The foundation of all our relationships with family and friends is love.
We all know that.
But is love enough to sustain these relationships?
People make friends and then forget about each other. Couples fall in and out of love; they get married, then get divorced. Or in the words of one of my favorite bands Living Color, “love rears its ugly head.”
All this coming and going in and out of relationships, whatever type they may be, is often justified by the belief that we should always act from our emotional self. We should not deny our feelings, but simply do what we feel. This is in stark contrast to the days when we had to be stoic about how we felt and deny our emotions in order to live up to our role in society.
Now is the time for absolute freedom and self-license. We should do what we feel. While I believe that in the past many people did deny their own feelings too much, I also believe that the new “me” philosophy can lead to a lack of loyalty towards others.
When we say we love someone, we mean that we always love them. But sometimes, depending how wrapped up in life we are, we forget how much we love people. In relation to whatever else our emotions are caught up in, our love for others can often be diminished or even forgotten. So when an old friend calls without notice to catch up, the pressing need to go to the gym or mow the lawn may veil the love that one feels for that person. Because we are following our temporary emotions, it can be hard to see our more timeless sentiments.
The thing that is needed here is loyalty. To many, the word “loyalty” denotes forced obligation. However, it is the essential quality of staying true to someone. If we have loyalty to a person, we will give to them no matter what we are going through emotionally at the time. When the friend calls, we will be there for them, in whatever way we can.
Our loyalty is also something that spans across time: past, present and future. When we are caught up in our emotions, we are living in the present, though very unconsciously. We are totally fixated on a transient emotion happening in the present but shortly soon to pass. However, when we have loyalty, we are committed to a person in the present because of our relationship to him or her in the past and our care for their future.
Yes, I should live in the present. But I should also have a direction in life and the people in my life whom I love should be part of that direction. That means that what I do in the present is focused towards that direction. Maybe I don’t feel like meeting a friend who is passing through town but I have the foresight to recognize that my wish to invest in a long term relationship with this person outweighs my apathetic feelings towards them in the present.
We all have a conscience, and we need to live up to it. We need to do what is right, despite how we feel about it. Yes, I may be tired and over-worked, but I need to take the time to visit my sick friend in hospital. Even if I have no over-riding desire to do it, I need to willfully pull my lethargic self out of my own solipsistic world and into the world of inter-connection where we all live together.
Parents will know what I’m talking about here. Does a mother have an over-riding desire to get up repeatedly throughout the night to nurse her baby, night after night? No. Yes, she eternally loves her child. But on an emotional level, she is tired, upset, frustrated and fed up. But because of her conscience and will, she keeps feeding that child. And so the baby makes it to childhood.
To many, this form of love seems stale, dry and cold. It is too devoid of feeling and too wrapped up in obligation and expectations. But I’m not condoning doing things because the other person expects us to or because we are obligated to. Nor am I saying that we have to give more than we have to those we love, or that we should stay in abusive relationships out of a false sense of duty. Not every relationship will last forever. But the relationships we do want to last forever need to be nurtured. In order to see past our temporal self and its passing emotions we need to zoom back and see the past and future: the bigger picture. Then we need to utilize a part of ourselves that can over-ride our present fixation on a passing feeling.
Our friends and family are who we love most. But love, even the purest love, can be sabotaged by transient emotions. And then it can be lost—sometimes forever. Love is too precious for that. It needs to be protected, and sometimes the rational and determined self can provide such protection.
So my advice is: be truly grateful for the loving relationships that have been gifted to us, and stay true to those relationships.
Author: Peter Gyulay
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Hernan Pinera