Perhaps we should consider those people who seem to live their lives in an apparently altruistic manner, dedicating themselves to conservation, charity, public service, learning, research, and so on. Could this be an illustration of the unconditional love that many of us hope to discover? Of course, the most important factor is not what these people actually do, but the reasons why they do it. If their conduct is truly altruistic, then that must mean that their key motivation is to work for the benefit of others, an outlook which clearly suggests a certain lack of concern for the various personal rewards which may be collected while fulfilling these particular roles.
This description would seem to open up the possibility of anyone living their life in an altruistic manner. In other words, anyone can choose to move in this direction if they so wish, regardless of their social position or status. Whether they benefit others on a large scale or a small scale really does not matter, only that this is their prime motivation as they engage in their various activities. Clearly, very few people are truly advanced in this respect, except only those rare individuals who are able to approach all people with the same generous attitude. Kindness and generosity of spirit will distinguish such a person, qualities that each one of us should certainly be striving to attain in ever larger measure.
You can not, therefore, identify the genuinely altruistic person by simply looking at the type of position that someone holds. Even though their work may appear to have great benefits for the community, their involvement may be based on large selfish considerations. Their principal motivation may be something other than the benefit of others, for example, the pursuit of power, or praise, or even, possibly, an escape from serious personal troubles. Conversely, the person who holds no position of note may be very advanced in this regard, even though their efforts may be entirely unnoticed.
This analysis looks to suggest that each one of us has the potential to move towards that unconditional love in our life. Two elements seem to play a major role in this process: understanding and forgiveness. Starting with ourselves, we need to become more detached and impartial, qualities that will allow us to see ourselves as we really are, while avoiding the great sense of disappointment that this process often brings. We should not judge the qualities which we ignore, simply acknowledge them, accepting that they are a natural product of the various experiences which have come our way in our lifetime. The unconditional love that we seek must start with ourselves. If we can not accept ourselves, we will hardly be able to accept anyone else.
The truth is, most people carry a pretty distorted view of themselves, refusing to acknowledge those qualities which they find regrettable. The reason for this is quite simple. From a very early age we feel a very natural need to feel good about ourselves, a requirement which is absolutely critical to our healthy development. We need to feel that we are good, that we are valued, that we are loved. We then look to all those around us to see whether this is the case or not, taking note of the many positive and negative reactions which constantly come our way. In other words, how we actually feel about ourselves is completely out of our control, entirely dependent on the various fragments of feedback that we receive from others.
Those who experience rejection, who are attacked for their faults and weaknesses, who are detained for their failures, tend to become victims of anxiety, and are forced to adopt a wide variety of coping mechanisms. The pain which they naturally feel is frequently repressed, placed somewhere in the background of their mind, allowing them to carry on as if unaffected. The anger that usually results may then be displaced, shifted to someone or something other than the original cause, a process which is likely to produce even more negative feedback. The guilt of having behaved badly is then repressed, and so on. Untitled, these painful feelings may stay with us through our entire lives, affecting all our relationships with others, and preventing us from realizing our highest potential as a human being.
There are many people, however, who have no personal knowledge of the problems just described. This can be illustrated by using the fictitious example of one very lucky young boy. He was brought up in a good home, where there was no serious conflict and he was treated with love and kindness. Every single day he received a generous amount of positive attention from at least one loving adult, allowing him to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence which would prepare him well for school.
Being a happy child, with good social skills, school proved to be a very enjoyable experience. He was able to concentrate on his various activities, his behavior was under control and he was very popular with his classmates and teachers. He performed very well, was praised for his talents and conduct, and continued to receive excellent support at home. Not surprisingly, he was very successful and many qualifications were gained.
He made friends easily, pursued a successful career, settled down in a stable and loving relationship, and so on. Naturally, he felt good about himself and the life he was building. He had no inner conflicts, no repressed memories, due to the fact that life had treated him so incredibly well. He had a calm, relaxed manner and could not remember the last time that he was angry. What a volunteer fellow he clearly was! Although this may all sound very ideal to most people, there are many people in our society, both male and female, who would have little problem identifying with the essence of the story just presented.
Does this mean that he had attained that unconditional love in his life? No, it certainly does not. Given that there had been such a steady abundance of good fortune in his life, we simply do not know how he would react to the kind of severe setback that seems to happen to so many of us. The serious consequences of failure, rejection and guilt remained a complete mystery to him, something that he could not really relate to since they were completely outside his realm of experience. His excellent background meant that he had not yet encountered the darker side of his own nature, a potential which still lay dormant within him, resulting in a self-knowledge which was clearly only partially developed.
The main danger that this situation presents is the problem of pride. When we feel good about ourselves based on our qualities, abilities and achievements, there is a strong probability that we will have little understanding for those of apparently lesser ability and character. We will judge them by our own standards and values, making no effort to consider the defect reasons for their less admirable conduct. It is only when we are willing to take the necessary time to understand that we are all essentially the same, each with the potential for good or evil, that the problem of pride can gradually be overcome.