To date, our planet is home to approximately 7.8 billion people. That is a staggering, almost inconceivable amount of human beings; just imagine all of the people you could potentially meet during your lifetime! Despite our inability to cross paths with everyone who inhabits Earth, we all share natural resources and experiences with people from every walk of life. From the clothes we wear to the knowledge we exchange, it is virtually impossible to live life entirely free from the influence of other people.
This being said, knowing how to peacefully coexist with the 7+ billion individuals who live alongside us is critical. And when it comes to raising a child, one of the most beneficial duties a parent has is to help their child (or children) learn how to socialize and find their place among the world’s sea of faces.
Valuable life skills such as communication, friendship building, negotiation, conflict resolution, and collaboration all stem from the role other people play throughout the duration of our lives. These skills assist us in getting things done, contributing to society, and developing the relationships that can help make our lives more fulfilling. Learning how to interact with others well in childhood helps to ensure that future interactions such as work relationships and romantic pursuits are fruitful in adulthood.
As a parent, you are the primary teacher of all things social– at least, in the beginning.
Naturally, as children age and start to engage in activities outside of the home, they will come in contact with all sorts of people. Young and old. Kind and honery. Female and male. From teachers and peers to complete strangers, your child will be sure to interact with and become influenced by individuals with many different personalities and tendencies.
Even though we can guarantee that your child will come into contact with other people throughout their life, there is no guarantee of how those interactions will actually go. After all, we have all had social situations that were extremely pleasant, as well as some experiences that we’d just as soon forget. One of the many uncertainities of life is the type of people we will come across along our journey, as well as the circumstances that will arise when we do.
While parents cannot predict or control the types of relationships their child may face out in the world, they can teach and model the very best way to deal with any person, at any time: lovingly. This is why the second step to great parenting is loving other people.
The 7 Types Of Love
In an effort to better care for others, we must first understand love’s varying forms and functions. Although many people might primarily think of romance and butterflies when love is mentioned, there are seven types of love that we can experience in life: Agape, Eros, Ludus, Philautia, Philia, Pragma, and Storge.
In some relationships, we may only experience one type of love or another for the duration of its lifetime. Other relationships might experience an evolution from one type of love to another as time goes on. Even still, there are some relationships which may experience an overlapping of different forms, depending on the situation.
How To Show Love To Others
As parents, there are many opportunities for you to help your child understand how to experience and demonstrate each of the seven forms of love in a healthy manner.
If you would like to review some ways to show love in the important relationships that you and/or your child are involved in, as well as why it is important to do so, please feel free to check out the documents below by clicking their respective links, or by visiting the Resources page.
Loving Others Isn’t Always Easy, But It’s Necessary
The best way to interact with others–no matter how unpleasant or difficult– is to do so with a loving heart and spirit. A truly good parent understands this premise well, practices it to the best of their ability, and instills this principle in their children from an early age.
I know, I know. I can totally hear someone out there right now, “Lovingly? Pfft! Yeah, right. You haven’t met my evil co-worker; their own mother probably struggles to love them!“
Trust me, you’re not alone. I completely understand if anyone is rolling their eyes and getting ready to close their browser altogether. Throughout the years, I have encountered some of the most disruptive, callous, and impossible people, so I know just how hard it can be to love individuals who are the antithesis of loveliness. The stress and strain of trying to interact with people who seem to want nothing more out of life than to make others miserable can be overwhelming at times.
All the same, the answer to all social interactions–the good, the bad, and the ugly–is love, each and every time.
Still skeptical? Please keep reading.
Exercise: What’s Wrong With The World?
(If you’re really committed to this exercise, feel free to grab a piece of paper and a pen to write everything down. Otherwise, you can simply keep a mental list.)
As beautiful and thrilling a planet as it may be, our world is a far cry from perfect. For purposes of demonstration, let’s all take a moment to deeply consider the things we wish we could change about the world today.
Imagine being given a magic wand that has the power to alter the world and cure all of its woes; what things you would personally change? Think really hard. What situations concern you, personally? What conditions make you angry, sad, or fearful? What is taking place in society that makes you worry for your children?
Got it? Good. Now that you have identified all of the things about the world that you find problematic, hold that thought while I show you something.
Please take a look at the words on the following graphic. Depending on your own life experiences and perspective, what you see in this group of words may be very different from what someone else sees. Which of your personal past experiences do these words resonate with? What are some of the consequences of actions that are motivated by words such as these? When you think of your children experiencing these words, how does it feel?
Let’s return to the list you made earlier. When you think of your idea(s) of what is wrong with the world and you compare those emotions to how you feel when you view the various words above, are the feelings similar? If you happen to be one of the unicorns that answers “No”, thank you for ruining my demonstration (lol). Otherwise, it is highly likely that your list and my list evoke very similar negative feelings and carry the same uneasy vibration.
