When the Bee Gees asked in 1977, “How deep is your love, how deep is your love, I really mean to learn”, they probably weren’t seeking this pragmatic response:
“Well, Barry, Robin, Maurice, that’s hard to answer. As the nature of felt love is a subjective experience, my sense of love and depth might completely differ from your perception and may be utterly inadequate for you. Can we have ongoing conversations about this for mutual understanding?”
Judging by the verses of their song, a few Gibb [glib] words about the morning sun, summer breezes, soul-knowing and the world of fools would have sufficed for some momentary reassurance.
It’s a good question, though. In its essence, and not actually prompted by the Bee Gees, it’s an ongoing reflection that has helped me throughout my life in all types of relationships.
Although, this catchy rephrase probably matches my introspections better:
“How self-focused is my love, self-focused is my love, I really mean to observe”.My Mind, since c. 2002 CE
What follows is:
- A sudden, unrelated change in pop-culture references.
- An all-in-one, manicured package of thought processes that help me gain understanding about myself and my relation to other people. In my mind this is much more vague, intuitive, messy and ongoing. I’ve formulated this single thought experiment or meditation (as some may call it) more neatly for external consumption.
- Is neither profound, nor epiphany-provoking. Just something I’ve personally found very useful over time, when used in the moment.
- Is not for study, remembering or memorising.
- Is a practical, specific, replicable exercise in:
- Deliberately shifting your mental focus towards another person’s experience
- Noticing and paying attention to your feelings and thoughts about this person as they happen
- Deriving understanding and self-knowledge from those naturally occurring feelings and thoughts
- Balancing your own subjectivity with more objectivity
- Gaining insight into how much you may or may not value a person separate from yourself
- A process of thinking and questioning without relying on immediate answers or plans of action
- Gaining comfort with nuances and shades of grey, as opposed to all-or-nothing thinking
- A ‘brain embryo’ for your mind to imbibe and grow in whatever appropriation, for your own individual use and conclusions- even if you never consciously recall having read this for the rest of your life.
- Lots of prompt questions, but you can make your own… Phrasing questions for yourself stimulates self-enquiry which generates understanding.
- I personally perceive that this type of processing gives me more agency, growth and choice.
The ‘Truman Love’ Thought Experiment:
Your feelings and attitudes towards and about them
Having noticed all of the above, and remembering their impact on you and what you receive from them is removed from the equation:
- Do you understand and value their unique experiences for their own sake, even when you don’t personally approve of, value or relate to them for yourself? Or not?
- What’s the balance of respect and admiration for their decisions, how they treat people, the values, morals and principles that drive their behaviour (which may contrast to those that they profess)? Is the balance towards or against respect and admiration?
The distinction (or not) between your feelings about them and your self-concerned feelings
Having noticed the nuances of your own feelings and thoughts about their unique self, what does this indicate to you about:
- Your degree of love towards them and for them as an individual separate from what you receive from them and the impact they have on you?
- How much you value their unique, idiosyncratic self, separate from your own personal beliefs, values, judgements, opinions, needs, feelings, desires?
How accepting or not you can be towards them, as they are
Having watched them as a non-participating observer, could you continue to feel and act towards them with:
- Acceptance of their whole selves?
Would this be inclusive of their imperfections, as they stand, even when they might have an impact on you?
The hard, self-revelatory question
Weighing up all of this, are you predominantly loving them and valuing them in balance with what you receive from them (an important half of the equation), or is your love more motivated by what you receive or idealistically want from them?
Are they themselves, as they are, an active choice for you?
Is this whole person and the nature of the relationship you have with them, or are desiring with them something you objectively want to maintain and grow in your life? Or, would you be unlikely to seek their company and get to know them without the motivating feelings you currently associate with them and what they give you?
E.g. Would you be likely to choose them as a close, trusted friend?
More abruptly: do you like them as a person?
Now, what do your own thought processes tell you about yourself?
Your own values?
Your own needs?
Your own preferences?
Your own ability to mentally separate from your feeling-self to value another person’s experience?
How easy or difficult was this for you to imagine?
- What might this indicate to you about how well (or not) you really ‘know’ or understand this person?
- How much attention do or don’t pay to what this person displays of themselves in the way they live and act?
- What might be useful to develop and practice in your empathetic thinking skills?