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January 2007 Archives

January 10, 2007

Merry Christmas

This is a wonderful season. I love the lights, the music, the food. But most of all I like it that at this season more than any other our thoughts tend to turn to the possibility of loving the people around us. We’re more thoughtful. We give more. We smile more. We speak to each other more on the street. People who wouldn’t normally say a word to each other will say, “Merry Christmas,” and most of the time they even mean it.

I am convinced that the cheer we demonstrate at this season is strong evidence that deep down we all really want to be loving. Somehow we know that being loving is simply the happiest way to live. When we’re loving, we like how we feel, and we like how other people feel as they are the objects of our love.

There are so many ways for us to show our love to those around us, and at Christmas the original idea was to offer gifts as a token—a physical indication—of our love. In most cases, we’ve lost the intent of the token and instead focus on the gift itself.

I’m not suggesting that we give up gift-giving. I am suggesting that we consider some of the other signs of love that we might give at this season. Rather than giving a card—or perhaps in addition to it—imagine the joy we could bring into the life of another by giving forgiveness for a past offense. Rather than simply purchasing a gift at the mall, what if we were to sit with a friend or family member and describe a mistake we’ve made, something we know has caused pain in that person’s life?

I have now seen thousands of individuals and families deeply touched by the power of Real Love. At this special season take time to contemplate how you might allow Real Love to affect your life more deeply, and how you might share it more freely with others.

In the words of one member of RealLove.com, "The principles of Real Love have brought more peace and power into our family over the past several months than I would ever have thought possible. I can't begin to say how grateful I am."

At this season of joy and thanksgiving, what better gift could we give our loved ones than the gift of Real Love? Take advantage of the spirit of the season and give all the Real Love you can. Not only will you bring joy into the lives of others, but you will immeasurably enrich your own in the process.


How to Set Goals You'll Actually Keep

As we approach the New Year, many of us make resolutions about how we’ll change our lives. We make plans, set goals, embark on programs of improvement, and so on. Regrettably, most of us encounter obstacles that greatly interfere with fulfillment of these grand plans, much as described by the writer of the following letter:

Dear Greg,

“I make goals all the time, but I never seem to keep them for long. I promise myself that I’m going to stop getting angry at my children, but then I yell at my son the first time he fights with his sister or doesn’t go to bed on time. What can I do? I’m tired of failing.”


Setting goals can seem a quite noble activity, especially when they involve improving our personal character. For example:

“I’m not going to lose my temper anymore.”
“I’ll be a better husband and father.”
“I’m going to be more patient with my husband.”
“I will not let work control my life.”
“I’m going to lose weight.”

After we set these commendable goals, however—despite real commitment and effort—we often succeed for only a short time, and then we fail, followed by waves of guilt and discouragement. We repeat this process over and over, and eventually many of us stop setting goals at all.

Strong will alone is not enough to ensure success in personal endeavors such as parenting—the example from the letter above—or any other effort involving personal growth or relationships. Most of us spend our lives hoping that if we simply try harder, if we simply pour more energy into the same personal skills and tools we’ve always used, we might get a better result. But using the same knowledge and tools to achieve different results is an exercise in futility. If we want to do anything differently—we ourselves have to become different.

Allow me to speak to the woman who wrote the letter above: One of your goals is to stop being angry with your children. You try hard to restrain your anger, but each time they do something you don’t like, you respond in the ways you always have, because you are the same person you’ve always been. Instead of resolving to stop being angry, you’ll find it much more productive to focus on learning the real cause of your anger, after which you’ll be able to begin taking the steps necessary to eliminate that cause. You literally must become a different person before you can respond to your son differently.

One reason we keep failing in our goals is that we set goals that are far too difficult. We set goals that are the natural conclusions of completing a long line of individual steps. We often ignore the steps, when these individual steps need to be the goals we set.

Years ago I set a goal of becoming a better tennis player. I tried harder, and I played more often, but the level of my game didn’t improve much. I wasn’t aware that I had been ignoring the individual steps that lead to becoming a better tennis player. In fact, I wasn’t aware of the existence of those steps.

