Feeling Lonely? So many people feel like you do.
Before the social distancing and isolation brought on by Covid-19, there was an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. A recent poll identified three out of every five Americans as suffering from chronic loneliness. Among millennials the percentage is even higher.
With Covid-19 even more Americans feel lonely. It’s not just about being physically alone. It’s a feeling that no one really cares about you. Yes, there is social contact online and by telephone. There is maybe even talking with someone six feet away. But none of this contact is the same as interacting with co-workers or others on site. The deep connection is missing.
Several of the patients in my practice as a clinical psychologist tell me they feel the pain of not being touched physically nor emotionally day after day. They begin to think of themselves as not really mattering to anyone.
Because I am also a psychology professor, I try to give my patients some ways of thinking about being alone that psychologists have found are helpful.
Realize Loneliness Is a Label about Yourself Put on a Feeling
Being alone can create a feeling of emptiness, anxiety, dis-ease. Humans are social animals with a need to bond with others. When this need is not satisfied, there is a feeling of lack. Yet, it is not the lack itself, but the label attached to this lack that creates the pain of loneliness.
In trying to figure out why there is not someone there for you, you might label yourself as not loveable. Or you think that something is wrong with you, which whomever you are with will quickly notice. That lonely feeling, then, comes from thinking of oneself as a loser. And when you label yourself as a loser you lose the motivation to begin or renew a relationship with others. You then isolate even more, creating the very conditions that are distressing you.
Notice and Then Change What You Are Saying to Yourself
If you thought of yourself as loveable you might be more comfortable being alone. And you might also be more willing to seek out opportunities to be with others.
But how do you see yourself as more loveable? First, notice what you are saying to yourself that is not helpful. Are you labeling yourself as flawed and that everyone eventually will see those flaws? That is a sure way to not venture out of your shell. Now change the flawed message to one that is more helpful. Identify some of your attractive qualities and remember these each time you see yourself negatively. In this way, the flaws are balanced out with the attractive qualities.
Reach Out to Others
Now you are ready to connect with others. Yes, you will have to initiate the connection. That can be uncomfortable but, if you are now giving yourself the message that you have some positive qualities to share with others, it might be a little easier to reach out to others.
Yet, another thought might quickly enter your mind and keep you from taking action to connect with others. You might be thinking, “When I’m with others I think they are constantly evaluating me—what I say, how I look, what I do.” That self-talk holds you back so you have to change it into something more helpful.
Challenge that thought by saying “I will focus on the other person instead of focusing on the anxiety I feel when I feel I’m being evaluated.” Focusing on the other person instead of yourself takes the pressure off of what you are feeling.
Let the other person know what you noticed or heard instead of worrying about what you should reply. Stay with this stance. Everyone wants to be acknowledged as noticed and heard. It starts the connection and it deepens it.
Where to Find Others
If you don’t have some friends or relatives that you can reconnect with, try volunteering to help others. Volunteering increases your sense of really mattering to someone, which is the opposite of what you might have been thinking when you were isolating.
Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping. Would it be children, teenagers, adults in special circumstances, senior citizens? Then do an online search for where you might be most needed. The search terms would be the name of your city and the word, “volunteer”. Or, you can make the search more specific, by adding the name of the group you would like to help (e.g. neighbors, homeless, migrants, special needs). VolunteerMatch.com and CreateTheGood.com are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your local community. Not only would you be making a positive change in your community, you would be meeting other people who are also volunteering. And in this time of the Covid-19 crisis, so many people need so much help.
If you want to help but still want to stay home, there are many ways you can volunteer virtually. You won’t have quite the same experience of connection but you are taking the first step in reaching out to others.
Thus, by opening up your mind and focusing on the needs and words of others you will start to recover from loneliness.
“Climate change is a hoax,” my cousin said during a family birthday party. “I saw on Twitter it’s just a way to get people to buy expensive electric cars.” I sighed while thinking, “How can he be so misinformed?” Indeed, what I wanted to say was, “Good grief, social media lies are all you read.”
No doubt my cousin thought the same of me, when I said Republican senators are too afraid of the president to do what’s right. Not wanting to create a scene, we let each other’s statements slide by in icy silence.
As a psychology professor and clinical psychologist in private practice, I know my relationship with my cousin would have improved if we could have discussed those issues in a nonthreatening way. If only.
