By: Irv Rubin, Ph.D
If your first reaction to seeing that title included thoughts along the line—“You’ve gotta be kidding!” “There must be a typo.” “This I have to see!”— you’d not be alone. How can it be that a human behavior— direct feedback—considered by most to be “hellish” has anything to do with a desire—unconditional love—most human beings see as an unreachable “nirvana?” The fact, as I hope to explain, is that not only does face-to-face feedback have ‘something’ to do with unconditional love it has ‘everything’ to do with it.
Simply put, unconditional love is not an end-state but rather a reward we have the opportunity to experience along a journey we call life. Feedback is the beacon that will keep us on that path…if we so choose.
“Hellish”— A Pretty Strong Word! [See: Rubin, I. What’s In A Word?]
Associating the word “hellish” with the word feedback may be a bit strong…or not. Try thinking of another familiar regularly spoken word [that isn’t blasphmous] that can easily trigger reactions like the following. Sweaty palms. Knots in the pit of the stomach. Anxious increases in heart rate. Mild headaches. Such reactions would be considered ludicrous in response to the mere mention of words like food, water, air, and sunshine. After all, without them, life as we know it would be full of hardship and suffering. Ultimately life itself would cease. In other words, they are essential to our quality of life, to our very survival. As is feedback, which regularly triggers reactions just like that.
Still not sold? Imagine it is Friday afternoon ten minutes before heading home from work for the weekend. An e-mail from your manager pops up on your screen with a Red ! in the subject heading. The message simply reads: “I need to see you Monday morning as soon as you come in. I have some feedback for you.” Have a fun, relaxing, stress-free weekend being fully present with your family!
A far cry from Webster’s two-part definition of what feedback is ‘supposed to mean.’ The first part touches upon such things as “to satisfy; minister to; gratify; supply with nourishment.” The second part touches upon such things as “to support or strengthen by encouragement.”
Nirvana—An “Idealistically” Strong Word?
Perspectives on ‘unconditional love’ are abundant, highly diverse, and widely available. For a smattering of just the plethora of perspectives that goes back to Bible [separate from just Goggling “unconditional love”] try Goggling http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Introduction/uncondit.htm
So the one I’d like to offer is clearly a matter of ‘biased choice.’ Mine is spiritually-based not religiously based. It is a page from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening.
“Unconditional love is not so much about how we receive and endure each other as it is about the deep vow to never, under any conditions, stop bringing the flawed truth of who we are to each other.
Much is said about unconditional love today, and I fear that it has been misconstrued as an extreme form of ‘turning the other cheek,’ which to anyone who has been abused is not good advice. However, this exaggerated passivity is quite different from the unimpeded flow of love that carries who we are.
In truth, unconditional love does not require a passive acceptance of whatever happens in the name of love. Rather, in the real spaces of our daily relationships, it means maintaining a commitment that no condition will keep us from bringing all of who we are to each other honestly.
For example, on any given day, I might be pre-occupied with my own needs, and might overlook or bruise what you need and hurt you. But then you tell me and show me your hurt and I feel bad, and you accept that sometimes I go blind to those around me. But we look deeply on each other, and you accept my flaws, but not my behavior, and I am grateful for the chance to work on myself. Somehow it brings us closer.
Unconditional love is not the hole in us that receives the dirt, but the sun within us that never stops shining.”
The highlighted words/phrases reflect the clear bias in my choice. We are not ‘gods.’ Sometimes we go blind and overlook or bruise each other’s needs. We are, by design, flawed, imperfect human beings. By design because without that fact, we’d never have the opportunity or need to learn acceptance, tolerance, patience, understanding…the foundation of learning to love our selves…itself the prerequisite to loving another. Consequently, progress not perfection is our lot on this journey called life.
How do we deal with this aspect of our lot in life? We “tell” each other and “show” the impact we have had on each other. Honestly. Face to face, not hidden behind anonymous aggregated 360’s. Rising to this challenge will confront us with a pearl of wisdom that reminds us that “Honesty without compassion and understanding is not honesty at all but, rather, it is masked hostility.” [Fransblau] In other words, learning how to provide both ‘praise and or constructive criticism with compassion’ is the key to ensuring that feedback returns to its rightful place in our lives. And compassion starts with and flows from self-acceptance, unconditional self- love. We accept the fact that we were born/created to be flawed but we don’t accept our continuing to exhibit behavior that reflects not loving/caring about the other person…or ourselves.
We seek and use the feedback afforded by an Awareness of our Behavior and its Consequences [See: Rubin and Campbell; The ABCs of Effective Feedback: A Guide For Caring Professionals]
When we return to our ABCs, we will re-discover that feedback is a gift that “satisfies; ministers to; gratifies; supplies us with nourishment” so we can be “supported, strengthened, and be encouraged” in our never-ending search for True North.
We will re-discover that feedback is not “hellish” but rather it has “everything to do” with the “nirvana” we seek on the journey we call life—unconditional love.