02 Apr Dependency | Part B’
One of the aspects of dependency is that it is unconcerned with spiritual growth. Dependent people are interested in their own nourishment, but no more; they desire filling, they desire to be happy; they don’t desire to grow, nor are they willing to tolerate the unhappiness, the loneliness and suffering involved in growth. Neither do dependent people care about the spiritual growth of the other, the object of their dependency; they care only that the other is there to satisfy them. Dependency is but one of the forms of behavior to which we incorrectly apply the word “love” when concern for spiritual evolution is absent. We will now consider other such forms, and we hope to demonstrate again that love is never nurturance or cathexis without regard to spiritual growth.
We frequently speak of people loving inanimate objects or activities. Thus we say, “He loves money” or “He loves power” or “He loves to garden” or “He loves to play golf.” Certainly an individual may extend himself or herself much beyond ordinary personal limits, working sixty, seventy, eighty hours a week to amass wealth or power. Yet despite the extent of one’s fortune or influence, all this work and accumulation may not be self-enlarging at all. Indeed, we may often say about a self-made tycoon, “He’s a small person, mean and petty.” While we may talk about how much this person loves money or power, we frequently do not perceive him as a loving person. Why is this so? It is because wealth or power have become for such people ends in themselves rather than means to a spiritual goal. The only true end of love is spiritual growth or human evolution.
Hobbies are self-nurturing activities. In loving ourselvesthat is, nurturing ourselves for the purpose of spiritual growth – w e need to provide ourselves with all kinds of things that are not directly spiritual. To nourish the spirit the body must also be nourished. We need food and shelter. No matter how dedicated we are to spiritual development, we also need rest and relaxation, exercise and distraction. Saints must sleep and even prophets must play. Thus hobbies may be a means through which we love ourselves. But if a hobby becomes an end in itself, then it becomes a substitute for rather than a means to self-development. Sometimes it is precisely because they are substitutes for self-development that hobbies are so popular. On golf courses, for instance, one may find some aging men and women whose chief remaining goal in life is to knock a few more strokes off their game. This dedicated effort to improve their skill serves to give them a sense of progress in life and thereby assists them in ignoring the reality that they have actually stopped progressing, having given up the effort to improve themselves as human beings. If they loved themselves more they would not allow themselves to passionately settle for such a shallow goal and narrow future.
On the other hand, power and money may be means to a loving goal. A person may, for instance, suffer a career in politics for the primary purpose of utilizing political power for the betterment of the human race. Or some people may yearn for riches, not for money’s sake but in order to send their children to college or provide themselves with the freedom and time for study and reflection which are necessary for their own spiritual growth. It is not power or money that such people love; it is humanity.
Among the things that I am saying here and throughout this section of the book is that our use of the word “love” is so generalized and unspecific as to severely interfere with our understanding of love. I have no great expectation that the language will change in this respect. Yet as long as we continue to use the word “love” to describe our relationship with anything that is important to us, anything we cathect, without regard for the quality of that relationship, we will continue to have difficulty discerning the difference between the wise and the foolish, the good and the bad, the noble and the ignoble.
Using our more specific definition, it is clear, for instance, that we can love only human beings. For, as we generally conceive of things, it is only human beings who possess a spirit capable of substantial growth.
Consider the matter of pets. We “love” the family dog. We feed it and bathe it, pet it and cuddle it, discipline it and play with it. When it is sick we may drop everything and rush it to the veterinarian. When it runs away or dies we may be grief-stricken. Indeed, for some lonely people without children, their pets may become the sole reason for their existence. If this is not love, then what is? But let us examine the differences between our relationship with a pet and that with another human being. First of all, the extent of our communication with our pets is extremely limited in comparison with the extent to which we may communicate with other humans if we work at it. We do not know what our pets are thinking. This lack of knowledge allows us to project onto our pets our own thoughts and feelings, and thereby to feel an emotional closeness with them which may not correspond to reality at all. Second, we find our pets satisfactory only insofar as their wills coincide with ours. This is the basis on which we generally select our pets, and if their wills begin to diverge significantly from our own, we get rid of them. We don’t keep pets around very long when they protest or fight back against us. The only school to which we send our pets for the development of their minds or spirits is obedience school. Yet it is possible for us to desire that other humans develop a “will of their own”; indeed, it is this desire for the differentiation of the other that is one of the characteristics of genuine love. Finally, in our relationship with pets we seek to foster their dependency. We do not want them to grow up and leave home. We want them to stay put, to lie dependably near the hearth. It is their attachment to us rather than their independence from us that we value in our pets.
This matter of the “love” of pets is of immense import because many, many people are capable of “loving” only pets and incapable of genuinely loving other human beings. Large numbers of American soldiers had idyllic marriages to German, Italian or Japanese “war brides” with whom they could not verbally communicate. But when their brides learned English, the marriages began to fall apart. The servicemen could then no longer project upon their wives their own thoughts, feelings, desires and goals and feel the same sense of closeness one feels with a pet. Instead, as their wives learned English, the men began to realize that these women had ideas, opinions and aims different from their own. As this happened, love began to grow for some; for most, perhaps, it ceased. The liberated woman is right to beware of the man who affectionately calls her his “pet.” He may indeed be an individual whose affection is dependent upon her being a pet, who lacks the capacity to respect her strength, independence and individuality
Probably the most saddening example of this phenomenon is the very large number of women who are capable of “loving” their children only as infants. Such women can be found everywhere. They may be ideal mothers until their children reach the age of two-infinitely tender, joyously breast-feeding, cuddling and playing with their babies, consistently affectionate, totally dedicated to their nurture, and blissfully happy in their motherhood. Then, almost over-night, the picture changes. As soon as a child begins to assert its own will-to disobey, to whine, to refuse to play, to occasionally reject being cuddled, to attach itself to other people, to move out into the world a little bit on its own-the mother’s love ceases. She loses interest in the child, decathects it, perceives it only as a nuisance. At the same time she will often feel an almost overpowering need to be pregnant again, to have another infant, another pet. Usually she will succeed, and the cycle is repeated. If not, she may be seen avidly seeking to baby-sit for the infant children of neighbors while almost totally ignoring the pleas of her own older child or children for attention. For her children the “terrible twos” are not only the end of their infancy, they are also the end of the experience of being loved by mother. The pain and deprivation they experience are obvious to all except their mother, busy with her new infant. The effect of this experience is usually evidenced as the children grow to adulthood in a depressive and/or passive dependent personality pattern.
The road less treveled