I’m not alone in my frustration – and my desire for change. A December 2019 poll conducted by Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos showed more than nine out of 10 Americans said it’s time to reduce divisiveness, which they believe is exacerbated by government leaders and social media. People want to stop the animosity and relate to one another again. But how?
Based on my knowledge of psychological research, here are four approaches you can use to overcome divisiveness.
Avoiding interactions with people who have different opinions perpetuates divisiveness. Risk connecting with these people. Relate through activities you enjoy such as volunteering, joining a “Meetup” group or starting a book club. You could even invite people from various backgrounds to a potluck dinner at your home.
What activities like these share is a common goal, which creates a cooperative atmosphere instead of a competitive one. Research demonstrates that contact alone does not ensure cooperative interaction. To truly connect, you both have to demonstrate respect while working on a common goal.
2. Find common ground
It’s important to remember the basic need to feel secure is shared by all people. Focusing on commonalities can lead to a deeper understanding of another person, while focusing on differences will lead to arguments.
An argument involves two people asserting one is right while the other is wrong. But what gets lost in this scenario is the common ground of the problem they both are trying to wrestle with.
Restate the problem. Together, brainstorm all the different ways it might be solved.
For example, a person might say the only way to protect America from terrorism is to sharply limit immigration. Instead of challenging that immigration must be limited, you can restate the problem – then ask if there might be ways to deal with terrorism besides limiting immigration. You might find some solutions you agree upon.
Listen more and talk less. Show the other person you have understood what they said before jumping in with your thoughts.
Everyone wants to be acknowledged as heard. If they are not, they will continue to press their point. So, to stop an argument in its tracks, start listening and reflect back what you’ve heard.
You’ve probably experienced listening for only what you want to hear – and possibly found yourself not listening at all. You may just be waiting to give a knee-jerk reaction to what the other person is saying.
To listen well, you need to first open your ears, eyes and heart. Examine your biases so you can hear without judgment. Suspend your self-interest and stay with what the other person is saying. Then tell that person what you heard.
Showing empathy does not mean you necessarily agree with what the other person is saying. It just means you’re reassuring the other person you have listened before making your own statement.
Now, it’s time for you to share where you’re coming from. Take a deep breath. Cool down and reassess your thoughts so you can give a considered response, instead of a quick reaction. You can disagree without being disrespectful.
Communication using the above process leads to a conversation instead of an argument and builds a more trusting relationship. It takes only one of you to create an empathetic conversation, as empathy begets empathy. The more compassionate understanding you give, the more you get.
4. Learn to critically evaluate media
Don’t passively accept all that you see and hear. There are too many sources of distorted facts, unsupported opinions and outright lies available today. Critically evaluate what is being presented by considering the source and fact-checking the content.
Above all, if the message seems fake, don’t share it. Google has a fact-checking tool, and First Draft News has tools to evaluate false content and the way it is disseminated. You can also consult Full Fact and CUNY’s fact-checking guide. So, when you hear or see someone sharing fake information, don’t challenge it. Instead, show how to fact check the information.
Avoid anger and hate in the content you consume. Evaluate whether it is seeking to pit you against another person or group. Follow media that supports empathy, compassion and understanding. But don’t get lulled into a bubble by reading only content you agree with. Help children and teens, not only to critically evaluate media, but also to become kind and caring toward people who are different from them. Teach tolerance by showing tolerance. Yes, you are only one person trying to create change, but your influence does matter.
As for me, the next time I see my cousin, I plan to listen with empathy; let him know I understand his point of view; and try to identify a common goal around which we can share our perspectives.
(The above article was first posted in The Conversation.)
Our nation is increasingly becoming divided into opposing groups. And these divisions are becoming more and more entrenched. So, why is this occurring?
Similarity Brings Comfort
Psychologists say it is easiest to stick with people who we see as similar to ourselves. It requires more effort to step outside our bubble. So, we tend to associate with people who look or think like ourselves.
We then we take the similarity even one step further by assuming that people who are similar to us on one characteristic are similar to us on many other characteristics. For example, if a person belongs to the same political party or religion that we do, we might think they also like the same activities that we do. Thus, we have a strong tendency to categorize people with a broad brush.
We also want assurances that we will be liked before we attempt to interact with someone else. People who are similar to us tend to be liked by us and tend to like us more so than is the case with dissimilar people. Again, then, we isolate ourselves from the challenge of being with dissimilar people. The process of seeing our group as the best group is known as ingroup bias.