Now, let’s consider the root issue(s) behind the world problems that you would like to change. What truly feeds the continuation of the problem(s)? While there certainly may be exceptions to the rule, it is highly likely that the underlying cause of the problems on your list is one (or more) of the words that are on my list.
For example, let’s say that an issue you are concerned about is climate change. What has caused climate change? Some may say that it’s been caused by the greed of corporations who, for many years, valued personal profit over the damage they were causing to the environment.
Or, perhaps you are someone who is concerned about animal welfare. What is behind issues such as mass extinction, the animal trade, and unsavory hunting and fishing practices? You might argue that these problems are fueled by human abuse of power, where people are doing things simply because they can without first considering whether or not they actually should.
A Lack Of Love Has Devastating Consequences
You may be wondering, “What does this exercise have to do with being a good parent?” In short, everything.
I had you do this exercise to demonstrate my fundamental point. In truth, many of the disheartening and worrisome things that our world faces today have been driven by things such as hatred, intolerance, pride, greed, violence, and dishonesty. However, these are things that we could all help to eradicate by teaching our children to make better choices. If love was promoted more, there would be more people willing to stand up against the things that threaten to destroy our society, planet, and future.
Much of what is imbalanced or broken in the world is motivated by one fundamental concept: a lack of love. And even though a lack of love may take on the face of many different things such as racism, jealousy, or unforgiveness, it’s basic destructive nature is what has caused every war known to man. It has claimed countless lives, shifted history, decimated landscapes, and destroyed families.
Whether it is one child not sharing a toy with another, or a parent losing their child to street violence, in one way or another, people both young and old have all experienced a lack of love and consideration. This is why it is so important for all people (especially parents) to learn and teach others how to love and better care for other people; our species and world greatly depends upon it.
Why Is Loving Others So Hard?
In a perfect world, everyone would have healthy regard for themselves and love their neighbor. However, this isn’t exactly the case.
For example, we are all well aware of the senseless onslaughts of violence that is reported on the nightly news. Some of us may even find ourselves arguing with loved ones on an all too regular basis, while some of us may fall victim to road rage from time to time. But why is that? Why can’t we all just get along?
While the answer is not entirely straightforward, I do believe that there are several factors that severely impact our ability to demonstrate love for others as we should (one of which happens to be a lack of self-love, which we discussed in the last segment of this series). Some of those contributing factors include excessive pride; the erroneous desire for reciprocity; a flawed understanding of what love is (or isn’t); technology; protective defense mechanisms; fear; historical anger and distrust; the increasing value of individualism; and the continuation of “us vs. them” belief systems.
A major obstacle to people’s ability to love others is pride. Pride, in its most basic form, is not entirely a bad thing. When pride is kept in its proper perspective, it can be good to derive pleasure from one’s achievements. After all, this self-satisfaction is what helps to motivate us and build valuable self-worth. Unfortunately, pride can be a very slippery slope that can quickly lead to conceit, an inflated sense of one’s value, and the perception that others have diminished value.
Pride can encourage people to place an excessive amount of value on their own wants, needs, and beliefs. Not only can it prevent people from acknowledging their own flaws and errors, but it can mistakenly cause people to believe that the actions/viewpoints/needs of others are invalid or unimportant in comparison.
You can see pride at work when people get into arguments, for instance. Conflict develops out of the involved parties’ determination to declare their desire or opinion as the “right” one, while consciously or unconsciously wanting the other party to submit/agree.
It is impossible for love to exist in the midst of excessive pride because love, outside of self-love, is not purely concerned about self. Instead, true love comes from having a genuine concern for others.
The Erroneous Desire For Reciprocity
Loving others is a challenge for some people because they have a strong desire for reciprocity. I’m sure all of us have heard the phrase “An eye for an eye“, which has often been perceived as a just response to wrong doing. This revenge-centric mentality is one that is almost programmed into many individuals and societies as a normal reaction to verbal or physical offense.
But if David hits John and then John hits David, more than likely, David will hit John yet again, which will prompt John to hit David even harder the second time around. Where, exactly, does the chain of offense stop if no one ever offers a degree of mercy to the offender by stopping the cycle? Once people feel wronged, it can be hard for them to act in love towards their perpetrator. Instead, they wish to repay kind for kind. Responding to yelling by yelling louder. Responding to violence with more violence.
A dependency on reciprocity makes it hard for people to love others due to the faulty idea that love has to first be received to be given. Most people have no trouble at all loving those who love them. They may find it easy to extend love to their friends, their parents, their children, or people they simply like. But what about showing love to those who are simply neutral, or “unlikeable”? This is what many people struggle with most.