Eventually, I made the decision to take lessons from a professional teacher, and he immediately asked me to show him my forehand stroke. I thought he was joking. “You want me to just stand here and hit a ball with my forehand?” I asked. “Without running around or anything?”

“Yes, exactly,” he said.

So I bounced a ball on the ground and hit it with a forehand stroke. My instructor then showed me how I had pretty much done everything wrong in simply swinging my racket. I was amazed. I had previously assumed that swinging a racket couldn’t be that hard, but I learned that there really is a proper way to swing, and with experience I learned that if I swung the racket in the prescribed way, the ball went over the net in the correct way with far greater consistency than I had ever achieved before.

My instructor then taught me the right way to hit a backhand stroke, and a volley, and a half-volley, and an overhead lob, and a serve, and so on. Within a short period of time, the level of my game had improve dramatically, and I was having much more fun playing. Who knew there was so much to learn?

The same is true with most of the personal goals we set. We decide, for example, that we’re going to be better spouses or parents, but that’s very much like deciding that we’re simply going to be better tennis players—or that we’re simply going to be taller, for that matter. What is involved in becoming a better parent, for example?

What children need more than anything else is Real Love. In the moment that a child makes a mistake—in the moment that he makes too much noise, fights with his sister, or fails to clean his room—he needs to be guided, taught, and unconditionally loved, and the teaching and loving absolutely must be done simultaneously. If we don’t possess the requisite Real Love in such moments, we will react with one or more of the Protecting Behaviors—lying, attacking, acting like victims, and running—and our children will hear only four words: I don’t love you. In that moment, we inflict incalculable wounds upon them and make it quite impossible to teach them any positive lesson.

The problem is, we can’t fake having Real Love, and we can’t give what we don’t have. So rather than setting a goal to be better parents—or spouses or employers or friends—we need to recognize the steps that lead to acquisition of the one quality most necessary to better parenting. More reasonable—and far more productive—goals would include the following:

- I will tell the truth about myself to other adults and thereby create opportunities for them to see, accept, and love me.
- I will remember that my child needs to feel loved more than he or she needs to complete any specific task or activity.
- I would rather that my children felt loved and happy than that they were successful and made me look good to others.
- I will remember that when my children behave badly, I shouldn’t be thinking accusing thoughts of them. I should be remembering that they would act that way only if they didn’t feel loved, which is a result of how I have failed them.
- When I make mistakes with my children—which I will—I will try to recognize them more quickly and tell the truth about them to other adults.
- When I make mistakes with my children, I will admit them more quickly to my children.

As we set more reasonable goals like these, we’ll find that we tend to reach them more consistently, and we’ll also see that accomplishment of them leads to realization of the bigger goals, like becoming better spouses and parents.

As you take the steps necessary to find Real Love, you’ll discover that miraculous changes will happen within you. Speaking to the writer of the letter again: When you have the most important treasure on the planet—Real Love—what could possibly make you angry, at your son or anyone else? With Real Love you become a different person, capable of making entirely different decisions from before. You’ll have infinitely superior tools to accomplish everything in your life, including replacing anger with compassion and love for your son. You’ll also discover that you can get him to bed much more effectively—as well as teach him anything else he needs to learn.

A New Perspective on Failure

A New Perspective on Failure

I once received the following letter:

Dear Greg,

“I get so discouraged by my failures. I’ve been studying Real Love for some time now, and I’ve had some wonderful moments when I’ve felt more loved and loving than I ever have before. But with some people—like my husband and my mother—I feel like I just keep failing, over and over. I feel like I know nothing. Just when I think I’ve learned something about loving, my husband snaps at me, and I fall right back into my old behaviors. I snap back at him or withdraw or act like a victim. I feel like such a failure.”


On many occasions I have spoken with people who have described situations like these above. We often feel like such failures when we make mistakes, but I suggest that we see our “failures” in a new light.

