither person’s needs is overpowering the other.  A while back there was an ad campaign for an online matching sight that stated the idea of “All you need is love” was a myth. Deep compatibility was what they where shooting for. And no offense to anyone who has used this service, but I can’t help but wonder why they would say that deep compatibility was so important. As if deep compatibility is what keeps a relationship long lasting. One thing that they never mention is how many relationship matches ended in break up or divorce. I could almost hear the Apostle Paul saying in response that if I had all the compatibility in the world yet had not love, I am nothing.
Love is still the most important thing in a long term relationship. You don’t have to be deeply compatible to have a long term relationship. All you have to do is the work of love every day and the reciprocity of that work needs to be given back to you. And by reciprocity I mean getting your needs met while meeting their needs without being a martyr or taker. When a couple, a family, a community can do that for each other with reciprocity, then the relationship will be long and strong. NO RECIPROCITY OF LOVE, NO LONG LASTING RELATIONSHIP! It doesn’t matter how deeply compatible you are.
Now being deeply compatible does help, but let’s think about it this way. When it comes to the likelihood of reciprocity of love in a relationship, being each others equal puts that likelihood higher. However, not being each others equal does not mean reciprocity of love is impossible. The couple will just have to be more willing work at nurturing each other. By being each others equal I mean this. On a spiritual, emotional, psychological, intellectual, physical, leisurely and sexual level, the couple is in the same place. When the couple is at the same level and they chose to do the work of love, it is easier for them to meet each others needs because they will most likely have similar needs that can be mutually met. Reciprocity will more likely happen.
Now what happens when a couple (and this can be extended to all human relationships) is not each others equal? And I purposely say “not each others equal” so no blame can be singly placed on one person. One cannot say it’s all my partners fault. If your partner is not your equal then you are not their equal either. If they are not meeting your needs, then you are probably not meeting theirs either. And don’t expect or go into a relationship expecting them to become your equal. I am not saying that it can’t happen, but you should not place that expectation on them. I has to be a part of their nurturing of their true self. If their true self turns out to be equal to you then all the happiness to you. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. If they are not your equal now, they probably won’t be (not impossible, but not likely). There are many relationships that end in frustration because one person thought they could change the other. DON’T DO IT! You have to chose to love them for who they are. I hope this all conveys a small part of the work involved in loving someone and why we have to make conscious choice to love.
Writer Sherman Alexia backs me up on this point.

In his short story “Saint Junior” found in the book The Toughest Indian In The World, Alexia describes the love between the main characters, Roman and Grace, as a choice.  He says that Roman realizes that he not only loves his wife, Grace, but he chose her and continues to choose her every day he wakes up.  Roman also thinks that anyone that does not believe that love is a choice is just fooling themselves.  If people don’t choose who they love then they just end up with whomever happens into their lives.  Those that just happen into peoples lives can end up being abusive, lazy, not supportive, and life drainers.  Love just doesn’t magically happen.  Love is work that you are not paid for in currency but rather in a long-lasting relationship.  Because it is work that is why you have to choose to do it for better or for worse.

This is so true, but it is not only true for marriage.  It is also true for any relationship.  Whether it be a friend, co-worker, student, child, enemy or ourselves, love is a choice.  We have to choose to love these people.  It is not automatic.  We would like it to be.  In fact some believe it is.  They think that people automatically love them and they automatically love the other person in return.  And when it doesn’t happen automatically, we blame others and ourselves.  We try to put love in automatic mode because we choose fear over love.  We fear the work involved and settle for a pseudo-relationship, something shallow and fake.

When we choose fear, instead of nurturing each other, we eventually start to compete with one another.  We compete by seeing who is the better friend or, worst yet, who can get more out of the relationship.  Now again, fear is not all that bad.  Fear lets us know that a need must be met.  You see, when we choose to do the work of love we need to know that it will work.  I believe that if we follow my definition we will see that it does work.  It may take some time and patience, but eventually the work pays off.  We enter into a deeper relationship with that person.  When struggles enter into the relationship, and they will, we choose to forge ahead and do the work of love.  We leave the shallowness of our past pseudo-relationships and move on to the next step, which is being humble.  But before we look at being humble I need say something about divorce.

