Friday, April 24, 2015

Love That is Not Love

"Bathed in Light"
- in my meditation garden -

This morning I came across an interesting if not disturbing article in the New York Times observing  how family life and child-rearing in contemporary Western culture has adopted an ethic of meritocracy rather than being guided by a generous ethic of love. 

The article suggests that,  what appears to be parental expressions of love for their kids may not be love at all. Many families today (especially middle class families) live under the umbrella of a  "culture of meritocracy." Parents spend a great deal of time nowadays, much more than in the past,  investing in their children's skills, always working at building up their kids' resumes even from a very early age. 

The article suggests:

Parents steer their children toward  behavior they think will lead to achievement. 
Parents glow with extra fervor when the child studies hard, practices hard 
wins first place, gets into a prestigious college. 

This sort of love is merit-based, it is meritocratic affection
 It is not simply: 'I love you.'
It is, 'I love you when you stay on my balance beam.' 
I shower you with praise and care when you're on my beam

These parents unconsciously regard their children as some sort of art project, 
insisting their kids go to college and have good jobs 
that will give the parents status and pleasure,
that will validate their effectiveness as moms and dads.

As I reflect on this rather troubling article, it dawns on me that it is rather easy for narcissism to be disguised as love. If an act of kindness or generosity done on behalf of another is done out of self interest (I treat you this way because of what I can ultimately gain from doing so) that is not love at all even it may look like love. 

After all, by definition "love" is a gift, love is "grace" - something done on behalf of another, done  for another's good. 

Thomas Merton once observed:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves
and not to twist them to fit our own image.
Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves in them. 

It seems to me that if children grow up in a culture of meritocracy they come to believe that the only way to be loved, the only path to self-worth, is by meeting the expectations and demands others place on them.  

I think a lot of people today suffer from living in a culture of meritocracy - so many people seem to be always performing to win the esteem of others, never or rarely having ever experienced the life giving energy that genuine love can offer. 

It makes me wonder if some people really have not known "love" at all but only that which is disguised as love.

As the sun rises on my desert garden it bathes everything in its light - the tenderly beautiful flowers, the hard-skinned, thorny ridden cacti; it even bathes me in the bounty of its brightness. It is a beautiful icon to me of the nature of genuine love that shines on every part of who we are, showering everything in its light -the good, the bad, the beautiful and ugly, the fruitful and the barren, the successful and the imperfect. 

It is only when we are bathed in genuine love that we can feel utterly honest and totally accepted come what may. 

"God" is "Love," and where there is true Love, there is God. 

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  1. Merton's thoughts are spot on. I have to say this I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family. But I never knew what it was to be loved as Merton describes until I met up with and fell in love with a woman who thinks 'God' is a lot of foolishness.

    Having known her for over a decade now I have seen her struggle, seen her fear, seen her crying for her children and through it all I have seen the kind of love Merton talks about and which was totally absent in the family in which I was raised.

    1. Love often shows up in the least expected places

  2. The best kind of love......but people sometimes don't know how to accept it. But when they figure it all out....WOW