Imagine that you’re beginning a weight-lifting program. Right now you’re capable of lifting twenty pounds over your head, but with daily exercise you develop the capacity to lift eighty pounds. Would you call your efforts successful? I hope so. By anyone’s standard, increasing your strength by a factor of four would be considered successful.

Now let’s suppose that one day while you’re holding eighty pounds over your head, someone suddenly hangs an additional twenty pounds on the weight bar. Overwhelmed by the additional weight, you immediately lose control over the bar and drop the weights to the ground. At this point, how you see this event is very important. When you dropped the weights, did you fail?

Certainly failure would be one way of looking at the event—most people would see it that way—but we just established that you had accomplished an enormous success by increasing your ability to lift from twenty to eighty pounds. What then is another way to view this event? We might consider the possibility that when the twenty pounds was added to the bar, you just discovered the limit of your strength.

This is not a matter of positive thinking. It’s a matter of telling the truth. When you dropped the hundred pounds, you actually succeeded in lifting eighty pounds and simply learned that you were not yet able to lift a hundred pounds.

And so it is in real life. As we learn and grow in Real Love, we gain an ability to love that can almost be quantified. For a moment, let’s consider Real Love as a power that we can be measured in, say, pounds. Each time we encounter the anger, conflict, and inconveniences that inevitably come our way as part of everyday life, we’re required to use up some of the love we possess in order to respond positively to those difficulties. Fortunately, Real Love is renewable, but in any given moment we use up at least some of the love we have as we deal with our problems.

In the beginning of our process of acquiring Real Love, let’s say we have only twenty pounds of love. Then someone makes a critical comment to us that requires us to use ten pounds of love to respond in a loving way. All is well, however, because with twenty pounds this event will not empty us out. But what if two people make critical comments—which requires ten pounds for each one—and we’re also physically tired, which saps another ten pounds. That leaves us with nothing—less than nothing, in fact—and then we tend to respond with those Getting and Protecting Behaviors that cause so many problems in relationships: We lie, get angry, act like victims, and run. We all know what happens after that: Getting and Protecting Behaviors are exchanged and relationships are injured.

As we exercise our love, it grows, and let’s suppose that with practice we acquire eighty pounds of Real Love. Now we can love people in even more difficult situations. We can remain peaceful and loving despite more intense attacks and insistent manipulations. But now imagine that even though you have eighty pounds of Real Love, one day your husband or wife comes home from work and bites your head off with an especially sharp comment. In an instant you are transformed from a condition of relative contentment to one of emptiness, fear, and defensiveness. You snap back at him or her, act like a complete victim, and stomp out of the room.

And now you feel like a failure. But is that the truth? Did you really fail? Over the last several months your ability to love has grown from nearly nothing to eighty pounds. How could that be a failure? It’s not, and you need to reconsider the event with your husband. Rather than believing that you failed with him, consider instead that you simply discovered a circumstance that required more love than you had in that moment. That’s all that happened. You had eighty pounds of Real Love, and in order to respond lovingly to your spouse—or whoever it might be—on that occasion, ninety-five pounds would have been required.

So you just made a mistake and learned how much love you had, as well as how much love you didn’t have. Big deal. So what? You’ve learned only that you have more work to do, and don’t we always? That’s the whole idea of learning and growing. What I’m suggesting here isn’t some technique of positive thinking, meant to cover up our mistakes. It’s a truthful assessment of our behavior and growth. We need to see the occasions when we’re unloving not as failures but as information, reminding us that we have more to learn. Regarding our mistakes as failures can be discouraging, and we don’t need more of that.


Real Love Marriage Vows

In the absence of sufficient Real Love, we tend to marry our partners with the expectation that they will make us happy for the rest of our lives. Regardless of the words actually spoken at the wedding ceremony, what we hear our spouses say is this:

“I promise to make you happy—always. I will heal your past wounds and satisfy your present needs and expectations—even when you don’t express them. I will lift you up when you’re discouraged. I will accept and love you no matter what mistakes you make. I give to you all that I have or ever will have. And I will never leave you.”
Neither partner is consciously aware of making this bushel of promises, but each partner still hears them and insists that they be fulfilled. When both partners lack sufficient Real Love, however, they can’t possibly make one another happy, and then their efforts to do that yield only disappointment and anger, no matter how hard they try.