Divorce is usually the result when couples sadly think that love is automatic.  No one taught them to choose to love each other every waking day.  Any relationship that does not see that love is a choice when things get rough, will most likely end up in divorce.  But that is not to say that all couples that get a divorce failed to see love as a choice or stopped choosing to love each other.  Through love they realized that they could not meet each others needs.  In a perfect world both couples realize this, but sometimes only one of them realized it.  Sometimes divorce is the only loving action that will truly nurture both couples.  This is especially true when abuse is taking place.  It is important not to see it as a failure, but instead see it as a best possible way to love that person. When you are not each others equal you have two choices. Decide that you don’t want to or don’t have the capacity to put in the extra effort of choosing to humbly finding ways to holistically nurture their true self, thus ending the relationship, be it divorce or break up. And please listen to me when I say that if there is no reciprocity of love, especially in abusive situations, then the most loving action you can take is to divorce or break up with that person. The other choice is to humbly say we are not the best people to meet each others needs, but we can work on it. That can take on the form of being willing to allow others to meet that need for your partner or finding creative ways to meet that need without sacrificing your own needs. As long as each person does the work of love and reciprocity is present, then the relationship will continue. If this cannot happen then divorce is the loving path.

Love Is Being Humble

The second thing we need to understand about love is that love is humble.  Being humble is often misrepresented with the image of a person going about their day, eyes looking down, not saying much, not trying to draw any attention to themselves, and not trying to be important.  In my opinion this is not humility.  That is my definition of a self-loathing martyr who lets fear run their life.  Another way of not being humble is to be a selfish, self-centered know-it-all.  These people are also driven by fear, the fear of not knowing.  So to contrast these two ways of being, my definition of humility has two sides.

Humility is the acceptance of ambiguity and unabashedly using your strengths while managing your weaknesses.  Let’s tackle that first part.

Ambiguity annoys the hell out of people.  People don’t like uncertainty.  The bottom line is that life is ambiguous.  I would like to see us not be so arrogant to say that we have all the answers, that we know everything there is to know, that we know what will happen next and that we know everything about each other.  What do we know for certain?  If we are really honest with ourselves what we know for certain is not much.  Let me further illustrate this point by summarizing a story from M. Scott Peck’s Further Along The Road Less Traveled.

Peck shares how a fictional rabbi from Russia has been a mentor to him.  This mentor has taught him the valuable lesson of acknowledging that we just don’t know everything.  The rabbi took twenty years to think about the intricacies of life, the questions we all ask, and our purpose here.  He eventually came to the conclusion that he just did not know.  He was empty of answers and his mind was free to roam the wilderness.  This would scare most people but I think the rabbi was mature enough to accept it and to go about his business with a new enlightened understanding.

The rabbi continued his daily routine by going across the village to pray.  One day he was met by a cop that was in a vengeful mood.  The rabbi was an easy target for the cop.  When the cop ask the rabbi where he was going, the rabbi replied that he did not know.  This made the cop furious.  You see the cop knew the rabbi’s daily routine.  He knew that every day the rabbi walked across the village to the synagogue to pray.  Thinking he knew exactly what was going on it rattled the cop’s reality when the rabbi answered that he did not know.

Not able to handle this ambiguity and perceived disrespect, the cop decides to teach the rabbi a lesson.  However, it is the rabbi that ends up teaching the cop a lesson.  The cop throws the rabbi in jail.  Think about it.  The cop was so sure that the rabbi was on his way to the synagogue to pray.  The rabbi told the cop he did not know where he was going.  He planned on going to pray, but he ended up in jail.  As the cop threw the rabbi in jail, the rabbi turned to him and said, “You see, you just don’t know.”

Again, I ask what do we really know for certain?  I would like to suggest that all we really have is our experiences and what we are currently observing.  Everything else is faith.  Such a statement will be hard for people to understand when all they see is the world in black or white.  However, this is important to acknowledge because out of fear many people try to squelch any ambiguity in their lives.  They have to know it all, they have to have an answer to everything, they have to analyze, judge, and label so everything makes sense.  They want no mystery.  If they can’t, then they try to control everything in order to squelch out all ambiguity.  They create a delusional world in a violent way.  Not just physical violence, but spiritual and mental violence as well.

If we look at our past and present we see examples of people being killed out of fear and attempts to control that ambiguity.  Countless others have suffered physical, mental and spiritual abuse from religious leaders, governments, bosses, parents, teachers, and spouses.  These violent acts are also done in an effort to control any ambiguity.  If we are honest with ourselves, then we will see that we really don’t have control.  It is all an illusion.

