Can you instantly press the right sign to hold the elevator door open when it is about to shut on someone? I rarely can. Does open mean the little triangles point out, away from the center, or in? I think a lot of things in life are like this – signals can be confusing or ambiguous. Our intentions can be perceived as kind or invasive.
I find this confusion with the word love. We are told to love our neighbor as ourselves – the golden rule across all cultures. But some times I find that when someone is showing “love” to me they are really trying to control me. For example: “This is in your best interests. I only want what is best for you.”
One year, on my husband’s 100th birthday, his friends threw a birthday bash to end all birthday bashes. People came from five countries to celebrate his accomplishments at a symposium in his honour.
On the day of the seminar it was cold, blustery, and snowing hard. Even our friends from the Austrian Alps were cold and amazed by the heavy snow. I drove us in my Honda Civic in a blinding snowstorm – no lines on the road, few cars. Reaching the seminar site I inched the car slowly down the ramp to the back parking lot.
“Stop!” my husband commanded, “I’ll walk from here.” I stopped, got out, and walk around the car to take his arm to help him cross the snow packed lane to the shoveled sidewalk. He threw my arm off. Steadily, but slowly, he navigated past the car and arrived unscathed on the sidewalk along which he proceeded to walk briskly! Unaided!
One of the guests came up and upbraided me for being so uncaring of my husband’s well being. Feeling ashamed I could feel the heat of embarrassment on my cold cheeks. Yet, another guest took me aside and complimented me on understanding that my husband wanted to show he was still vigorous, still capable of participating. Walking in unaided helped him to feel this. He was treated respectfully, like a professional, not simpered over as an old man.
So I raise this question – do “loving” actions always respectfully support our friends and family members? Or do we sometimes use “love” as an opportunity to have “power” over them?
When we mistake the love of power for the power of love, we diminish the person we are helping. Most of us want control over our lives and that means our friends may have to stand back and, without interfering, give us the opportunity to fail or succeed.
It is difficult to discern when we are acting out of love as opposed to when we are acting from a need to control.