I have been asked on several occasions what marriage vows would look like if both partners understood the principles of Real Love. I suggest these vows might look something like the following:

I spent a lifetime looking for a kind of happiness that eluded me. Again and again, I was deceived by the temporary satisfaction that came from approval, praise, excitement, power, and safety.
But then I found Real Love—unconditional love. I found people who cared about my happiness without wanting anything from me in return, and gradually I’ve learned to care for others in a similar way.
That love has changed everything for me. I’m not empty and afraid all the time anymore, and I’m no longer a prisoner to my anger.
I’ve discovered the peace and genuine power that naturally flow from loving others without conditions. I’ve learned to feel that way toward many people and to have healthy, rewarding relationships with them. I don’t claim to love perfectly, but I’m getting better at it.
So why, of all these people whom I have learned to love, have I chosen to make a vow of marriage only with you?
Because in addition to the unconditional love I share with many, I want to share with you a higher, unique level of loving. I choose to seek that higher plain with you because I believe you have a desire to participate fully in an honest, healthy relationship and because I believe you are willing to commit to the process of learning how to become an unconditionally loving human being. I believe that I can feel more unconditionally loved, become more unconditionally loving, and feel greater happiness with you than with anyone else I know.

Seeing that combination of reality and potential in you, with a full heart I commit:

- that I will continue to share with you the truth about who I am—my mistakes, flaws, fears, foolishness, and successes.
- that when I become empty and afraid—and when I then behave badly—I will not quit our relationship. I will stay with you. I will try to admit the selfishness in my feelings and behavior and will then do whatever it takes to find the Real Love I need to participate in a loving relationship with you.
- that when you become empty and afraid—and when you behave badly—I will not leave our relationship. I will stay with you. Instead of protecting myself or getting my own needs met in the moment, I will try to see your need for love and will do whatever it takes to find and share with you the Real Love we need to have a loving relationship.
- to share my body with you, freely, in a way that I will share with no one else.
- to share with you my material resources, completely and without reservation, again in a way that I will share with no one else.
- to share my heart with you in a way that no one else will ever know.
- that I will stay engaged in a relationship with you while I learn to love you, no matter what the temporary difficulties might be.

Vows like these reflect a realistic understanding of what a healthy relationship can become. They also serve as a guide for the development of that relationship.

January 17, 2007

Teaching With Consequences

A mother called me and described one of her children:

“I don’t know what to do with this child. He often breaks things around the house: dishes, kitchen utensils, stuff like that. Sometimes he breaks things just because he’s being careless, but more often it’s because he’s angry or wants to punish me in some way. I’ve talked to him about it many times, but that hasn’t done any good. I’ve also gotten angry and spanked him, but that hasn’t helped either. So what can I do?”

As I answer her question here, I believe every parent can learn something about parenting, loving, and the use of consequences. I talk a great deal about how to raise children in the book Real Love in Parenting, so I won’t repeat all the basic principles here.

Now allow me to address the mother who asked the question:

The most important principle for you to remember is that a child acts out when he doesn’t feel loved. Your son doesn’t feel sufficient Real Love, and at every step you take with him you must supply some of that essential ingredient. How would that look? In the beginning, after years of not feeling sufficiently loved yourself, you may find loving your son difficult, but there is one powerfully loving act you could attempt right now: Simply refuse—absolutely refuse—to speak to your son in anger. Anger has such a terribly destructive effect on children that if we can simply eliminate that one behavior we can take a giant step toward loving them.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you stifle your anger, or pretend not to be angry when you really are. What I’m suggesting is that if you become angry, instead of expressing that feeling to your son in any way, you close your lips and call another adult who is capable of loving you unconditionally. If you’ll do that, you’ll find that the love you receive will usually eliminate your anger, after which you’ll be able to speak to your son in a much more loving way.