In the movie, Instinct, Dr. Theo Caulder thought he had control over his patient, Dr. Ethan Powell.  In the scene I am about to share, Ethan doesn’t want to continue his session with Theo.  Theo refuses to let Ethan go.  So Ethan grabs Theo, wrestles him into a strangle hold in front of a table with paper and crayons on it.  He asks who has the control?  Ethan really wants him to ponder this question.  Does Theo have the control because he is the therapist?  Do the guards have control because of the perceived authority they have?  Does Ethan have control because he has Theo into a strangle hold and could easily break his neck?  Ethan wants Theo to realize that the answer is none of the above.  The answer lies in asking a different question.  Ethan tells Theo that he is going to take a test.  If Theo answers correctly then he lives and if answers incorrectly then he dies.

Ethan asks what he has taken from Theo.  Still feeling the tight hold around his neck, Theo answers “control.”  Ethan explains to him that Theo never had control and no one has control for sure.  Wanting Theo to learn, Ethan gives him a second chance.  Again, Ethan asks what he has taken from Theo.  “My freedom,” is Theo’s second answer.  However, Ethan is quick to point out that those who are playing the ambition game are never free.  They are slaves to their ambitions.  Ethan knows this from his own ambitious pursuits which alienated him from all his loved ones.

Still wanting Theo to learn an important lesson, Ethan gives him one last chance.  This time he will kill Theo.  Theo finally realizes that it is his illusions of control and freedom that Ethan has taken from him.  After answering “my illusions,” Ethan kisses Theo and lets him go.  We all need to learn that trying to control ambiguity is an illusion.

I also find it disconcerting how many people, who have to have answers to everything, analyze and give explanations to anything you say.  Many times they aren’t even right, but to them it is better to have an answer than to say, “I don’t know”.  The reason this is important when humbly loving someone is this.  We can’t assume we know everything there is to know about the people we love.

For example, say a friend is tired after a long day at work and just wants a little quiet time.  I can’t assume that I know best how to take care of them.  I would like to see us not assume we know how best to love the person we are loving.  They know best, not us.  They know their needs, not us.  We need to humbly say we don’t know and that we don’t have all the answers.  It may give us feelings of helplessness and pain; however the little discomfort we feel will be rewarded with a stronger love for others and ourselves.

The second side of being humble is something that is not usually associated with humility.  Being humble also means using our strengths unabashedly and relying on the strengths of others for our weaknesses.  When someone says, “Hey, you did a great job”, we look them straight in the eye and say, “Thanks, I did do a great job.”  Do not hesitate to compliment yourself.  You did the work, you need the recognition too.  I am not advocating gloating.  Just know that being humble is knowing and using your strengths.

Belittling ourselves when we are using our strengths is also very un-humble.  I know that for most of my life when I was given a compliment on a strength of mine I would play it down or say, “Aw, it was nothing.”  I remember one time after giving a great sermon I was shaking hands, receiving compliments, and playing them down as usual.  Then one lady said to me, “Matt, just say thank you.”  It was her way of saying, “Just acknowledge that you give a great sermon.”  Using our strengths is a part of being humble.

When we need to do something that is not one of our strengths and we know someone who is strong in that area, we need to ask for their help.  It is the know-it-alls that arrogantly do what they cannot.

I also have a hard time accepting or admitting when I need help.  I have a weakness in organizing.  This was something others that are organizational geniuses, have offered to help me with on countless occasions.  Each time I refused.  I have often been frustrated by my results because I plow ahead on my own.  This is a perfect example of arrogantly doing what I cannot.  Organizing is their strength and my weakness.  If I want to be humble, then I need to be willing to ask for their help.

So how do we find out what our strengths and weaknesses are?  The answer is self-discovery.  Know thyself.  We observe what comes naturally to us.  What gives us the most joy to do?  Even if it is hard labor is not a struggle to us.  These are our strengths.  The tasks we struggle with are our weakness.  There is one resource I would highly recommend for the journey of self-discovery and that is the book Now Discover Your Strengths.  It does a great job explaining strengths and weaknesses.  It also has a strengths finder assessment that can be taken on-line.

Our strengths are a valuable part of who we are.  They are a gift and like most gifts, they are best enjoyed when they are shared.  Our strengths are the best possible thing we can share with the people we are loving.  When we need a strength that we don’t have, we can seek out a person who has it.  Shy away from sharing weaknesses.  It usually ends up in frustration and is a very arrogant thing to do.  Focus on sharing your strengths and only give enough attention to your weaknesses to realize what they are and that you need help with them.

