Healthy relationships come with expectations of reciprocity
A new member of our church once came to see me. Seeing that she was quite agitated, I asked her, "What happened? Are you all right?"
She replied, "No, I'm not! That's why I've come to talk to you. I'm not coming to your church ever again! Nobody ever greets me when I come here. What kind of church is this? The members don't have any love for each other."
I asked her, "Do you greet others when you come?"
"Why should I? They should greet me first to make me feel welcome," she argued.
"Others may also think like you," I replied. "They may expect you to greet them first."
My counterargument only made her more agitated. Calling me "biased, unfair and insensitive," she angrily left without even saying goodbye.
She was obviously upset and under stress. But a little rational thinking could have saved her from this.
Let me cite another case to drive my point home. Another church member, a lady, once came to my office in an agitated mood and said, "I told my husband today, 'You don't love me anymore!'"
I said: "Why did you say such a thing? It is quite possible that he still loves you. In that case, won't your words upset him? On the other hand, if he really doesn't love you, isn't he the first to know? Does he need to be told that he doesn't love you? You can't force anyone to love you by demanding love.
"A better method to regain his love would have been to give him more love and care in a manner that he would understand and appreciate. Even animals respond to love; why not a human being?"
We take offense at the slightest provocation. We terminate relationships for flimsy reasons with friends and relatives. At the same time, we nurture hatred and anger for years toward those whom we have shunned. Like smoldering fires, these sustained negative feelings constantly cause us stress and suffering. Our withdrawal from people we don't like shrinks our worlds down to little shells -- self-created prisons. The consequence is terrible loneliness and mental depression.
But we can rescue ourselves by a little rational thinking. It is unrealistic to expect others to always give us what we want from them, such as endless attention, love and appreciation. Relationships between people are a two-way street. People expect reciprocity. To get love and attention, we should learn to give love and attention. Behaving like black holes and expecting attention, love, praise and appreciation from others to continually flow in and never go out is totally unrealistic. Such thinking only invites stress in the form of psychological and physical suffering.
It is helpful to develop a realistic view of the world to avert such consequences. There are two worlds -- the "should be" world and the "as is" world. The "should be" world is the perfect world of our expectations, the utopia of our imagination. Judging by societal conditions, only a world without selfishness can be a truly perfect world. As long as selfishness dwells in our hearts, this ideally perfect "should be" world will never come.
In this less-than-perfect "as is" world where we live, we have to learn to put up with imperfection for our psychological survival. Moreover, the concept of perfection varies from person to person. It is impossible to change the world to make it match our individual ideas of perfection. We have to accept the world as it is.
No one is under our control. All we can do is try to be better ourselves by becoming less selfish and more realistic. The world will become a better place to live in, and we will create a more peaceful, stress-free life for ourselves.
Spiritual guide offers talks on Hindu teachings
Swami Bhaskarananda, president of the Vedanta Society of Western Washington, will give a series of lectures next month based on Hindu teachings.
The free talks will be held at 11 a.m. on four successive Sundays at the Honolulu YWCA, 1040 Richards St., Room 304.
Bhaskarananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, is spiritual guide to the Vedanta Society of Hawaii. He is the author of "Meditation Mind" and "Patanjali's Yoga." His topics will be the following. Call 734-1760 for more information.
» April 6, "Overcoming Stress Through Yoga"
» April 13, "Chasing Elusive Happiness"
» April 20, "The Utility of Being a Fool"
» April 27, "Humility and Saintliness"
Swami Bhaskarananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, is head of the Vedanta Society of Western Washington in Seattle and the spiritual head of the Vedanta societies in Honolulu, Hawaii and Vancouver, Canada. He is founder and editor of the quarterly journal Global Vedanta and author of "The Essentials of Hinduism" and other books.