Now, back to teaching your son. You’ve tried teaching him that breaking things isn’t the right thing to do, so you can be sure he understands that principle. From his behavior, you might think he doesn’t understand what you’ve taught him, but he really does, so you don’t need to keep repeating it. What he needs now is to be taught in a different way—with consequences.

So sit down with your son and talk about what will happen the next time he breaks something. He needs to learn that there is a cost associated with every decision he makes. Explain to him that that’s how the entire world operates. We all pay a price for our choices. Tell him that if you break the speed limit, for example, you pay the price of getting a speeding ticket and increased insurance premiums. If you’re careless with your checkbook, the bank charges you overdraft fees. If you’re repeatedly late to work, they fire you. And so on.

Up to now, you have inappropriately saved your son from the consequences of his choices, and now you’re simply letting him experience those consequences. This new way of doing things is not a punishment. It’s just the way the world operates.

So what specific consequences could you impose? You have many possibilities to choose from. When he carelessly or maliciously breaks something, you could

• require him to repair it. Some things can be fixed, and it can be quite instructive for a child to learn how much more difficult it is to repair an object than to destroy it.

• require him to pay for replacing what he broke. He could use his allowance, or he could work for the cost of the broken item.

• forbid him to use anything in the house belonging to you for a certain number of days. The rationale here is, “If you have no respect for other people’s things, then for a time you’ll not be able to use other people’s things at all.” He will discover that it’s quite inconvenient not to have the use of all the appliances, tools, and so on in the home that he has come to take for granted. I know one mother who did this with her daughter, and the daughter discovered that life was quite different when she didn’t have the use of the family car, the hot water heater, the dishes, and so on.

• break something of his. The idea here is to demonstrate to him how inconvenient it is to lose something through the carelessness or malice of another person. I caution you, however, that this consequence will almost always appear to the child simply to be a form of vengeance, and no positive lesson will be learned.

Notice that all the consequences above have the effect of inconveniencing a child, and that is the intent. As your son experiences these consequences, it becomes increasingly likely that the next time he is about to treat an object carelessly or angrily, he’ll remember that he didn’t enjoy the inconvenience of the consequence, and then he’ll be much less likely to make the irresponsible choice. Children don’t like to pay for their choices.

Allow consequences to teach your son. If you nag him or become angry at him, he learns only to do things to please you, and that’s not a lesson that will be useful to him for the rest of his life.

January 24, 2007

The Lost Prince

A son was born to the king, but as an infant he was stolen from his cradle and taken far from his father’s kingdom. He was placed on the doorstep of a poor peasant couple, and there he was raised to young manhood, all the while knowing nothing about being a prince.

One day the boy was plowing in a field and unearthed a bundle of infant’s clothing, finely woven and laced with gold thread. When he took it home and asked his parents about it, they admitted that he was not their natural child, but had been left with them long ago. They had buried his clothes to hide his past.

The boy determined he would travel the world to learn the story of his birth. For years he wandered, showing the infant clothing to people in many countries, but he learned nothing. One day while walking in the desert, he realized he was quite lost and no closer to his goal than he’d been years before. In deep despair, and grieving over his lost years, he noticed in the distance a man sitting on the ground. Walking over to the man, who looked old and wise, the prince told the stranger of his quest.

The wise man said, “I’m familiar with some of this country. Perhaps I could walk with you while you search for your home.”

The prince welcomed both the companionship and the possibility of assistance, so he accepted the wise man’s offer. For weeks they walked together, taking turns leading and following, and they covered a great distance.

Eventually the boy’s discouragement returned, and he wondered aloud if he would ever find the answer to his question.

“You’ve been very persistent. I believe you will.”

The prince complained about the hardships they encountered and began to doubt the benefit of the old man’s company. He criticized the paths chosen by the older man when he was in the lead. When the prince became particularly bitter in his complaints, the stranger said, “You are not bound to me. You can leave me at any time.”

“I’m just tired of walking,” the boy responded. “I’m tired of being hungry and hot and cold, and you haven’t made things any easier.”

“Were you better off before you met me?” asked the man.