Accepting ambiguity, that we don’t know everything, unabashedly using our strengths, and relying on others for our weaknesses are the ways to humbly love others and ourselves.  It reminds me of a quote by Parker Palmer from his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.  He says, “The great community asks us to do only what we are able and trusts the rest to other hands.”

Love Is Nurturing

The third part of love is to nurture holistically.  The reason why this part comes after the explanation of how to be humble is because we use our humility to find ways to nurture holistically.  Hopefully we come to this part of love empty of illusions so we can use our strengths to love holistically.  So let’s look at what it means to nurture holistically.

Nurturing holistically is another way of saying we meet the needs of our body, mind, spirit, and soul all together at once.  If we are empty coming into nurturing, then how do we find ways to nurture and how do we do it holistically?

The answer to the first part of these questions comes to us by way of the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg.  His book, Nonviolent Communication, outlines the steps of meeting needs, or nurturing holistically.  The rest of this chapter will be a summary of Marshall’s teaching, but rewritten in my own words. The summary of these steps I am about to give is in no way a substitute for reading Mr. Rosenberg’s book.  I highly recommend that you read it for yourself or listen to the audiobook by the same title.

Rosenberg wrote, “Everything we do is in service of our needs.  When this one concept is applied to our view of others, we’ll see that we have no real enemies, that what others do to us is the best possible thing they know to do to get their needs met.”  To this I would add that the beginning of empathy, the state of balance I mentioned earlier, is to see a human being for whom he or she is, despite the person’s gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.  Do not project your own ideology, judgment, or misconceptions onto them.  Just see them as a human being.  They are a gift that is full of worth.  For some of us we not only need to realize this for others, but also for ourselves.  Once we can do this, we can take a step back, slow down and follow the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg.

Rosenberg teaches about compassion and the steps of communicating compassionately.  Compassion is the eyes and ears of love.  It is the willingness to see and hear others and ourselves as people with feelings and needs.  Compassion is the tool that keeps us connected to others and ourselves in an empathetic way.  Empathy is using our compassionate eyes and ears to see and hear the needs behind every emotion.  We give and receive empathy so we can then concentrate on nurturing one another.  Without it we see and hear in a sympathetic, apathetic, or judgmental way by giving assurances or labeling those we think are deserving of them.  This is done because of fear.  We fear that our needs will not be met.  With fear, no nurturing can take place because love is absent.  However when love is present compassion can happen, empathy is used and nurturing begins.

Many times we act in un-compassionate ways because we don’t know any other way to act.  Fear sets in and we just react.  We are doing the best we can with what has been given to us.  It seems that most of us have been observers of blame, judgment, labeling, apathy and sympathy.  We in turn just repeat what we have observed because we know no other way.  However, instead of placing blame on others or ourselves, we now know an alternative way.  This way is the way of compassion.

In following the way of compassion we pay attention to the emotions of others and ourselves.  The reason being is that behind every emotion there is a need that is either met or unmet.  If a person’s need is unmet then we have to find a way to nurture that person’s need.  We should do this keeping our own needs in mind.  If the need goes on to be unmet, the emotion can grow into acts of unkindness or violence, either to others or us.  If we think back to the love spectrum from earlier, then this sounds familiar, right?

Fearspectrum

These usually translate into acts of self-abuse, permitting the abuse, or being an abuser.  If in trying to meet our needs, we use blame, judgment, sympathy or labels, then we are not going to get our needs truly met.  This only alienates us from the people we love.  They may distance themselves from us, get defensive, or out of guilt comply with our demands.  This only creates resentment.  However, if we try to meet our needs by connecting with their feelings and needs, and give that person a chance to connect with us, then blame, judgments, and labels no longer are tools for us to use.  We will find that those things never really worked for us in the first place.  Using compassion truly meets our needs.  This is how it works.

Pay attention and observe.  That is the first step of compassion.  We pay attention and observe because we do not know.  Remember we came here empty of answers and solutions.  When we assume we know something that is when we judge, blame, label, or sympathize.  We do not know what is happening when we get cut off in traffic, or our spouse wants us to stay home tonight, or our child is crying because a classmate made fun of her.  When we assume that we know, then the person that cut us off in traffic is a jerk, our spouse is needy, and we assure our daughter that even if a classmate made fun of her, everything is fine because we still love her.  However, what might really be happening is something completely different.  The person that cut us off in traffic may be rushing to the emergency room, our spouse may have a surprise planned for us, and our daughter may just need us to connect with her feelings and needs.  We just do not know and that is why we observe.

