Rethinking relationships, pt. 4: Practicing unconditional acceptance
“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 we find in them.” – Thomas Merton
Can you completely accept someone beyond their flaws, opinions, mistakes and differences?
What was your immediate reaction to that question? A resounding yes, a resounding no or a ‘maybe, it depends’? Unconditional acceptance is choosing to be in relationship with someone who you may not agree with, who may have hurt you, who may be different from you and being able to not hold that against them. In spiritual circles, it is referred to as agape love – loving unconditionally.
Conditional vs. unconditional love
Some relationships today are solely based on meeting certain conditions. Contracts protect us legally to ensure that each party understands and performs expectations of each other. Breach of contract is when one party violates or reneges on an aspect of the agreement. In cases like that, there are avenues of recourse to get the other party to comply or give compensation for not living up to the conditions of the arrangement. This is the paradigm to which we are accustomed to operating. To challenge this status quo would make one feel that they are losing, giving up their right and their power. As a result, relationships in every sphere – whether personal or professional – can become conditional. Employers say they will offer benefits, perks and compensation only if employees are loyal or show that they deserve such treatment. Employees say they will work above and beyond if their employers show that they care. Women say they will show affection to their mates if their mates do what they want them to do. A lot of men do their part but choose to suffer in silence, withdraw or seek solace elsewhere instead of challenging what is hurting them and taking a stand for their own truth.
Unconditional acceptance says I understand that the people and circumstances around me are not perfect, but that will not change how I choose to show up in the world or in this relationship. This is easier said than done. Can you give your best when someone isn’t giving their best to you? Can you give your best without expectation of a return? Can you give your best when you don’t like or understand the person you are in relationship with?
The best two examples of this type of love is that of a parent-child relationship and a child’s love. Even though these relationships can be strained and even broken, a parent loves a child despite what the child does. Isn’t it amazing how a parent can be extremely worried about a child who overstays their curfew, and as soon as that child gets home, the parent displays great anger, but inside feels such a sense of relief knowing their child is OK?
Children can be equally as emotionally resilient, especially at a young age. A child will forgive and forget, a child doesn’t see differences, a child will love without
restraint or reservation in spite of how they are treated. Before you get into the argument about what is right or wrong about this view, I invite you to think about this from the standpoint of unconditional acceptance. That is exactly what it is. – accepting and loving, even though it may not be returned.
I see it all the time: children running up to parents with unrestrained excitement and love only to be shouted at, cursed out or pushed away. I watch the child cringe, shrink and even cry, but it is not long after that the child will repeat his or her first action seemingly without any memory of what happened the last time. But, of course, when this pattern is repeated, the child will become conditioned to foster lasting beliefs about giving, showing and receiving love, which means that one should never take advantage of unconditional acceptance. Parties in a relationship should honor and respect the high regard they receive and treat the other in like manner. The test, though, is in not changing your beliefs and behavior if it is not.
“Just As I Am”
This popular hymn of a unlovable sinner coming to a loving savior, “Just As I Am”, is typically sung when inviting people to accept the unconditional love of a god that will receive them without question or judgment, in other words: salvation. This is what I believe every human being desires: to be loved regardless of mistakes, flaws, opinions and differences; to be saved in a world that can be harsh, unsafe, and unforgiving. This is why when this happens, people grow and flourish in a beautiful way.
Rethinking relationships means we must take responsibility for ourselves and what we bring to the relationship; we must be mindful of others and their wants and needs; have conversations that matter; and give and receive unconditional acceptance.
“Truly loving another means letting go of all expectations. It means full acceptance, even celebration of another’s personhood” – Karen Casey
Simmone L. Bowe, MSc, SPHRi, is a seasoned human resource and organization development consultant & trainer, speaker, author, coach, and mentor who focuses on helping business owners, leaders and professionals diagnose their people and performance problems and implement strategic solutions. Do you want to be coached through your next transition for yourself or your company? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.