The boy acknowledged that he hadn’t done any better by himself, so he stayed with the old man. One morning they came to a fork in the road, and the boy asked, “Which road shall we take?”

“Why don’t you pick one?” said the old man.

So the boy took the path to the left, and they walked for several days. The road came to an end at the ocean. The prince was angry at the time they’d wasted, and he blamed the old man.

“Oh, this has been very productive,” said the stranger. “Now we know not to take this road again.”

The boy didn’t think this wisdom was especially profound, and he grumbled all the way back to the fork in the road. Taking the other fork, eventually they came to a large river and began to swim. Halfway across, the prince became tired and frightened. He grabbed the coat of the old man and pulled him back. The stranger immediately dove to the bottom of the river, pulling the boy with him, so the boy let go of the old man’s coat and continued gasping for air at the surface.

When the stranger came up, the boy was in trouble. He old man removed the rope from around his waist that he used as a belt and threw one end to the boy. The man swam ahead of the boy, pulling on the rope and encouraging the boy to kick with his legs. When they reached the other side, they were both quite exhausted.

“I was drowning,” said the prince.

“I could see that,” said the stranger.

“And you wouldn’t help me,” said the prince.

“I was glad to help you,” said the stranger, “but when you pulled on my coat, we both could have drowned. I dove so you’d let go and I could try something different.”

As they continued their journey together, they shared many experiences. When the journey was especially difficult, the boy complained about where the man was taking him. But as they traveled, the boy became stronger and made more of the decisions about which path they would take.

In time, the boy and the man became good friends. They made sacrifices for each other, sharing their burdens and their wounds.

One day they climbed over a mountain range and saw a beautiful kingdom below them. The prince paused for a moment and said, “This is my home.”

“How do you know that?” asked the older man.

“I can feel it,” said the boy. “And now I know who you are.”

The old man raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Oh?”

“You’re my father.”

“I am,” said the wise king, and the two men embraced for a long time.

“I understand now,” said the prince. “I understand why you led me as you did. I’ve learned much and grown strong.”

“You’re a king now,” said his father. And when the wise king died, his son was a wise and loving ruler. When his son was born, he stole him out of the crib and took him far away to the doorstep of a peasant couple.

***************

I am the prince. I am also the wise man. And so are you.

We spend much of our lives as the lost prince, unaware that we’re heirs to kingdoms. We wander the earth looking for who we are, and many of us find nothing.

Some of us have the opportunity to be led by men or women who see us and love us. They become our wise men and women, our fathers and mothers, whether they are our biological parents or not. With their love and guidance we can see the truth and find the joy in life.

And then we become wise men and women, kings and queens, to others who are lost as we were. As wise men and women, we can’t take the journey for another, just as the king couldn’t take the steps for his son. We can only lead people and love them and perhaps and keep walking with them when they complain. As the wise man did with the prince, sometimes we must separate from those we lead when their lies and other Getting and Protecting Behaviors could drown both of us. And then when we have regained our breath and strength, we can throw them a line.

It’s no small thing to guide a prince or princess to the home that is his or hers, and we have the opportunity to do that every day.

January 31, 2007

Just Eat

Most of us have been living with insufficient Real Love all our lives. Although this condition is nearly intolerably painful, we become so accustomed to it that we have come to accept it as normal. We enjoy our momentary diversions and deceptions with Imitation Love, and we believe these to be all the happiness we will ever know. And why wouldn’t we? We are surrounded by people in conditions almost identical to our own, people who also believe that the temporary and superficial satisfaction they receive from Imitation Love is true happiness.

I have now spoken to thousands of such people, and many of them, when given an opportunity to partake of the far greater joy that comes from Real Love, simply cannot imagine a life different than that sustained by Imitation Love. When Real Love is described to them, they want to analyze it, dissect it, compare it to other things, and otherwise talk about it. They want to understand how it works and to receive guarantees of miracles before they take a single step on the path to actually experiencing Real Love.

I have seen men and women talk and talk about Real Love before tasting its power and its delights, and when they do, I imagine them to be like a man crawling out of the desert after being lost for many days, dying of thirst and starvation. This man crawls up to me, in fact, and asks for nourishment and water.