If we want to avoid assumptions then we need to observe and state only facts, which are  free from our interpretations or evaluations.  For example, “That person drove right in front of me.”  “My spouse says she/he wants me home tonight.”  “My daughter said that someone made fun of her.”  These are the facts.  We observed them as they happened.  However, these next examples sound more familiar to us.  “That retard doesn’t know how to drive!”  “You never let me do what I want.”  “Oh honey, I am sure that they didn’t mean it.”  This is how we respond when we interpret or evaluate what we have observed.  It distances us from others and ourselves.  It does not lead us to getting our needs met, nor does it help us connect with the needs of others.  It keeps us from trying to find ways to nurture.  When we can observe and pay attention without evaluating or interpreting, then we can connect to the feelings involved.

Feelings are emotions and sometimes states of being that are directly related to our needs being met or unmet.  Men are not used to sharing their feelings.  Even women, who pride themselves for being open with their feelings, may not be really sharing feelings at all.  I think there is some confusion about what feelings are.  When most of us think that we are sharing our feelings we are actually sharing our perceptions or what we think.  This reveals nothing about the emotions we want people to connect with.  In fact sharing our perceptions instead of emotions are usually met with the sharing of more perceptions.  The conversation stays at the surface and does not get to the heart of the matter.  If the conversation is heated, then a perception battle will occur.  It is all very alienating and we are left wondering why that person did not understand us.  In order to connect at a deeper level we must learn to share our feelings.

I will say it again.  Feelings are emotions and states of being.  They are communicated by saying, “I feel” or “I am” and then state the emotion or state of being.  For example, “I feel sad” or “I am too warm”.  It is important that we state the emotion right after “I feel” or “I am.”  If we do not do this, then we are stating our perceptions.  For example, statements that start with, “I feel like,” “I feel that,” “I feel as if,” or “I feel I” are statements that are followed with our perceptions.  These statements are what we think is going on and are usually answered with more perceptions.  “I feel like you never listen to me,” will be met with, “Of course I listen to you.  You just don’t think I do.”  No connection to what is really going on happens.  It is equally important to not use words after “I feel” that state our perceptions, like, “I feel betrayed,” or “I feel unwanted.”  These statements will also be answered with perceptions.  What we really want is the connection and understanding that comes from empathy.  Sharing our feelings allows others to understand what is going on inside of us, that is that we have a need met or unmet.

Emotions and states of being are connected to needs.  If we only state our feelings, then we are only giving half of what is needed to connect.  If we, however, state both our feelings and needs, then the full story is told.  Needs are another thing that we rarely share because we think we will sound selfish or needy if we do.  However, we are only selfish if we meet our needs at the expense of others.  Needs are important.  If ignored, our true self and the true selves of others will not be nurtured.  When we suppress our needs for the sake of others, then they win, we lose, and we will have nothing left to give.  We might become resentful, give guilt trips, and find ways to win so that others lose.  Then we end up neglecting the needs of others.  All of these options are alienating.  Finding win/win solutions is the only way to get our needs met and helps us avoid any of these alienating options.

In order to state our needs we need to connect it to our feelings.  We do this by saying, “I feel or I am… because I need or I want or I was needing,” then we state our need.  Using one of the  previous examples would sound something like this, “When that person drove right in front of me I got irritated because I was needing safety.”  It is important that we stay away from words that could be perceived as an attack or blame.

Needs are personal, they live inside us, and should not to be projected onto others.  If we say, “I need that person to learn how to drive,” then we are implying blame or an attack.  It may be true, but if we want to connect and be understood, we need to stick with the personal need.  In this case, the need is safety.  The need of safety is the connection and understanding that we seek and now that we know this we can make a request to meet that need.

The final component of compassion is to make a request.  When we have made an observation and connected it with our feelings and needs, then we are ready to make a request.  We request what we would like and stay away from requesting what we would not like.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  If we focus on what we don’t want, we will still get it.  We need to stay focused only on what we do want.  We need to be as clear and concise as possible so that there is little confusion.

