Unconditional Love: What It Means and 8 Ways to Find It
Unconditional love is a term that most of us don’t frankly understand. We live in a transactional world where people often offer love contingent on certain conditions, not because they genuinely care about those they give it to, but so they get something in return.
What is unconditional love?
The term unconditional love does not mean boundless or limitless love. It means, “I offer to love you freely without constraint.” This means that when we give love, we provide it without expecting anything in return.
Unconditional love isn’t just about love in a romantic relationship and also applies to how we treat people in general. It means loving others through hardships, missteps, and frustrations. It means we see behind others’ idiosyncrasies and imperfections and challenges. And we also expose our own quirks and weaknesses, and flaws.
One of the most meaningful experiences about being intentional with our love is learning to lean into the uncertainty of those challenges by offering empathy, love, and compassion, accepting them for who they are, and moving forward without any attached conditions.
In order to do this, it requires us to realize that the most precious and essential things in life are, by definition, nontransactional. You simply can’t put a price on unconditional love. Although unconditional love does not come easy, it is something that anyone can learn and practice.
To drive home the point, let us now look at the inspirational story of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who, throughout his life, proved that it is possible to love without any condition or boundaries.
Unconditional love in practice — The story of Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in Mvezo, South Africa. His father was a chief and councilor to the village monarch at that time, and that gave Mandela lots of privileges. Unfortunately, his father died when he was nine, and his mom had to send him to live with a family friend. This family that took him in was very kind and raised him like their child, helping him experience love.
In his early twenties, he moved to Johannesburg, where he first encountered the racial discrimination that would later become entrenched in law by the apartheid government. This encounter stirred something deep within him, making him vow to spend his life fighting inequality, injustice, and unfairness for the sake of his people.
In 1939, he began work on a bachelor’s degree, studying at the University of Fort Hare, where he first became involved in a student protest. At the end of his first year, he became involved in a students’ representative council (SRC) boycott against the poor quality of food, for which he was suspended from the university. But that was only the beginning, as his love for people and his fight for their rights continued to drive him to situations where he had to face harsh conditions and suffer personal losses.
With time, he obtained his law degree, and in August 1953, Mandela and his bosom friend, Tambo, opened their own law firm, operating in downtown Johannesburg. It was the only black African-run law firm in the country.
It provided free or affordable representation to black people who defied apartheid laws and often suffered from police brutality. These apartheid laws segregated and relegated black South Africans to the very bottom, denying them many fundamental human rights within the country.
His passion for the people drove him to join the political movement ANC (Action Allied Congress), where he quickly rose to the ranks and led people in the fight against apartheid. This led to his several arrests and imprisonment at different times, including the final one in 1964, which sent him to a maximum-security prison on Robben Island, where he would begin his 27 years of imprisonment.
Mandela was imprisoned in a small damp concrete cell with a straw mat on which to sleep — conditions that ended up exacerbating his tuberculosis. Black prisoners were verbally and physically harassed, assaulted, and tortured by white guards and ate meals consisting of cold porridge and an occasional vegetable or piece of meat. They were forced to wear shorts and sandals, even in winter.
Mandela was subjected to hard labor, spending most of their days breaking rocks into gravel. Then in January 1965. Mandela was reassigned to work in a limestone quarry, where he spent nearly ten hours daily digging out rocks. He was initially not allowed to wear sunglasses, causing the glare from the lime to adversely affect his eyesight.
However, despite his condition, he was still driven by love and passion for his fellow prisoners. Together with some of them, he advocated for improved conditions and rights for all prisoners, regardless of race. He was able to get a few of their requests met. These included securing the right to wear long pants instead of shorts, the right to read and study, the right to play soccer, tennis, and volleyball, and the right to perform music together.
Mandela was denied permission to attend his mother’s funeral in 1968 and one of his sons, who died in a car accident in 1969. Members of his family also weren’t allowed access to him.
Nelson Mandela wasn’t perfect, and he had marital issues. He married three times but was genuine with his love for each wife. During his time in prison, Mandela thrived on the strength and support that Winnie — his second wife — gave him.
From Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island, he regularly communicated with Winnie. In one letter, he wrote: “Whenever I write you, I feel that inside physical warmth, that makes me forget all my problems. I become full of love.” Even in that condition, their love for each other still thrived.
