I lied. I don’t really love everybody, I can’t, but at least I can try to have a positive regard for all. Let me explain.
I try to meditate every day, at least ten minutes in the mornings, a bit longer at the weekends. I do it with the help of an app called Waking Up.
Last Saturday, I was halfway through a 30-minute meditation, feeling good, connected with my immediate experiences and trying not to think about anything. Suddenly, I realised somebody was chatting outside my flat, at the doorstep. I could hear them talking, and I started to feel frustrated and annoyed.
A feeling of rage was starting to come up within me because these two women were chatting on my doorstep. Couldn’t they go somewhere else? I was trying to meditate!
Then I realised what I was feeling, and I stopped it there. I was trying to do Metta meditation, which focuses on feeling loving-kindness for others and oneself, and I was doing the opposite.
Instead of love, I was feeling rage.
I also realised that those women must be cleaning the staircase in our apartment building. They were chatting while they were cleaning my doorstep and stairs. They were cleaning that for me and my neighbours and having a conversation while they were at it, and I was feeling rage, frustration and annoyance. What kind of ungrateful idiot was I?
I could have been in their place, I could have been them. I then realised they deserved my love instead of my rage.
What makes you, you?
What makes you, you, and not somebody else? Is it your values, your memories, your body, your beliefs?
None of the above. I think it is just your subjective experience. Only that makes you, you.
We all have had this little thought experiment at some moment in our lives. What would happen if I went to sleep and woke up the next day as my friend, neighbour, colleague, or love crush? You wake up, and suddenly, your hands look different, you have women’s breasts instead of a flat chest (or the other way around), and you are in someone else’s bedroom.
But you know you are still you. Because you are having that subjective experience. You are the one seeing, hearing, touching, and thinking about it.
The only thing that makes me, me, is that I was born in this body, and since then, I have been having my experiences and thoughts and remembering them. I could have been born in someone else’s body. I could have been one of the women cleaning my staircase.
I believe I deserve love and respect for the mere fact that I exist and I am a human being. Ergo, the same should apply to everybody else.
I should try to love everybody. I should feel loving kindness, compassion and acceptance for anybody.
But should I?
Unconditional positive regard or unconditional love for everybody?
Humanistic coaches and psychologists have unconditional positive regard for their clients. They accept and support them regardless of what they say and what they do. For the mere fact of being human, they deserve that acceptance and support, or so goes their thinking.
Unconditional positive regard is an instrumental part of humanistic coaching. It is one of the main factors making the coaching work. The premise is that as the coachees perceive they are being accepted and positively regarded by a significant other, they will accept themselves and will feel freer to pursue their self-actualising tendencies and reach their full potential.
Could we translate this into unconditional love? Could we love everybody unconditionally, just because they are human and worthy of love?
Love is too strong a word. If I love everybody, then what is the emotion I reserve for the people closest to me? Stronger love, maybe. But I’m not entirely convinced by this argument.
I cannot really love, with genuine love, anybody I cross in the street. I just can’t. This would dilute the meaning of love. It is too important and powerful a concept to be extended to everybody.
Love may be too strong a word, but we could learn from humanistic coaches and therapists and start having an unconditional positive regard for all the people around us.
That I can do.
Free will and the deterministic trap
I can hear people complaining, “What happens with nazis, child molesters, rapists, criminals and all the people voting for a rival political party? Do they also deserve unconditional positive regard?”
We cannot possibly have a positive regard for them. They are all terrible people (especially those voting differently from us!)
Well, we can, and we should.
Many thinkers argue that free will doesn’t exist; it’s an illusion. Our brains seem to act on their own accord and then justify our actions through a posteriori rationalisations. We may be living in a deterministic trap where we are not entirely free of our actions.
If you were born with the same genes, in the same family, had the same life experiences and were living in the same context as a criminal, would you have acted differently? Probably not. You would probably be a criminal, too.
You would be determined to act the same way, so you would carry out the same actions.
People deserve to be regarded positively and unconditionally. We need to try to understand other people, put ourselves in their shoes and see where they are coming from. That doesn’t mean we need to forgive them or condone all their behaviours or that they should be free to roam and do harm to others.
Our actions have consequences, after all.
Building a better future
I don’t love everybody, but I try to have a positive regard for all. I could have been that other person after all.
What would happen if everybody did the same?
Perhaps we would create a decadent society of softies where everything goes, and a few cynics dominate the others, but I doubt it. I think we would be living in a better society, a more empathetic and harmonious one.
We build a better future through our actions, but also through our attitudes and emotions. I choose love over all other emotions. Even if I won’t be able to fully love someone who has hurt me or my family, I will try to understand them and accept them as they are.
I will have an unconditional positive regard towards them. I will do the same for everybody else around me, and I encourage you to do the same.
We will then live in a better world, and you will probably feel better about it, too.