It is backwards to wait for people to be kind before being kind to them. Instead, you must give love to receive it. Even if you don’t receive love back from the person you offered it to, it always returns to us in other ways. However, we must not love because we expect to get anything out of it. We must love because it is the right thing to do.
A Flawed Understanding Of What Love Is (Or Isn’t)
While studying child development in college, my class evaluated case studies involving children, who through abuse or utter parental neglect, had been severely deprived of love and care. Even years after being rescued from these situations, each of the children (by then adults) experienced significant impairment in their ability to develop and maintain relationships with other people. Despite being exposed to a world very different from their harsh upbringing, their ability to demonstrate love and express the vulnerability that is necessary to form meaningful bonds with others, was stunted.
As with anything in life, it can be hard to demonstrate something you have never been shown or barely understand. Showing love is no different. Even though some people are born naturally affectionate and nurturing with an almost instinctual tendency to love others, some of us simply aren’t like that. For some people, love can be an uncomfortable gift to receive and a bewildering one to provide. This can be the result of our personal dispositions, but as in the case of the children I previously described, this can also be the consequence of having not been exposed to love throughout our lives.
Another factor that may contribute to a difficulty to show love to others is technology. Some of you may be surprised by this and wonder how the development of technology in recent years could impact people’s ability to love, but I truly believe technology has driven an unintentional wedge between people.
As technology has improved and social media has become a mainstay across the globe, accessibility to new lands, ideas, and content can be achieved in the blink of an eye. In many ways, the world has become “smaller” due to our ability to easily bypass geographical distance via the Internet. However, has our growing dependence on our phone and computer screens begun to replace true human connection?
Despite greater digital connectivity with others, I have come across several studies and reports that state that people around the world are more lonely and fearful of face to face social situations than ever before. For example, many couples sit right next to each other for hours, but spend more time swiping their phone screens than acknowledging the other’s presence in the same room.
And in the instance of cyber bullying, people can be shockingly quick to spout hateful comments as fast as their fingers will allow. Is it possible that people have become dismissive of the feelings of others due to only seeing a pixelated, removed representation of the person behind their screen?
The decrease in physical interaction almost de-humanizes us, reducing us to blurbs of text and video snippets. Technology makes it possible for us to edit and mask the things that make us real people with feelings and commonality with others. The more we identify with filtered photos and less with genuine face time (not just the Apple app), the easier it will be for some people to “forget” to be kind.
Protective Defense Mechanisms
For those who have experienced personality altering, traumatic events, loving and trusting other people can seem like an insurmountable and dangerous task. Having been emotionally, mentally, or physically threatened or abused by others in the past can cause people to do whatever it takes to protect themselves from further harm– even when there is nothing to fear. This being said, something that can make it difficult for people to love is their use of protective social defense mechanisms.
Perhaps some of you know of people who have been hurt in the past. They may avoid entering relationships, behave aggressively, or even come across as downright mean and embittered.
While it can be disheartening to be on the receiving end of such responses, for the people who display them, it may seem like the only way to keep people at arm’s length. After all, you can’t get hurt if no one is around to hurt you. By making themselves seem harsh and unloving, it helps to ensure that their vulnerabilities are not exploited. Unfortunately, in doing so, they cut themselves off from potential interactions with people whose motives are good.
Another factor that can inhibit our ability to love others is fear. A well known example of how fear has been weaponized in the past would be the events that led up to WWII.
Following WWI, Germany experienced very difficult financial times. With limited resources and significant social dissatisfaction regarding the outcome of the war, one of world history’s most unsavory political leaders rose to the forefront. Pandering to widespread unrest and pushing hateful propaganda that antagonized people’s worst fears, his political party successfully managed to convince countless people to participate in an unspeakable attempt to eliminate an entire race of people.
Fear is the pure opposite of love; one cannot exist in the presence of the other.
Whether people are afraid of the unknown or afraid of what they’ve discovered, fear can emotionally paralyze us if we allow it to. Many important and debilitating social issues such as intolerance, racism, and sexism are fueled by people’s fear. Fear of losing power. Fear of changing the status quo. Fear of their personal liberties and values being challenged. Fear of finding out that their belief system, that they believed in and clung to, was wrong all along.
Fear can not only quell people’s ability to love others, but inspire rage and downright hatred. And for this reason, it might be the most dangerous barrier to love of all.
Historical Anger & Distrust
Historical events, such as the heinous crimes committed before and during WWII, can leave a lasting and deeply damaging impact on those who experience or have close ancestral ties to them. In fact, a quick flip through any decent world history textbook will reveal endless instances where the actions of man have managed to emotionally (and sometimes even physically) scar multiple generations. The anger and distrust that is produced as a result of these actions is yet another contributing factor to the challenge some people have in loving others.
The forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands and the deliberate erasure of their language and cultural practices. The African slave trade. The establishment of Japanese-American internment camps. The attacks of 9/11. Police brutality. These are just some of the man-made tragedies that have occurred in my home country. However, atrocities such as these and even worse, have occurred all over the world throughout time and continue to take place today.
The experience of such events can be highly traumatic and burdensome, making it difficult for impacted populations to extend love to those they feel are responsible. If such populations are made to feel as though people have not learned from prior wrongs, or if they believe that their experiences and pain are not being acknowledged and met with genuine compassion, it can generate fear, anger, and other negative feelings that inhibit their ability to love and trust others.
The Increasing Value of Individualism
Around the world, there is an increasing emphasis on individualism. Now, more than ever before, we can observe a rise in the societal importance of “being an individual”, “doing you”, “living your best life”, and pursuing our wildest dreams. On one hand, it is a very exciting time to be alive. Citizens from nations around the globe are starting to enjoy more personal freedom and acceptance than their ancestors would have ever dared to imagine.
Through changing societal values and the furthering development of technology, we are finding new avenues to help us explore and express our self-identities. We are also investigating new ways in which to become more and more self-reliant.
Despite the celebration of individuality having the ability to open new doors for us, there may be a downside as well. As people become more and more focused on self, a focus on togetherness and community inevitably suffers. In the past, people were more dependent upon other people to build towns, raise children, complete work, and live everyday life. By default, people had to remain cognizant of the presence and needs of others, or they themselves might not survive.
These days, it is easy for people to go through life, staying in their own lane. All the while, they may ignore the people around them, lessening their ability to seize opportunities to show love to others.
The Continuation of “Us vs. Them” Belief Systems
When interacting with others, one of the most foolish things we can do is forget that we are all the same. Ironically, this is the very mistake that many people still make in 2020. One of the factors that inhibit people’s ability to be loving and kind towards others is the mistaken belief that human beings are different. Of course, some of us are tall while others are short. Some of us have light eyes and some of our eyes are dark. I may talk a lot (which I obviously do), but other people I know barely say a peep. This being said, yes, we do have different traits, appearances, and skills.
All the same, we are all the same.
Many people in the world have great trouble seeing the shared humanity in other people. Whether it is based on religious beliefs (or the lack thereof), physical appearance, personality traits, socioeconomic background, diet choices, or personal opinion, some people thrive off of perceived division.
A recent example of this would be the tense social climate that developed after the 2016 US presidential election. Supporters of both political parties (and seemingly everyone in between) became instantly divided based on political affiliation. People proudly announced that they “hated” supporters from the other side. People who had been friends for decades stopped speaking to each other. Marriages were thrown to the brink of divorce. All because of a difference in opinion.
For some, political beliefs may warrant the possession of such strong feelings. I cannot deny that a person’s personal beliefs and corresponding values can be very emotional. However, I cannot support the flagrant display of hatred and bitterness that I witnessed, especially not for something as transient as political instatements.
As long as we allow ourselves to become divided by every new changing wind, humanity will never achieve any degree of peace. For better or worse, whether right or wrong, other people have the same right to have an opinion, just as we do. The exercise of that freedom should not stop us from loving others, or perhaps we are no better than the people we complain about.
Some people no longer believe in love. They do not believe that it is valuable or that it achieves much of anything, so they see little to no reason to practice it. Whether they have had bad experiences in the past that have left them jaded or whether they feel that love is only for flower crown weaving hippies, they are mistaken.
A friendly smile given to a stranger. A kind deed done for an ailing friend. A heartfelt apology extended after a fierce dispute. Love, in whatever form it is manifested, is the closest thing to magic that mankind (or womankind, if you like) will ever experience. It has the ability to thaw even the most frozen, stoic hearts. This is something hatred and strife will never do.
No matter what life throws at you and no matter who you encounter in this world, never allow yourself to underestimate or forget love’s power to change situations and people.
So many people believe that acting in love is a demonstration of weakness, yet I never understand how they come to this conclusion.
When people yell at you or accuse you of something you did not do, does it not take great strength not to drag them to the edge of the Earth and back? When someone cuts you off in heavy traffic, almost threatening to make you wreck your car, does it not require incredible self-control not to blare the horn or make rude gestures out your window (Not that any of us would ever do that, riiight?)?
Showing other people mercy, respect, empathy, or consideration–regardless of the situation– is the furthest thing from weakness. It is brave. It is just. It is what this world desperately needs more of. And as parents, the understanding of this essential principle is one of the greatest gifts you could ever bestow upon your children… and the world they live in.
I thank all of you for taking out time to read today’s post. Hopefully, you will leave feeling inspired to bless others with the heart you’ve been given. Please join me next time as we explore the third and final step in the series: Love Your Child.
© C.M. 2020 All Rights Reserved
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