The older I get, the more I wonder if we really know what love is. Philosophical questions such as “what is love” are entirely too complex for us to tackle in a single blog post, or even in one lifetime. But I think there are some characteristics of love that most, if not all people, can agree with. For instance, we want those we love to prosper and be their best selves. We want them to succeed in all aspects of live. Our definition of success varies based on life experience and personal values, but we also know that no one can succeed if they aren’t doing things the right way.
However, if we want people to succeed, why aren’t we giving them the tools needed to improve their lives? How often have you witnessed someone engage in self-destructive behavior and wondered why none of their loved ones intervened? Societal changes have fostered an environment that has eroded the sense of personal responsibility. We have been so busy coddling each other over the last century that we have swung the pendulum so far from being supporters into being full blown enablers. Our definition of love now includes accepting and defending pathological behavior that is harmful to everyone, including the perpetrators and the enablers.
The worst example I have of to illustrate this concept is a 60-year old woman I know who works a menial job, and has done so her entire life, who cashed out her 401k early (subjecting her to all kinds of absurd penalties) to pay for an attorney for her son for 1000th time in his life.
We aren’t talking about a mother’s love for a child whose life was unexpectedly ruined by an unfortunate brush with the law. This is a career criminal with a mile-long rap sheet at the state and federal level, who once again, for the umpteenth time since he was 15 was arrested for criminal activity.
Some people reading this might say “mother’s love”. My response to that will be a list of all the ways she has over-extended herself to repeatedly buy his freedom over the years: getting a 2nd job, getting a loan, tapping into the equity of her house, cashing out her 401k.
Her unwillingness to say no to him and demand that he do better has only destroyed his life but hers as well. It all goes back to loving yourself and setting adequate boundaries knowing that you cannot offer what you do not have. And sometimes, divesting from what does not benefit you may require you divest from a relative. Even if it is your own child. Because there is a point in your child’s life where they become responsible for their actions and their own well-being. You have the right to prevent them from becoming parasites who threaten your very existence. Allowing that is against basic human survival instinct.
This behavior may be fine for someone with deep pockets like the mother of Affluenza Kid, but it doesn’t work so well for low and middle income Average Janes.
This is why, no matter what your definition of love is, you can’t know how to love someone else until you learn to love yourself.