Ingroup Bias is Hardwired
Viewing others in the same way we view ourselves is a function of a part of our brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex. Other parts of our brain also predispose us to ingroup bias.
We see the same behaviors of people not in our group as different from those of people in our group. A group of psychologists presented Democrats and Republicans during the U.S. Presidential election of 2004 with an initial statement (e.g., a politician said they were going to lower taxes) from a presidential candidate of their own or another political group. Participants were subsequently shown a statement which involved an action which contradicted the initial statement (e.g., the politician is now not lowering taxes). Participants perceived less contradiction between the initial statement and the action that contradicted the statement from their own group leader. This biased processing of information from ingroup versus outgroup leaders showed up as activation in certain areas of the brain.
When feeling threatened by an outgroup member, another part of our brain is activated. Australian psychologists asked Non-Muslim participants to decide to either shoot a photograph of a Muslim (outgroup member) or a Non-Muslim (ingroup member) who, in the photograph, was holding a gun. When confronted by the photograph of the outgroup member with a gun and while deciding to shoot the photograph of this member, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex of the Non-Muslim participant was activated. But it was not activated when deciding whether to shoot the photograph of the ingroup member.
Ingroup Bias is Amplified by Social Media
Social media increases our isolation from others. We tend to subscribe to popular media which only confirms our point of view. People outside our group may have a different point of view but we are not exposed to it. And when we are not exposed to outgroup members, our ingroup bias is intensified.
Stereotypes of outgroup members run rampant. We even then begin surmising what other people think. People who dress like Muslims might think like or (gasp) be terrorists. People who are trying to immigrate to the United States might think they can be freeloaders. These stereotypes all come from seeing people outside our group as not only making us uncomfortable but as being a threat.
It is the way we see people not like us that creates fear and hate—not the actual reality. Yes, some people from our group as well as some people outside our group are, at best misinformed, and even terrorists and freeloaders, but most people are not. Yet we continue to have a perception of people not like us in terms of stereotypes.
See Others as Individuals, Not as Members of a Group
To change our perception, we must be exposed to people not like us in positive contexts. We cannot just stay in our safe shell. We have to actively seek out people who are not similar to us. We will then see others as individuals, not just as members of an outgroup.
One way to develop positive images is through travel where we interact with others—this could be travel within or outside the United States. Another way is for positive images and stories about people from groups other than our own to be presented in popular media (social media, television, magazines, newspapers), schools, churches, even stores.
There are many benefits to taking the risk of being with people different from ourselves. One benefit is changing attitudes toward outgroup members. The change in attitudes reduces conflict, which benefits one’s well being as well as society.
Another benefit of interacting with outgroup members is self-expansion. Self-expansion means we develop a wider view of who we are and of what we are able to do. We are motivated to expand ourselves. And one of the best ways to do so is to engage in activities with members of an outgroup. We begin to incorporate some of the positive characteristics and resources of others into our view of our self.
Yes, we need to reach out and speak to people other than ourselves. But, most of all, we need to listen to them.
Aron, A., McLaughlin-Volpe, T., Mashek, D., Lewandowski, G., Wright, S.C. & Aron. E.N. (2004) Including others in the self, European Review of Social Psychology, 15(1), 101-132, DOI: 10.1080/10463280440000008
Domínguez D, J.F., van Nunspeet,F., Gupta, A., Eres, R., Louis, W.R., Decety, J., & Molenberghs, P. (2018). Lateral orbitofrontal cortex activity is modulated by group membership in situations of justified and unjustified violence, Social Neuroscience, 13 (6), 739-755. DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2017.1392342
Hampton, A.J., Fisher Boyd, A.N., & Sprecher, S. (2019). You’re like me and I like you: Mediators of the similarity-liking link assessed before and after a getting-acquainted social interaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36 (7), 2221-2224. DOI:10.1177/0265407518790411
Locke, K.D., Craig, T., Baik, K.D., Gohil, K.(2012). Binds and bounds of communion: effects of interpersonal values on assumed similarity of self and others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 103(5), 879-897.
Molenberghs, P., Louis, W. R. (2018). Insights from fMRI studies into ingroup bias. Frontiers in Psychology, 9 (1868), 1-12. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01868
Paolini, S., Wright, S., Dys-Steenbergen, O., & Favara, I.. (2016). Self‐Expansion and intergroup contact: Expectancies and motives to self‐expand lead to greater interest in outgroup contact and more positive intergroup relations. Journal of Social Issues. 72, 450-471. DOI: 10.1111/josi.12176.
