Life isn't transactional.
There are 3 pillars for any relationship - Love, Trust and Respect. Yes, love is in all relationships! The other 2 might readily be understood and love might stand out! "Do I love my colleagues? I like them, and is that love?" Yes, like IS a subset of love!
"I will love you if you will love me back" is a transaction! It's a simple quid pro quo, an exchange! In the context of "love," it could even be considered immoral if the exchange was of a certain nature.
"I will love you if you are lovable!" This is transactional and also an abdication of responsibility for one's actions. "I will respect you if you respect me back," "I will respect you if you are respect-worthy," are very similar. Control of one's thinking, feeling, and behaving given away to others.
In such cases, my actions are made dependent on others' behaviour. That's the biggest problem I can create for me. Much bigger than anything others can create for me.
And so, what is the appropriate approach?
Love, Trust and Respect are based on experiences & expectations
Love, Trust and Respect are based on one's experiences and expectations in life. The socio-economic-cultural-geographical ethos in which they grow up in has a very big role to play in this. Expectations are formed based on experiences of the past. Remember that even this moment that elapsed as you read that last word is now in the past. Gautama Buddha says, in THE DHAMMAPADA: “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.”
All experiences are stored in our memory banks and have the emotions associated with those memories linked to them. Emotion can also be described as "energy in motion." So, an emotion is a physical sensation felt in the body and has an associated biochemical environment within.
Every time we relive a memory, we attempt to recreate the same biochemical environment within. And every time we access a memory, we change it to suit our internal narrative, thereby also changing the biochemical environment each time. Emotions routinely are "glossed over" every time they are accessed. The more times we access a memory, the farther it moves from what it really was! This is what neuroscience research has established! And yes, the changing of the internal narrative associated with the memory - more on that later, in another post.
In that backdrop, what is "Love?" It is simply how one feels when they are with, or think about, another. More often than not, it is a pleasurable feeling - else we will not want to have more of it. Similarly with Respect and Trust. Respect makes us feel worthy. Trust removes fear (which is a primal emotion.) When I am with someone I love, respect and trust - I am feeling good, worthy and safe. It is as simple as that. And since those are all useful for me, I yearn for Love, Respect and Trust.
So, how does one make use of all this to make their own life better?
Unconditional Love, Respect and Trust is Practical and possible!
Knowing that my expectations come from my experiences and internalisations, I will use them for the greatest good of all. For my part, I will do everything to make others feel happy, good about themselves and safe - that is what Love (like), Respect and Trust are all about. Starting with the ones who are closest makes it easy to practice. And so, I love, respect and trust others, because that's about me. I will not wait for them to be lovable, or respectable, or trustworthy. And over time, and with practice, I will love, respect and trust everyone.
And I do that whether they reciprocate or not! Because I know that their expectations come from their experiences and their internalisations. And the least I can do, without being condescending or feeling superior (which will defeat the respect part) is to love, respect and trust them as they are..Because that reflects MY values and is entirely dependent on me.
This is not to say that one ought to allow others to take undue advantage. One needs to protect oneself while adhering to their own principles. All the time, loving, respecting and trusting others appropriately. At a philosophical level, it is best to practice unconditional love, respect and trust - and yes, that might be a little too radical for many.
Even without the philosophical colouring, you might consider this message totally impractical. Instead, thinking, "I think, for me, that's highly idealistic, utopian and impractical" is probably what it should be. You will agree that it's not impossible. For example, climbing Mount Everest is extremely difficult, NOT impossible if you decide to and make the effort required to prepare and persevere to achieve. As Roger Bannister proved by breaking the 4 minute mile barrier, it's considered impossible until someone does. And then an imaginary block is removed for everyone.
Would you want to follow the many such souls who've demonstrated that it is possible to live with utmost love, trust and respect for all others, regardless of others' behaviour and still take care of themselves? Remember whether you think it's possible or not, you're right! Choose wisely. It's your life and you can decide your destiny by your choices. So be willing to practice unconditional love, respect and trust - you will benefit the most.