People sometimes ask me what is the meaning of life. I’ve pondered this question for much of my life and more and more I feel like the answer has to do with love. I think it goes something like this: We exist to love others and to be loved in return, and it is this love which gives life meaning.
Fred Rogers once said, “It all comes down to love. Love or the lack of it.” Isn’t that the truth? Think of all the times that your life was shaped by love or the lack of it.
So, love. All kinds of love. Romantic love, familial love, the love that exists between good friends, the love we extend to strangers… all this love. It gives life meaning. Certainly if it is not the meaning of life then it at least certainly adds meaning to life. It begs the question… why aren’t we better at it? Why don’t we spend more time teaching it?
There are five key ingredients to loving people and loving them well. They are kindness, respect, empathy, compassion, and acceptance. That last one is the hardest, but it also helps to generate unconditional love, which is the greatest love we can give.
Think for a moment about about kindness. This is the low bar of love. Being kind when your aim is to be loving is the very least you can do. Somehow, however, we can sometimes manage to be the least kind to the people we love the most. We use up all our kindness out in the world and then by the time we get home our kindness tanks are on empty. We need to be sure to save some kindness for those who matter most to us.
Respect is a true test of love. You’ve got to give people respect if you love them. This simple fact is sometimes lost on people, but the fact is that a lack of respect can result in some of the greatest injuries in life. This is a big one we need to teach our children – if you want to be loving towards someone be sure to be respectful towards them (even siblings!). A lack of respect always feels like the opposite of love, and respect is always well received.
Empathy is the human trait that is all too often undervalued. Feeling like those who love us truly “get” us is a magical feeling. Empathy is the key that unlocks connection. When we empathize with others it allows us to form deeper and stronger connections that can last a lifetime. Believe it of not, empathy is especially important with young children. We need to remember that we were little once and the world was once big, scary, and often overwhelming. With little ones we need to slow down, be patient, and do our best to empathize with their big feelings.
And this brings us to acceptance. To accept others exactly as they are is powerful and often can even be healing. Every person – universally – does better when they experience acceptance, especially from their immediate family. Love that includes accepting people as they are is the definition of unconstitutional love. This is the greatest kind of love and the love that many people long for. Everyone needs love and acceptance.
So there you have it. Love adds meaning to life. And the better we love people the better off they are. Do your best to love those in your life with kindness, respect, empathy, compassion, and acceptance, and you will be loving them in the best way possible.
Founder, Century of Compassion