Westen, D., Blagov, P. S., Harenski, K., Kilts, C., and Hamann, S. (2006). Neural bases of motivated reasoning: an fMRI study of emotional constraints on partisan political judgment in the 2004 US presidential election. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 18, 1947–1958. DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2006.18.11.1947Click To Tweet
I was honored to contribute to this article which appeared on Page 5 of the Wellness Section in the Sunday New York Times on October 30th.
Show me, don’t tell me.
JUL 26, 2019
If you want to know why you do the things you do, you might look to your zodiac sign. For intel about your social tendencies, maybe your Myers-Briggs personality. But for understanding what makes you feel special in a relationship? Well, that’s one for love languages.
If you’ve read up on anything related to relationships and romance, like, ever, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages at some point in your research (or, okay, at girls night).
A quick rundown: If compliments make you melt, your love language is probably Words of Affirmation. If you thrive on the thoughtfulness behind a present, Receiving Gifts is yours. Look forward to dinners for two all weeklong? That’s Quality Time. And if you’re all about holding hands or you feel most connected during sex, you speak the language of Physical Touch.
The language that tends to get a bad rap (aside from Receiving Gifts, which isn’t about materialism, btw), however, is Acts of Service. It describes people whose hearts swell at the thought of coming home to dinner on the table with the promise of an empty sink or a foot rub for dessert. If this sounds like you, you feel most loved when people do things for you, not just with you or to you.
But here’s the thing: The Acts of Service language doesn’t make you a high-maintenance or lazy nag. All it means is that, for you, actions truly speak louder than words.
Okay, tell me more—what does ‘Acts of Service’ say about me?
At its core, this language is about demonstrations of love.
Since saying “I love you” doesn’t actually guarantee that the speaker means it, some people respond better to seeing someone show their feelings, says Beverly Palmer, PhD, clinical psychologist, professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and author of Love Demystified.
That’s exactly what makes you respond to this language: If someone can recognize all that you do on your own and wants to step in to help make your life a little easier, that, to you, is real love.
Their actions are actually less about the deed itself and more about showing you that they are on your team.
If your partner goes out of their way to pick your sister up from the airport, or call the realtor so you don’t have to, you hear “I care about you enough to sacrifice my own time for your benefit.” And that’s not something you find every day.
Is Acts of Service ever a bad thing?
Okay, brace yourself: Acts of Service can be a little problematic if you’re not super self-aware.
While every relationship should be about balance, where both partners get their needs equally met, having this particular love language could make you more susceptible to letting expectations get in the way of an otherwise happy and healthy situation. In other words, if you think your partner should be doing X or Y for you, rather than letting them choose how to show their support, you could self-sabotage your bond.
“Unbalanced relationships where one person expects too much and thinks their partner must meet those expectations to prove that they love them” is when things get tricky, Palmer says. No one wants a relationship that comes with a list of chores.
Think about it: At work, you’d be put off by a new employee who feels like they’re entitled to certain things before they’ve even shown their commitment to the company. Similarly, your partner should feel like their demonstrations of love are reciprocated and their choice, at their will—not your demand.
Want a stronger relationship? Steal this couple’s secrets:
Gotcha. So if this is my love language, how do I make a relationship work?
Communication, communication, oh, and um, some more communication.
When acts of service are involved, there’s no room for assumptions, says Palmer. Assuming your S.O. knows which acts of service you value most and expecting them to perform them at all is a surefire way to make your partner feel taken advantage of.
So here’s how to be straightforward without demanding anything in return:
- Clearly tell your partner which acts of service you value.This way they can prioritize those actions, Palmer says. Frame it in a way that explains why their help means something to you, like: “I haven’t been getting much sleep lately—would you mind walking the dog in the morning so I can sleep in a little longer?”
If you have a hard time expressing your needs, talking to a therapist can help you feel more comfortable. Either way, if you prefer to be more subtle, try telling your partner about a time a friend or family member did something for you that meant a lot to you, suggests Palmer.
- Acknowledge what your partner’s doing—say thank you.It sounds duh, but especially in if you’ve been together for a while, you may not notice some of the things they’re doing to show you you’re their #1.
