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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Myth of Unconditional Love


We've all had our issues with how we have been treated by others, whether friends, relatives, our own parents, and of course, our spouses or partners with who we seek to share our lives with. But in my own life, and as I look around at people I know or have recently been acquainted with, there is a lot of dissatisfaction that arises from what I believe to be a simple misunderstanding about "love" and how it should really help foster a relationship between two individuals, instead of making one person fall into the mould defined by the other because that person "loves" them. Scarily, and more often than not, such conflicts end up in some sort of debate about the conditionality of love, where one person will try and convince the other that they have loved "unconditionally" and for that they expect to be treated better. Now, this "unequal loving" may certainly be the case, but the focus of this little piece is to try and explore the myth of "Unconditional Love".

The first thing that people point to is pets, dogs and cats mostly, but I'm sure a large pet python or tarantula would be equally capable of unconditional love. The argument seems to go that these animals love you so much, that they do it for free, to use that word as a grating substitute for the word "unconditional", and they expect nothing in return except to see you walk in the door at the end of the day to reciprocate. If you think about this for a while, you will recognize the falsehood staring you in the face, namely, that if you didn't feed, water and shelter a dog or cat, that it would still continue to love you unconditionally. Animals, like "humans" need to eat and require shelter, so the condition is that for the things you provide them, they are happy to be with you. Have you ever fed a stray cat for a while, consistently too, that nuzzled up to you and purred like there was no tomorrow? Try missing a day or two of feeding them, and see if they show up. They might, but chances are, they're just dropping in to see if you have something to offer, because if you don't, they know plenty of other places to go to. I've even heard of a dog who had finally had it with its master's extreme sense of discipline and left the house, refusing to enter even when people attempted to drag him in to reunite him with his master. But this master fed him grade A beef and milk all the time, not to mention a whole host of other 'doggy delectables'. Also, as sad as it is, many people in India, particularly in my home state of Kerala have a culture of wanting to own a dog, but wanting them to serve as only a security measure, nothing more. Most of the dogs that I've seen usually end up being kidnapped or street dogs that are kidnapped or adopted as puppies, only to spend the rest of their lives tied to a spot, 24x7. They have a little overhang of some kind to keep them out of the torrential rains that hit Kerala every June to August, but that's about it. Kids don't play with the dog, or worse, have been scared by their parents about the dog going to bite them if they go anywhere near it. Is it any wonder then, that if the rope or chain that's imprisoning this dog is broken, it runs like the wind to put as much distance between it and its "loving" masters?

Sure, the easiest counter argument to this is, "But that's just a rare case, an anomaly." My response to this reaction is, "Grow up!" Stop talking nonsense about things being unconditional when it comes to the relationship between two living beings. For it to be of mutual benefit to both, there has to be something that both gain from one another, perhaps losing something in the process too. If one of the two loved unconditionally, or "no matter what", then the recipient should return this love as well, otherwise it would be "parasitism", would it not? Not only is altruism something that the average person cannot really comprehend, but in essence, it exists only under a special series of circumstances. To be able to love someone unconditionally means to be free of the shackles of a reality that many of us seem to be bound to, kind of like attaining a spiritual or "life" nirvana, so that the ultimate unconditional love may involve giving freely, even of one's life in the face of certain death, simply because it matters not in the face of the love that one feels for all those around. Anything short of such a state of mind involves conditions that have to be met, no matter what.

Unconditional love is sometimes referred to, or it might be better to say that it is often compared to something like "parental love". People will expound and expand about the fact that even if a child errs a parent, while correcting the behaviour, is only doing so because he or she loves the child. But if this was the case across the board, you wouldn't have parents disowning children, or the other way around, not to mention cases where they don't talk to each other for decades at a time. It is a rarity, is this "unconditional love", but not an impossibility. It needs certain conditions, and of course, a particular mindset that is free of prejudices of all kinds, as well as being willing to put the caring love of another person before oneself because the reciprocating of such a selfless love is what we would probably refer to as a "union of souls". But like I was saying, that's a certain rarity, because every single wedding ceremony, no matter what the ordinances of the faith under which it was carried out, is a conditional arrangement. You agree to love one another, care for, etc., until "death do you part". But if you fail to honor your agreement, then it's grounds for separation and divorce. Welcome to the world of Conditionality of Alliances.

I'd like to end by saying that I wish all those people in the world who feel the prick of conditional love, or perhaps are feeling like they put way more into a relationship or some kind of group work effort or whatever, that rather than bemoan their apparent loss, be willing to carry on. I may not necessarily suggest repeating the same action and hoping for a different result, but hey, if you believe you love unconditionally, then it shouldn't matter to you whether you receive love in return, should it? Expecting anything at all would be a condition, would it not? It may not exist everywhere, this unconditional love, but as far as conditional love goes, it pretty much comes down to honoring your arrangements, and expressing yourself honestly. If you're both going to give it another shot, then you should. If you think you've hit the end of the road, then it's better to part ways. Stop preaching to each other about love without conditions, and be willing to make "togetherness" work for you.
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