When we make deposits of unconditional love, when we live the primary laws of love, we encourage others to live the primary laws of life. In other words, when we truly love others without condition, without strings, we help them feel secure and safe and validated and affirmed in their essential worth, identity, and integrity. Their natural growth process is encouraged. We make it easier for them to live the laws of life—cooperation, contribution, self-discipline, integrity—and to discover and live true to the highest and best within them. We give them the freedom to act on their own inner imperatives rather than react to our conditions and limitations. This does not mean we become permissive or soft. That itself is a massive withdrawal. We counsel, we plead, we set limits and consequences. But we love, regardless.
When we violate the primary laws of love—when we attach strings and conditions to that gift—we actually encourage others to violate the primary laws of life. We put them in a reactive, defensive position where they feel they have to prove “I matter as a person, independent of you.”
In reality, they aren’t independent. They are counter-dependent, which is another form of dependency and is at the lowest end of the Maturity Continuum. They become reactive, almost enemy-centered, more concerned about defending their “rights” and producing evidence of their individuality than they are about proactively listening to and honoring their own inner imperatives.
Rebellion is a knot of the heart, not of the mind. The key is to make deposits—constant deposits of unconditional love.
I once had a friend who was dean of a very prestigious school.* He planned and saved for years to provide his son the opportunity to attend that institution, but when the time came, the boy refused to go.
This deeply concerned his father. Graduating from that particular school would have been a great asset to the boy. Besides, it was a family tradition. Three generations of attendance preceded the boy. The father pleaded and urged and talked. He also tried to listen to the boy to understand him, all the while hoping that the son would change his mind.
The subtle message being communicated was one of conditional love. The son felt that in a sense the father’s desire for him to attend the school outweighed the value he placed on him as a person and as a son, which was terribly threatening. Consequently, he fought for and with his own identity and integrity, and he increased in his resolve and his efforts to rationalize his decision not to go.
After some intense soul-searching, the father decided to make a sacrifice—to renounce conditional love. He knew that his son might choose differently than he had wished; nevertheless, he and his wife resolved to love their son unconditionally, regardless of his choice. It was an extremely difficult thing to do because the value of his educational experience was so close to their hearts and because it was something they had planned and worked for since his birth.
The father and mother went through a very difficult rescripting process, struggling to really understand the nature of unconditional love. They communicated to the boy what they were doing and why, and told him that they had come to the point at which they could say in all honesty that his decision would not affect their complete feeling of unconditional love toward him. They didn’t do this to manipulate him, to try to get him to “shape up.” They did it as the logical extension of their growth and character.
The boy didn’t give much of a response at the time, but his parents had such a paradigm of unconditional love at that point that it would have made no difference in their feelings for him. About a week later, he told his parents that he had decided not to go. They were perfectly prepared for this response and continued to show unconditional love for him. Everything was settled and life went along normally.
A short time later, an interesting thing happened. Now that the boy no longer felt he had to defend his position, he searched within himself more deeply and found that he really did want to have this educational experience. He applied for admission, and then he told his father, who again showed unconditional love by fully accepting his son’s decision. My friend was happy, but not excessively so, because he had truly learned to love without condition.
Dag Hammarskjold, past Secretary-General of the United Nations, once made a profound, far-reaching statement: “It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.”
I take that to mean that I could devote eight, ten, or twelve hours a day, five, six, or seven days a week to the thousands of people and projects “out there” and still not have a deep, meaningful relationship with my own spouse, with my own teenage son, with my closest working associate. And it would take more nobility of character—more humility, courage, and strength—to rebuild that one relationship than it would to continue putting in all those hours for all those people and causes.
In twenty-five years of consulting with organizations, I have been impressed over and over again by the power of that statement. Many of the problems in organizations stem from relationship difficulties at the very top—between two partners in a professional firm, between the owner and the president of a company, between the president and an executive vice-president. It truly takes more nobility of character to confront and resolve those issues than it does to continue to diligently work for the many projects and people “out there.”
When I first came across Hammarskjold’s statement, I was working in an organization where there were unclear expectations between the individual who was my right-hand man and myself. I simply did not have the courage to confront our differences regarding role and goal expectations and values, particularly in our methods of administration. So I worked for a number of months in a compromise mode to avoid what might turn out to be an ugly confrontation. All the while, bad feelings were developing inside both of us.
After reading that it is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses, I was deeply affected by the idea of rebuilding that relationship.
I had to steel myself for what lay ahead, because I knew it would be hard to really get the issues out and to achieve a deep, common understanding and commitment. I remember actually shaking in anticipation of the visit. He seemed like such a hard man, so set in his own ways and so right in his own eyes; yet I needed his strengths and abilities. I was afraid a confrontation might jeopardize the relationship and result in my losing those strengths.
I went through a mental dress rehearsal of the anticipated visit, and I finally became settled within myself around the principles rather than the practices of what I was going to do and say. At last I felt peace of mind and the courage to have the communication.
When we met together, to my total surprise, I discovered that this man had been going through the very same process and had been longing for such a conversation. He was anything but hard and defensive.
Nevertheless, our administrative styles were considerably different, and the entire organization was responding to these differences. We both acknowledged the problems that our disunity had created. Over several visits, we were able to confront the deeper issues, to get them all out on the table, and to resolve them, one by one, with a spirit of high mutual respect. We were able to develop a powerful complementary team and a deep personal affection which added tremendously to our ability to work effectively together.
Creating the unity necessary to run an effective business or a family or a marriage requires great personal strength and courage. No amount of technical administrative skill in laboring for the masses can make up for lack of nobility of personal character in developing relationships. It is at a very essential, one-on-one level, that we live the primary laws of love and life.
Also published on Medium.