So to ensure they never feel taken for granted, after you talk through which acts of service are major for you, keep an eye out for when they actually do them (or something similar). Say: “Hey, I noticed you picked up the dry-cleaning today while I was stuck at work. I’m going to need those pants this week, so thank you so much for doing that.”
- Learn the ways your partner feels most loved.There’s a chance they “speak” a different love language than you do (they might need touch or feel extra special when you tell them how impressed you are by their brain), so do what you can to suss out their love language. Straight-up talk about it (Palmer promises the convo won’t be awkward as long as you keep things positive), or tune in to what makes them light up day to day.
Once you figure it out, keep that intel top of mind and create opportunities to speak their language (surprise them with a massage, bring home their favorite cookie…you get the idea). Otherwise, you’ll find these acts of service you crave become less and less frequent when your S.O. isn’t feeling the love from you.
- Expect your partner to read your mind.While, yeah, it’s the thought that counts, if certain actions will make you feel especially warm and fuzzy inside, speak up.
- Scoff at no. Remember, acts of service really lose their meaning if they’re not at your partner’s will. So be okay with hearing “Sorry, I can’t right now,” and trust that if they could, they would. If you feel like they’re always turning down your needs, it may be a good opp to visit a couples counselor. Communication is everything, after all.
- Fully rely on your partner to pick up your slack.Even if your partner has your back, keep up with your own responsibilities so they can live their life, too. Dumping your daily tasks on them, Palmer says, is a one-way ticket to Splitsville.
Bottom line: The Acts of Service love language is just as legit as all the others. Don’t let anyone (including yourself) shame you for it.
As long as you’re offering your partner the biggest service of all—speaking their love language in return—go on and enjoy that empty dishwasher, guilt-free.
ARYELLE SICLAIT Assistant EditorAryelle Siclait is an assistant editor at Women’s Health.
You meet someone on line. Then you text. Then you meet for coffee. But why do so many of these possible lovers turn into duds?
Maybe it is because what is presented online is not who the person really is. Or maybe it is because spending so much time with people online leaves no time to build relationship skills.
So, what should you look for offline in a possible partner? And how do you best present yourself offline?
To find the partner you really want, make a list of the qualities of that person that you feel are important for a good relationship. Then prioritize these qualities. The first three priorities will then become what you will look for in online descriptions and what you will try to ascertain during your first offline visit. If one or more of your first three priorities are not listed in that person’s online description, move on. A person who really has those qualities will list them rather than just presenting superficial desirable qualities.
Or, if it seems that none of the online descriptions contains your priorities, you need to move offline. Offline places to meet possible partners are: meetup groups (meetup.com), volunteering sites, universities.
Now you are having that first meeting with a potential partner. How do you present yourself? Do you have the relationship skills to succeed?
Everyone wants someone who is a good listener. Instead of focusing on the anxiety you feel about this first meeting, focus on the other person. Listen to what that person is saying and show you listened by repeating back a snippet of what was said. All you really need to do during the first meeting is listen because listening is the number one relationship skill.
You might also want to assess how good of a listener the other person is. Since two people showing they are really listening to each other could be the start of a loving relationship.
(To find out more ways to meet a potential partner read Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life by Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D.)
“What the world needs now is love …. Not just for some, but for everyone.”
Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote that song in 1965, when the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. Are we at war again now, 53 years later, not overseas, but at home?
Well, we do have a war of words and actions directed at demolishing others. Oh, “others”? Even characterizing another person as “the other” creates division. It becomes all too easy to become divided into camps of “us versus them”. So, let’s try again…we have a war of words and actions that obscures our common humanity.
When our primary source of news switched from newspapers to social media, we entered a “post-truth world” in which people read, listen, and watch what they agree with, not what challenges their preconceptions. Isolation from different points of view, different values, different customs all entrenches us in our preconceptions.
Most of our preconceptions are based on gaining or maintaining power over another group of people. For example, if we read on our social media sites that blue people who come to the United States are free-loaders we will probably not be exposed to news about the blue people who contribute to our society. We then can maintain our previous prejudice and see “them” as not as good as “us”. Furthermore, if we exclude blue people from our social groups, we can associate only with people with the same belief, thereby solidifying our belief.
What, then, might heal these divisions and antipathies?
Love is what the world needs now. But can we love someone who thinks differently, acts differently, and looks different? There is a way to do this and it is called “empathy”.
