True love calls us UP
To be thought worthwhile is, I think, of critical importance to a healthy person. Talk of "unconditional" love is also fundamentally important but the idea that someone will love you no matter what kind of person you are has its down side.
To love someone in any deeper, healthier sense, has to mean, at some point, that you want him or her to be better. A love that doesn't seek to draw us up or help to lift us up is missing a vital ingredient. Not to care if your child is a bum at heart, not to care that your beloved is selfish to the core and a user, to say, "I don't care if you care about goodness or not,"—to say or think any of that is pathetic. CS Lewis has somewhere said that we might love someone despite his or her smelling bad or behaving badly but to say we love them because they are or do these things is nonsense. In that case the "lover" is lacking a vital element of what love is really about. In that case the "lover" lacks character for no lover can have character and not want the one they love to have character—character that bears the fruit of kindness, courtesy, moral strength and the like.
So in our relationships—if they're to be really loving—we're to be concerned about character (our own and that of others). If someone says they love me I want them (at least) to have a shot at helping me grow in what's worthwhile, I want them to help me be and feel worthwhile. I want them to help me so that they can admire me in a healthy way and to a healthy degree. I want more than the warm fuzzies toward me. There is in me (and I suppose in every healthy being) the want to be a giver, a contributor as well as a taker and a receiver. To love your kids or others is no small pleasure but to admire and respect them is no trivial experience either. Somewhere in all our "unconditional" love (that we sometimes express in a sickeningly sugary way) we should call for moral development. Commitment to us, despite failure or success, comes first, but if it’s truly commitment to us then it will bring with it the urge to enrich our lives in goodness.
This would have to mean, don't you know, that we will take note of what others have done, we'll pay attention to the contributions they make, contributions that sort of help them to feel they're "paying their way" in life, carrying their share of the load. And when their contributions are never noticed or if noticed, never mentioned, it tends to affect their self-image in a negative way. I don't think we need ceaseless praise and we certainly don't require or earn lavish praise (under normal circumstances) but to have someone indicate at times that we're genuinely contributing is vitally important. To know we're loved despite failures, despite consistent failures is essential to a healthy life but to know that we're meeting to some degree and in some way the fair and measured expectations of others can only be good for us.
It'd be a serious mistake to give people the impression that you only love them because and when they're "useful". It's here that the notion of "unconditional" love (commitment) comes into its own. But I think it's very wrong to give the impression that we expect nothing of them; I think it's very wrong never to speak of what they've contributed to life (to our lives), as if it didn't matter a fig. Whether I behave well or ill, if I'm a degenerate or a saint, if I seek decency and loyalty or eagerly pursue crassly selfish ends—to believe that that makes no difference to those who say they love me, that would be crippling.
So I'd say that it's important that we tell people when they've done well. I say we should (wisely) speak of their failures and their achievements. I say we should let them know that it matters greatly to us that they grow in virtuous ways. As in everything else we can go over the top with this and every little mistake is noted or every little success is praised too lavishly. But it won't hurt a bit to open our mouths and say, "Well done!" And if we think it appropriate, "Very well done!" If we can’t praise as well as receive praise maybe we have a bigger problem than the one we think has a problem.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.