In that moment, I could deliver a lecture on the workings of the Krebs citric acid cycle, knowledge of which will be indispensable if he is to understand how the food he will eat—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—will be converted into the adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) that is the primary source of usable energy within the mitochondria of his cells. Or I could discuss how cellular membrane permeability is altered to allow rehydration of the cells and extra-cellular spaces. But would these fascinating discussions give life to the man dying of thirst and lack of food? He would, in fact, be insulted if I offered such explanations. His needs are simple. He wants only to be given food and water, and in that moment he will simply eat and drink. After he is filled and fully recovered, he might be interested in scientific explanations, but certainly not before.

There is a comparison to be made here between food and Real Love. People who have lived all their lives without sufficient Real Love are literally starving to death. Their emotional pain and the urgency of their needs are every bit as real as those of a man dying of physical deprivations. When it comes to our emotional needs, however, we human beings are usually quite clueless. We know how to satisfy the needs of our bodies, but rarely do we have the same wisdom regarding the needs of our souls.

And so it is that even when we’re starving to death emotionally, we do ask for explanations, rather than simply eating the food and drinking the water available to us. To illustrate everything we have been talking about thus far, allow me to tell the story of a highly educated man, Dr. Ben Mitchell, who spoke with me one day about Real Love.

Ben entertained me at length with his knowledge of psychological theories and techniques, and then he requested an explanation of the workings of Real Love. I explained the principles briefly, and he responded with more and more questions. When I told him that in order to actually experience Real Love, it would be absolutely essential for him to tell the truth about himself to people and create opportunities to be unconditionally accepted, he protested that he couldn’t see how an activity as simple as calling people on the phone could ever change his life. He just couldn’t see himself doing that. Of course, he was just afraid, but he couldn’t see that or express it.

I finally said, “Ben, you’ve been living without Real Love for forty-five years. You’ve been unhappy for most of that time—you’ve been empty and afraid and starving to death—and you’ve proven with your own experience that finding love and happiness in your own way is a complete failure. Now I’m describing to you a means for finding Real Love and genuine happiness that I have seen work with amazing consistency, and you want to talk about it, analyze it, and even dispute it. You have every right to do that, but in your condition—starving—wouldn’t it make more sense to just eat?”

“How do I do that?” he asked.

“You could take in what you’re being offered right now,” I said.

“I don’t understand.”

“I’ve just spent the last hour talking to you. In that time you’ve admitted that your marriage is pretty lousy, that you’re not a loving father, that you’ve been relatively unhappy your entire life, and that you’re afraid your whole life has been a failure. Is that fair to say?”

“Well, that’s kind of direct, but yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

“Not exactly a flattering picture of you, would you say?”

“Not when you put it that way, no.”

“And how have I responded to hearing all that?”

“Well, I haven’t really thought about it.”

“No, you haven’t, so you’ve been missing the most important point of our conversation.”

“All your life you’ve had to be successful and please people in order to earn their acceptance, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“And how has that felt?”

“It’s exhausting. I feel pressured and trapped all the time.”

“Not loved?” I asked.

“No.”

“And what about here, right now? What have you done to look successful or please me or otherwise earn my acceptance?”

“Nothing. In fact, I’ve told you the stuff that hasn’t made me look very good.”

“Exactly. And my response? Like you said, you haven’t thought about it, but think about it now. Have I been disappointed—in even the slightest degree—about these many flaws that you’ve admitted? Or critical? Or disgusted?”

“No, not really.”

“So if I haven’t been the least bit disappointed in any way, what’s another word for that?”

“Accepting?”

“So say it in a sentence. How do I feel toward you?”

“This is hard to say.”

“Oh, I understand. It’s one of the most difficult things for any of us to say, especially for men. We can tell other people we care about them, but it’s much harder for us to state that other people care about us. So try it again. How do I feel about you?”

“You accept me.”

“With conditions?”

“No.”

“So put it all together.”

“You accept me unconditionally.”