To have empathy for another person means setting aside our evaluations of that person. Then we actively listen to the other person’s thoughts and feelings and acknowledge we heard them.1 This doesn’t mean we agree with the other person, just that we understand where that person is coming from and tell that person that we do.
When we are viewing another person with empathy, we have momentarily let go of our defenses. And when we acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and feelings it disarms him/her. Defenses are not needed by either party, so better communication and cooperation can emerge.
A loving empathy has been used even to defuse conflict between groups of people.2 The surprising fact is that both parties do not have to show empathy initially. It only takes one person or group to start the process of empathetic communication. And then empathy begets empathy.3
Through empathy, then, we have the power to connect with others at a level that is deeper than attitudes and beliefs. When we truly listen to the other person, we see the other person’s humanity beyond our previous preconceptions. No longer is there a power struggle of us versus them. There are just two human beings willing to listen to each other, heart to heart, without judgment. Then we can connect through acknowledging our common human needs, feelings, and fears.
The empathetic approach to relationships is backed by evidence that it works—it works to neutralize power differences and tensions.4 Empathy is a viable alternative to our present way of seizing and using power. It is a quiet revolution.5
(Notice how old the references below are and, yet, we still have not implemented them throughout our society.)
- Rogers, C. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology 21, 95-103.
- Rogers, C., and Sanford, R. (1987). Reflections on our South African experience. Counseling and Values (Special issue on Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach to peace) 32, 17-20.
- Feshbach, N.D. & Feshbach, S. (1982). Empathy training and the regulation of aggression: Potentialities and limitations. Academic Psychology Bulletin, 4, 399-413.
- Rogers, C. R., and Sanford, R. (1987). Inside the world of the Soviet professional. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 27, 277-304.
- Rogers, C. (1977). On personal power: Inner strength and its revolutionary impact. New York: Delacorte Press.
Our nation is increasingly becoming divided into opposing groups. Yes, most of us have a tendency to feel most comfortable when we associate with people who look or think like ourselves. People who look or think differently than we do, make us uncomfortable. So, we stay away from them and isolate ourselves even further with our own kind.
Our isolation from others is intensified as we subscribe to popular media which confirms our point of view. People outside our group may have a different point of view but we are not exposed to it. Then we begin surmising what other people think. People who dress like Muslims might think like or (gasp) be terrorists. People who are trying to emigrate to the United States might think they can be freeloaders. These stereotypes all come from seeing people outside our group as a threat, which popular media perpetuates.
It is the way we see people not like us that creates fear and hate—not the actual reality. Yes, some people from our group as well as some people outside our group are terrorists and freeloaders, but most people are not. Yet we continue to have a perception of people not like us as a threat.
To change our perception, we must be exposed to people not like us in positive contexts. One way to develop positive images is through travel where we interact with others—this could be travel within or outside the United States. Another way is to view positive images and stories about people from groups other than our own in popular media (social media, television, magazines, newspapers), schools, churches, even stores.
We need to reach out and speak to people other than those in our own group. But, most of all, we need to listen to them.
As the 1965 song reminds us, “what the world needs now is love…not just for some but for everyone.”
The challenge today is to ask ourselves, “Can we show love towards everyone?”
Can you love someone who has beliefs very different from yours, someone who has hurt you, someone who is a stranger? Wholeheartedly answering “yes” is difficult because love seems to be restricted to close relationships. Indeed, we expect romantic partners and family members to love each other. But loving a stranger—that isn’t love.
Is it possible to love someone who is very different from you? Oops, maybe we shouldn’t have put that person into the box of “different”. Even seeing someone as different, and judging that person as “the other” has already put a limit on your ability to love. For loving another means identifying commonalities and recognizing our common humanity. Someone may look, think, or act differently than you do but that person’s feelings are no different from your own. So, a connection can be built by recognizing the feelings that are behind the thoughts and actions. A loving response then lets the other person know you recognize these feelings.
Love that goes beyond close relations to strangers and even to all of humanity means responding with understanding rather than judgment. Seeing another person through your eyes often involves judging that person. Seeing another person through their eyes leads to understanding that person. You begin to feel what the other person is feeling, to have empathy and to tell that person what you are experiencing when you are seeing through their eyes. An empathetic connection is the essence of love and it can be created with anyone.
Let us choose love over fear.