Love (not romantic here) can “reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and may even improve our cardiovascular health” (health benefits of love). It is the lifeblood of relationships–family, friends, romantic, and otherwise. It is also spiritual command for people of faith (“Love your neighbor as yourself.”) Love, in simple terms, is a big part of what makes people human. The fact that someone loved us during our developmental years is a big reason why we possess human attributes like empathy, compassion, and the ability to choose good over evil (for more on that, see agape love). And yet love is a big challenge for everyone, given our biological limitations and the fallible world we live in. It tends to be a lot easier to love people emotionally close to us—but what about people who’ve damaged us in some way–whether that’s friends, family, our parents, or enemies? Or people whose actions toward others we find distasteful?
There are a number of strategies people employ to grow in love–commit loving acts; meditate on love; practice forgiveness, gratitude, and so on. Today, I’ve transcribed a clip that talks about growing in understanding. The author argues that we tend to be more understanding of the faults of children. We realize that when children act out, it’s always for a reason. The same, the author argues, is true of adults. While adults are responsible moral agents–and there is no excuse for people’s bad behavior–there is always a reason why. Unpacking that reason by practicing understanding can help to create emotional distance between people and their undesirable actions. Practicing understanding can take away some of the shock value and disgust we feel toward them. Practicing understanding, in other words, can make it a lot easier to love.
The author mentions that people’s experiences are what ultimately lead them down a path of good or evil. This is generally the case. As a person of faith, however, I also believe that evil is something that has a root in every human being; it can’t simply be reduced to negative life experiences. Negative experiences certainly seem to grow the root of evil in a lot of people, but something more fundamental to human nature is also at work. That said, understanding people’s biography can be a huge aid in this process.
Check out the video and transcript below!
With adults, on the other hand, confronted by nasty or terrible behavior, our thoughts do not, for understandable reasons, generally turn to imagining why it might have occurred. We are satisfied with nimble and compressed reasons–“Because they are an asshole.” “Because they’re crazy.” This will do for now. And, yet, it is always open to us to wonder why someone acted as they did. And here we are liable to stumble on an always provocative, and properly revolutionary, idea. The reason why little children and big people do wrong is, despite the differences in age and size, exactly the same.The School Of Life
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13
For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.
Perhaps the finest way to develop a loving attitude toward other people is to recall, in the face of their difficulty, that we are, in the end, all children. The claim is an odd one. Adults are clearly not children. They have powers of reasoning that quite outstrip those of younger people. They have options, and a sound grasp of right and wrong. They are capable of causing serious damage. They should know better.
Children, on the other hand, are well known for their powers to melt our hearts. Partly, this has to do with their physical appearance. With their unusually large eyes, their full cheeks, their unthreatening status, their tiny, fat fleshy fingers. But, ultimately, the child attracts our tenderness because when they act in bad or tricky ways, it tends to be easy to work out why they have done so. They hit their little sister because they were feeling left out. They started to steal things from other children because their parents were going through a divorce. They ran away from the party without saying goodbye, because they were panicked by a sense of unworthiness.
Overall, when it comes to the psychology of children, we discover a surprising and hugely gentle truth: that badness, and difficulty, is invariably the result of some form of pain, discomfort, hurt, or wound. The child does not start by being dreadful. They become so in response to injury, fear, or sorrow.
With adults, on the other hand, confronted by nasty or terrible behavior, our thoughts do not, for understandable reasons, generally turn to imagining why it might have occurred. We are satisfied with nimble and compressed reasons–“Because they are an asshole.” “Because they’re crazy.” This will do for now. And, yet, it is always open to us to wonder why someone acted as they did. And here we are liable to stumble on an always provocative, and properly revolutionary, idea. The reason why little children and big people do wrong is, despite the differences in age and size, exactly the same.
One category may be no bigger than a chair. The other can be gigantic, and able to carry guns, post lengthy screeds online, or start and bankrupt companies, but, in the end, the psychology of blunder, meanness, and anger is always the same. Evil is a consequence of injury. The big person did not start off evil. Their difficult sides were not hard-wired from the start. They grew toward malice on account of some form of wound waiting to be discovered.
It is the work of extraordinary patience and humanity. It is the work of love to go and search what these wounds might be. To search is morally frightening because we too easily imagine that it might require us to wind up thinking well of behavior we know is abhorrent. It doesn’t at all. We can remain appalled while simultaneously tracing a path back to the true catalytic factors.
The work can also be practically frightening because we imagine that it might require us to leave someone at liberty to cause us and others more pain. But, again, we can keep the wrongdoer safely behind very high bars, even as we sensitively explore of their violations. Once the full stories of our trespasses become known, our perspective may swiftly rework itself.
The bully who pursued us online once worked as a porter, then [was] fired some years back, [fell] into a depression, and was facing the bankruptcy courts. The angry, populist politician was remorselessly belittled by a powerful father. The sexually compulsive person used their addiction to calm themselves down from some unmasterable anxieties related to early emotional neglect. Our judgment on behavior never has to change. Our sense of why it occurred can be transformed.
The discipline of psychotherapy has been central in helping us to chart the sometimes unobvious, or contrary, connections between a symptom and its genesis. Boastfulness may have its roots in fear. Anger can mask terror. Hatred can be a defense against love. The haughty air of the grown-up can take hold as a way of compensating for invisibility. A satirical manner can be a shield against an exiled longing for sweetness.
The prison system in most countries tend to place people below the age of 18 in separate young-offenders institutions, which treat inmates with a degree of kindness and hope, in order to delve into the psychology of transgression, with a view to understanding and overcoming its causes. But after this age, for the most part, prisoners are lost up in bare cells, and the key is metaphorically thrown away. They should, after all, have known better. And, yet, we are all, as it were, young offenders, however old we might actually be. In other words, we all need our crimes to be treated with a degree of sympathy and empathetic investigation. . .