“Nice. Now that you’ve said it with words, can you feel it?”

“I guess I’m not entirely sure of it.”

“Understandable. As far as I can tell from our conversation, you’ve never experienced unconditional acceptance, so it would be little wonder that you’d doubt it, even when it’s being offered. But as long as you choose to doubt a thing—which is a choice as much as faith is a choice—nobody will ever be able to prove the truth of that thing to you. In every instance, you’ll see the negative in that thing, so no proof will ever count. But look at the evidence so far. Have you seen any reason to suppose that I do not accept you unconditionally?”

“Well, no.”

“Do you pay me for my time?”

“No, which I find fascinating. I’ve never seen a counselor or professional speaker do that before.”

“So can you think of any other reason for my interest in you other than having an unconditional concern for your happiness?”

Ben paused for some time before saying, “No, I really can’t.”

“So you have a choice here. You can doubt that Real Love exists. You can doubt that you’re receiving it right now. You can insist on analyzing it. But if you do all that, your life will stay the same. Or you can just eat. You can partake of the emotional nourishment and healing that only Real Love can provide. Are you willing to do a little experiment with me?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Close your eyes and entertain the possibility that you might have found just a small taste of the unconditional acceptance you’ve been looking for your entire life. Just eat. Give it a shot.”

And then I walked out of the room. When I came back into the room several minutes later, Ben had his eyes open, and he was very sober.

“I don’t understand it completely,” he said, “but I do understand now what you mean by just eat. I realize that while I’ve been here with you—while you’ve been unconditionally accepting me—I have felt more peaceful than I have in a long time. And the more I recognize and accept that, rather than being skeptical about it, the more peaceful I feel.”

In those few moments, Ben took the first few steps toward changing the rest of his life.

Real Love is far more than a concept. It’s a very real power, a power that eliminates emptiness and fear and anger and contention, and it accomplishes these functions with greater effectiveness than any other force in the universe. If you really want to understand Real Love, partake of it. Do whatever you can to create those opportunities to feel the acceptance and love of wise men and women. Enjoy that nourishment at every opportunity, and it will change your life.

The Trap of Being Right

Last night I hosted the weekly video chat on RealLove.com, and I was impressed—as I have been on so many occasions—with the comments of people who have been living the principles of Real Love.

One woman, Allie, talked about how much the relationship with her husband had changed over the last several months. They still argued occasionally, but she was learning to respond differently to him, and it was having a very positive effect on their relationship.

On one recent occasion they said some unpleasant things to each other, and later in the day he sent her an email describing, in Allie’s words, “all the things she had done wrong in all the years they’d been married.” You can easily imagine how much venom he poured into the writing of that message, can’t you?

How many times have we done something like that to another person? How many times have we pounded someone with the mistakes they’ve made, thinking that in the process we might actually change him or her? But did it ever? Can you think of a single occasion where you criticized someone in that manner, and then they responded by changing? Or by thanking you for pointing out their flaws? Did you ever feel closer to someone after attacking them like that?

When Allie read that hateful message, her first inclination was to feel hurt and to defend herself. There certainly seemed to be enough justification for that response. But before she reacted with her first and natural impulse, she called someone who was experienced in Real Love and asked for some advice. The wise woman she called suggested that Allie go through every accusation in her husband’s email and admit to whatever was true about the accusation.

That changed everything. Instead of focusing on how she was right—which would only have made her defensive and angry—she concentrated on admitting how she was wrong, which made her open and humble and teachable. She discovered that there was a significant element of truth in all the accusations. The conflict was over.

In almost every circumstance, we can find ways to justify our being right, but the price is so very high. When we’re right, we’re defensive, angry, hurtful to others, alone, and unhappy, so we have to ask ourselves, Is being right worth the cost? Or can we make another choice? We can shift our focus from ourselves to a concern for others. We can genuinely listen. We can admit that we’re wrong. We can remember that nurturing love is far more important than being right. The rewards of that approach are beyond measure.

About January 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Greg's Real Love Blog in January 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2006 is the previous archive.

February 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.