alain de botton on loving our lovers more like children

alain de botton is one of my favorite contemporary thinkers and his school is life is brilliant. i wish i had started it, haha. maybe i’ll start my own or maybe danielle’s infinite growth platform will turn into something similar.

anyways, krista tippett recently had him on on being. as usual, his thoughts on love blew my mind. the first thought that stuck with me was around 13:00 minutes into the episode.

MR. DE BOTTON: It’s the work of love. But it’s interesting that you mention your children and children generally because I think — it sounds eerie, but I think that one of the most — one of the kindest things that we can do with our lover is to see them as children. And not to infantilize them, but when we’re dealing with children as parents, as adults, we’re incredibly generous in the way we interpret their behavior.

And if a child says — if you walk home, and a child says, “I hate you,” you immediately go, OK, that’s not quite true. Probably they’re tired, they’re hungry, something’s gone wrong, their tooth hurts, something. We’re looking around for a benevolent interpretation that can just shave off some of the more depressing, dispiriting aspects of their behavior. And we do this naturally with children, and yet we do it so seldom with adults. When an adult meets an adult, and they say, “I’ve not had a good day. Leave me alone,” rather than saying, “OK. I’m just going to go behind the facade of this slightly depressing comment…”

MS. TIPPETT: And understand that that’s actually not about me; that’s actually about what’s going on inside them today.

MR. DE BOTTON: Right, exactly. We don’t do that. We take it all completely personally. And so I think the work of love is to try, when we can manage it — we can’t always — to go behind the front of this rather depressing challenging behavior and try and ask where it might’ve come from. Love is doing that work to ask oneself, “Where’s this rather aggressive, pained, noncommunicative, unpleasant behavior come from?” If we can do that, we’re on the road to knowing a little bit about what love really is, I think.

he’s so right. we should totally treat our lovers, even friends, more like children. while that could be condescending, from the way he talks about it, i don’t think it has to be. it’s about shaping our attitude towards the other person.

now that i think about it, this stance could actually be useful in the workplace, too. when things are going wrong, stopping to think about why someone is having a certain way could be a really helpful way to begin the inquiry stage of the problem-solving process.

man, i love that guy’s brain.

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