Be prepared to rethink and/or rephrase your request.  We want the person we are asking to be able to say no without guilt.  It is important that they do not hear a demand.  Instead, we want them to hear that they have a choice.  Make your request very specific.  Consider their reason for complying or not complying with our request.  Are they doing it out of obedience and/or guilt, or are they doing it because they want to?  Do they see the value in our request?  If they say no to the request, we can ask if they would be willing to find a solution that meets both of our needs.  The important thing is that we stay connected and avoid anything that will cut off that connection, especially after we made a great effort to connect in the first place.

In order to stay connected, we should make our request by asking, “Would you be willing…?”, and then state exactly what it is we would like them to do.  Take the previous example of the spouse wanting their significant other to stay home.  Simply making the request, “Would you be willing to spend more time with me?” is  not specific enough to get their needs met.  We have to pay attention to what it is that would truly fulfill our needs.  Get to the heart of a need by saying, “Would you be willing to spend one night a week playing cards with me?”  This will meet the need for play and intimacy.  If the significant other says no, then the spouse could ask if they would be willing to find a win/win solution.

If we start blaming, judging, labeling, or sympathizing then we have departed from the goal we set out with – to be compassionate.  So stay connected, make specific requests, follow through, and find win/win solutions.  We will later look at some specific requests that I think will help us holistically nurture.  For now, there is still more to say about compassion.

We may find that it is helpful to express appreciation in the same way.  When we tell some one, “You are wonderful for staying home with me,” then we are labeling them, judging on their character.  It is a positive judgment, but it is a judgment nonetheless.  There could be a sense of unrealistic expectations behind such a judgment.  They may think we only like them when they do what we want.  Therefore, they are expected to act in ways we think are wonderful.  When we do this there is a separation between why we are calling them wonderful and what they did that we appreciate so much.  The reason that we think of them as wonderful is because they met a need of ours.  Knowing this we can now express our appreciation free from labeling, judgment, or expectation.  An example of expressing our appreciation in a way that invites compassion is, “When you stayed home tonight to play cards with me, I was thrilled because I was needing playful expression.  Would you be willing to continue doing this once a week?”  This is an invitation to connect and communicate compassionately.

Not only do we need to learn to communicate in a way that invites compassion, but we also need to learn how to listen with compassion.  As we may recall, compassion is the eyes and ears of love.  We can connect with a person if we see and hear with compassion, whether that person is communicating in a way that invites compassion or not.  We can observe what they are saying, connect it with feelings and needs, and pay attention to what they are requesting.  If the conversation is tense then we may need to give ourselves some empathy first in order to give empathy to the person communicating with us.  We will need to pay attention to what we are feeling and needing, and then meet those needs so that we can hear the other person’s needs.  We may need to request some time away in order to give us the empathy we need.  Then we can return to give them the empathy they deserve.

Furthermore, if the person that is communicating with us is aware of what we are trying to do, then it is imperative that they feel safe.  They may think that we are being condescending or judging their communication style because they do not communicate the same way.  They need to know that we are not thinking we are better than they are or that our way is the right way and their way is wrong.  They may have strong views of communicating that are different from what is being expressed here.  This communication style may work for us, but they may not work for all people.  We need to be empathetic to those who choose a different way of communicating.  We are not right and they are not wrong.  We just have different ways of communicating.

Taking all this into consideration, we can now look at exactly how we listen and see with compassion.  We start by never assuming we know what the other person is feeling or needing.  In contrast, we make informed guesses of what they are feeling and needing while at the same time requesting verification of our guesses.  We are informed because we have been observing and we are guessing because we may be wrong.  Our request for verification gives them a chance to verify or repeat what we misunderstood.  Using the previous example of the daughter being made fun of, we would guess, “Are you feeling hurt because you are needing acceptance from your friends?”  Trying to connect with her feelings and needs works much better than just giving sympathy.  Our guess may be wrong, but we keep trying.  Continue guessing and connecting until they have expressed all that they needed to express.  Silence or a change in mood is a good indicator that they are done.  If no clear indicator is present, then ask if they are done.  When they are done we can move on by either meeting their needs or expressing our own feelings and needs.  The important things is that no matter what, we try our best to stay connected.

To paraphrase a point Marshall Rosenberg makes, judgments are tragic expressions of unmet needs.  We could also say that rage, violence (inward or outward), and docile obedience are tragic expressions of unmet needs.  It starts with a need.  That need produces an emotion.  If we can connect with that feeling and need, then we can see and hear that person with compassion.  Compassion is the eyes and ears of love.  It seeks to connect with others and ourselves for the purpose of finding out what we need.  When we can do that, then we can nurture holistically.