If unconditional positive regard is the answer, what’s the question?
First, let’s look at “unconditional positive regard.”
When someone (say myself) engages in less than socially acceptable behavior (something that might be considered by some to be mean, and I say some, because we human beings have different views on what it is to be mean or nice or funny or socially acceptable), how do I accept myself (or the other) just as I am (or they are)?
And by the way, “they” and “I” are more or less the same thing, but that’s not where I’m going just now.
Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist, inspired the philosophy of the school where I teach, and unconditional positive regard is the cornerstone of our work with children. It’s also the cornerstone of mindfulness practice.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
This sounds so freaking simple, and it can be so hard. Make no mistake: this is why it’s called the warrior’s path. It requires bravery to look honestly at ourselves and find acceptance for all parts of ourselves, including the unacceptable (unacceptable being a standard set by conditioning/society but one we buy into, because it just feels so true). And sometimes, it is true. We don’t always act kind or loving or we hold back our feelings one moment and scream at someone the next. We’re grumpy—about everything. We don’t wanna talk about it. And the more we judge ourselves or feel judged, the deeper we go into the very thing we wish we could change.
“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.” —Carl Rogers, Way of Being
Oh yes! Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for the reminder. My 15-year-old, who only cares about music and friends and is so so tired of the bullshit that is high school right now, is unfolding. How beautifully human is that! Unconditional positive regard — he’s lovely beyond words and I find myself frustrated sometimes by his common retort, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care.” He’s figuring it out. Same thing goes for the 15-year-old who lives in me, who lives in you. We’re figuring it out. How beautiful. What raw, potent energy.
This morning as the officer who gave me a parking ticket was driving off, I cursed him that 100 parking-ticket-like annoyances would befall him today. I was really really mad. And for a moment, that made me feel better.
Then a voice came in and said, “That was a bit harsh. His job probably sucks, people cursing him all day long….”
Then I felt bad, followed by more madness. “I was picking my kids for school; there was no place else to park; the street cleaner had already passed. He could have gotten curious or asked me to move along. Asshole. What is this world coming to?!”
It was unconditional positive regard that brought me relief. “You are so mad right now! You cursed him with 100-parking-ticket-like annoyances in one day. Hilarious. Nice work.”
I start to smile to myself. I feel a little better. I stop judging my mad feelings. No one is hurt by them. I feel good enough to crank up a sassy song on my car stereo and sing along top volume. By the time I get to work, I can laugh when I tell the story of my parking ticket.
“A person is a fluid process, not a fixed and static entity; a flowing river of change, not a block of solid material; a continually changing constellation of potentialities, not a fixed quantity of traits.” —Carl Rogers
Yep, my cells are always changing, turning over, renewing. I am new in every moment. It’s my thoughts that keep me trapped in this loop of thinking things always stay the same. And I am the boss of my thoughts. My madness in this moment may be long gone by the time we talk again. I may love that officer who gave me a ticket. Maybe. You never know what’s going to happen next.
What if tonight when you get home, you greet whomever it is you greet when you get home, as though it’s for the first time. No matter how you left them earlier that day, what would that be like? What potentialities might unfold?
These can be some of the questions, if unconditional positive regard is the answer. You can come up with your own questions too. And share them in the comments!
“This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-fainthearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life. Yet the deeply exciting thing about human beings is that when the individual is inwardly free, he chooses as the good life this process of becoming.” —Carl Rogers
As always, I encourage you to play and have fun with these ideas. Getting all heavy about doing it right or wrong defeats the purpose of doing it at all. Better off taking a nap.
So that’s it. Play, have some fun. Practice some unconditional positive regard with yourself and if all else fails, take a nap!
Hugs to you all. Would love to hear what this stirs up for you.