Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Little Treatise on Tough Love

I'm not sure exactly what tough love is or how it works. To me, it sounds like a euphemism for just saying "no" or "enough" or, at last, often after the fact, establishing a clear boundary. When a higher form of love, not soft but wise and forthright, would have established the boundary in advance of a transgression. Isn't it sort of a psychobabbly way of saying, "I'm fed up" or even "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore"?

Most of what I hear offered and/or defended as "tough love" isn't about love much at all but about being blunt about how so-and-so seems, to the person resorting to "tough love," to mismanage their lives, or worse, seems to have made a mess of it. It's true that sometimes others' messes do step on our toes, but shit happens, messes happen. This is some of the "flow" that we are supposed to be going with when we go with the flow.

It's not that we have to see each incident coming, much less all the accidents waiting to happen, but if we go into every day and every relationship, ever situation reminding ourselves that life is not clean and neat, and it's good to wear protective footwear. I find the use of tough love to be reactionary, not pro-active. At some point practical, perhaps, but not loving.

TLC. Even the sound of those initials sound soothing to us. TLC, tender loving care. But what about this other sort of TL to which so many are prone, especially the parents threatening their young children. TL, tough love. What would the C stand for in Tough Love C? I say Command. Tough Loving Command.

"You mind me!"

"I said 'NOW'"

"You will not..."

"Don't you dare!"

Even the more innocuous but authoritative and demeaning, "Now here's what you should do..."

Therapists and constructive friends know to put many of their thoughts and especially their proposals and advice in the form of a question. Be as tough as you feel is reasonably as long as it's in the form of a question.

"So, what do you think about...?"

"What if you...?"

"What are your choices?"

And the even more neutral, "Hmmm, well, what do you think?"

Yep, we'd get a gold star for being that diplomatic, that nurturing. Meanwhile, too many of us take our bully jabs down the narrow aisles of targeted china shops.

I want to break the words "tough" and "love" apart. Love has a lot more to do with tenderness than it does toughness. Love is about nurturing, and to nurture is pro-active much more than it is reactionary, about being good ourselves, up front, first.

Love is not authoritative. Love asks. Love is always broad. It is not particular. Love is always grand. It is not petty.

Maybe, with friends, bosses, employees, servants and strangers, the bigger adventure is to become pro-active. To be pro-active, leading with clarity and by example, brings the Golden Rule into action: dealing with ourselves and our own boundaries and needs for improvement before setting our sights on others, as we would have them do for themselves before they do unto us.

So I think I'll ask myself how would I most like to become pro-active this week.

It seems to me, a very good and healthy question for all.


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