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|Books about positive values, spirituality, and counseling
B. Conley, M.Div., LMFT
I wish to affirm certain
basic values about the worth of each individual (life), the autonomy
that allows each person to make his or her own decisions (liberty),
and to live life his or her own way (the pursuit of happiness).
Those are ironically the very rights, when lived out, that relieve
the suffering of those who would destroy them for others.
These thoughts may
seem a far cry from matters of loving relationships and spirituality,
but they are not. The application of values that would erase poverty
are the same values that create intimacy in relationships and
allow us to be connected to all people in a loving way. They are
the values that create love in the spiritual dimension of life.
The living out of fundamental
values affirming the importance of every life and the right of
each of us to manage our own lives let us sanctify the spiritual
dimension of life and experience a serenity that is self-validating.
problem for every human being is the "how to do it" question, how
to apply those principles to over-ride our inclination to do what
is less than loving. The goal of "applied love" is a full integration
of the values of valuing ourselves and others, making our own decisions
and affirming the right of others to do so, and living life our
own way and endorsing the right of each person to do the same.
I will call
this the process of applied love, sending virtual particles of love,
"spiritons," into the lives of others. By the time we have learned
to use this process well, it becomes unconscious and automatic,
so we no longer have to think about it. As a tool to expand our
capacity to be loving, here are five steps in learning how to treat
others in the most loving way.
Steps to Loving Behavior
to do anything, we need information about the subject that concerns
us. Start with your experience of information you receive from outside
yourself. This includes what you see, smell, feel, and hear. In
addition it is important to clarify what you hear from others by
restating the messages and confirming the accuracy of your perception
Let us use
families as an example. Suppose your mother is coming over to your
house for a visit, and you want to treat her in the most loving
way, even though you expect she will make critical comments about
you as she has done in the past. You have considerable information
about her, and having known her for a long time, have a general
idea about what to expect the visit to be like.
an idea of how you might respond to her emotionally. You might be
annoyed or angry if she criticizes you. Even so, you can listen
for what may be new and of interest to you, and use your own ways
of getting accurate information. If she says or implies that the
chicken might have been better, you can see if she meant to criticize
your cooking by asking her something like, "Did you mean to say
I should have cooked the chicken a better way?" It is important
to get her to answer your question.
step in the process of applied love is to focus on the descriptive
understanding of what you see, smell, feel, and hear, so that you
begin to understand the way in which all the pieces fit together.
a) Logic. You endeavor
to understand the logic intrinsic to the messages you hear. The
test of your understanding is to restate the logic of the message
in such a way that the other person can confirm your understanding.
If the answer from
your mother is that you should have done better by cooking the
chicken a better way, find out why that is important to her. It
may not be important to you, but if she criticizes your cooking,
it is important to her. Perhaps, to make a guess, she has lived
her life trying to be perfect, and believes anyone who doesn't
try to be perfect threatens her security and way of life.
By saying to her, "I
suppose the chicken wasn't perfect. Is that why you think I could
have done better by cooking in another way?" you can see if the
guess has any validity. She might correct you, and tell you that
her mom would have done it differently. In which case she has
a slightly different reason than my guess.
Whatever you understand
her reason for criticizing you to be, you have shifted away from
self-defense into curiosity about why your culinary skill is emotionally
important to her.
b) Empathy. Applied
love requires that you identify emotions expressed by the other
person(s) as part of the message you hear. You can test your perception's
accuracy by empathizing with the other person's feelings and asking
for conformation and addition to your impression.
For example, with our
hypothetical mother, you might say, "Oh, you might be feeling
somewhat nervous about my cooking not being up to par. Is that
accurate?" She might say, "No, I'm not at all nervous. But I do
feel a little annoyed, because you know how important this is
to me." Or she might say something else.
Whatever she says,
you can follow her description of her own feelings and empathize
with them, since feelings tell us about what is emotionally important
to a person. You are finding out more about your mother's emotional
response to eating chicken the way you prepared it.
Empathy is not the
same as "feeling what your mother feels," since we can only feel
our own feelings. Empathy is connecting emotionally with what
the other person feels so as to appreciate the emotional significance
of what the other person is experiencing.
love requires a shift from focusing on your own point of view to
your mother's point of view. Using the information you have gathered,
you are in a position to put it all together and use your ability
to understand the whole picture from your mother's point of view.
You can evaluate the meaning of what you have heard and understand
more clearly your mother's point of view, still using your own values
and life experience to do so.
By now you
know some of the data she is using (even though you may consider
it to be mis-information). You know the way she is interpreting
that information (though it may be a distortion or unfair interpretation
from your point of view). You know what she is feeling (though you
may think that her emotional response is inappropriate to the present
conclude that your mother wants to do the right thing, that being
a good cook is one way she had a good relationship with her deceased
mother, and that she criticizes herself for not being a "good enough"
daughter to her mother.
you believe she identifies with you and wants you to be the daughter
she failed to be, and so needs you to be the best cook in the world.
And that she is afraid that if you fail, she will also fail again,
by her unconscious identification with you. Whether this is 100%
accurate is of little matter. Assume it is close enough for everyday
even visualize your mother shifting into the position of the scared
little child who couldn't please her mother, and her fear that if
you don't do well enough, she would be in danger of being criticized
and rejected, just like when she was a child. From that perspective,
you can empathize with her apprehension and know that her concern
about your cooking is not about you, but about her need to be affirmed.
So it is
now understandable in a new way that how you cook is emotionally
important to your mother, because, from her point of view, if you
fail, she fails, and condemns herself again as a poor daughter.
She has a lot at stake in your cooking, from her point of view,
and intends to save herself, not to hurt you.
love requires that you focus on your own highest values, your knowledge
of what is most loving and caring. From that perspective you can
decide what to do about what you have understood and evaluated.
the most loving response you could make to your mother based on
your fuller understanding? Would you say, "Mom, I know I could do
better, and I'm happy to hear your suggestions." Or, "Wow, I'd love
to have your mom's recipe and learn how to cook it her way." Or,
"I love you, Mom, even though this is not the greatest chicken in
the world." Or, any one of a hundred different ways you can invent
to respond to her and acknowledge her emotional investment in your
being a success in her own eyes, and offer her the affirmation she
your response to her, it can be about loving your mother instead
of defending your own point of view.
the Decision to Act.
love is ultimately about how we treat others. Having decided how
to respond, the next step is to do it. In this hypothetical case,
it would involve communicating with your mother, and telling her
what would be caring and nurturing, including how much you appreciate
what she has given you. You can offer her the appreciation that
she has wanted more of from her mother.
of understanding leading up to implementing the decision to act
may seem pedantic and labored when spelled out the way I have done
it here. Yet, it is a process that may take less than a second to
occur when we are used to doing it.
life, the process may take more than a few seconds when we are not
ready to respond in this way. When, for our own reasons of personal
emotional need, we are not ready to respond in this way, we can
take the necessary "time out" to figure out how to respond as part
of our own growth into becoming more loving. When we offer others
the love we want for ourselves, we reclaim an important part of
our own spontaneous empathic selves that we may have given up in
our own childhood development
we are in accepting others matters. Even more important is our own
commitment to grow in the capacity to be more loving. We can become
more aware of how to do it, how to grow into becoming more loving
toward ourselves and others.
we succeed in communicating acceptance and affirmation of others,
the more we enlarge our participation in the spiritual dimension
© 2001 by Benjamin B. Conley, All Rights Reserved