Eventually, calls were made for Mandela’s release, and in February 1990, he was discharged, having spent 27 years in prison. After his release, Mandela helped negotiate an end to apartheid and became the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
Mandela chose not to love only when his opposers were kind or friendly to him. He made a conscious decision to do so despite all the cruel treatments they meted out to him. He faced harsh conditions meant to break his resolve, but Mandela refused to give up his efforts to achieve equality for all people.
As president, he emphasized personal forgiveness, civility, and reconciliation. His vision was one of inclusion and hope: “Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference.” Through his actions, Mandela created an era of hope and inclusion.
Throughout his life, Mandela advocated that love is the best antidote to ending racism. He said, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
He died in 2013 and was celebrated by people worldwide, with the media awash with tributes and reminiscent of the remarkable and exceptional impacts he made during his lifetime.
Mandela is a symbol of the power that one individual has to make a difference and left an enduring legacy through the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela children’s fund, the Institute for Education and Rural Development, and so many more.
Mandela taught the world that his struggle was his people’s, and the struggle of his people was his. But, he opened that struggle and his message to the world by acknowledging that through the unconditional love and humanity in all people, we can achieve lasting peace.
How do you love unconditionally
Sometimes we want to question whether it is even possible to love unconditionally. Times when we want to reciprocate the hurts done to us, allowing ourselves to be conditioned by the current circumstances and situation in those moments. We find ourselves putting provisions on love, connecting it to how others act and whether or not they return the love we give to them.
But what if we looked beyond all these and just loved?
We can discover new and profound ways of loving through the most challenging times, the happiest times, and every single obstacle of life.
If you’ve ever wondered what that kind of love looks like in practice, here are eight ways to improve the capacity to love unconditionally:
1. First, love yourself
It is simply impossible to give what you don’t have. Hence, the ability to love others unconditionally first comes from a place of self-love. When you love and accept yourself, you will be able to extend the same to others. Love simply can’t thrive without self-awareness and self-honesty.
2. Practice forgiveness and acceptance
Nelson Mandela’s suffering at the hands of the apartheid government could have made him vengeful and bitter. But he chose forgiveness and, because of this choice, was able to truly heal from the past hurts and fully express unconditional love.
Now forgiving and accepting doesn’t mean dismissing bad behavior. You can always chastise and correct when you are in a position to. This is an expression of genuine love and concern for the person’s interest.
3. Realize that love is not always easy or comfortable
You can’t love others only when it’s convenient for you. There will be times when it feels difficult to, because of their actions or inactions, but it’s during these moments that you make a conscious decision to love them anyway. Know that love is not about how you feel but what you do and act. When we start loving and treating each other with utmost care and attention, the little things that bother us will become far less overwhelming.
4. Practice Patience
In last week’s blog post, I spoke extensively on the importance of patience in reaching life’s goals. In like manner, by being patient with others, you will be able to understand their situations and respond appropriately instead of reacting rashly to them. So to love people, make sure you are patient with them.
5. Care genuinely and listen without interrupting
When you genuinely care for people and give them the chance to explain themselves without you cutting them off, you will be able to understand them deeply, overlook their shortcomings and love them. Moreso, by doing this, they will feel more open with you and be confident in your love for them.
6. Don’t judge
Judging people based on assumptions about them could cause you to withdraw from expressing love to them. Often, these assumptions might be false and unnecessary. So, ensure you remove all negative biases about people so you can love them for who they are and the better persons they are becoming.
7. Be intentional about showing love to undeserving people.
Make a conscious decision to express love towards people you feel don’t deserve it. These people could include a demanding boss or co-worker, an ungrateful acquaintance, or a disrespectful person you meet on the street. Remember, it is called ‘unconditional’ for a reason, meaning that the people you express it to don’t have to do anything to deserve it from you in the first place. By doing this, you just might be opening their hearts to change for the better.
8. Practice unconditional love every day
When you make it a commitment to express love to people every day, without any condition, you will be building a habit, and it will consistently become easier to generally love people. So, do something special for someone each day, pay for a stranger’s coffee, help an elderly person cross the road, encourage a person down on their luck with your words, and so on.
What is the importance of loving unconditionally?
Can you imagine what the world could become if we stopped looking to get something in return and just genuinely loved without any attached condition? How beautiful would it be if we all just practiced this unconditional love towards one another?
It has been shown that the simple act of loving someone unconditionally may produce positive feelings. As long as you are doing something good to or for someone, you can be assured that you will grow into a much better person in all dimensions of human existence, including spiritually, mentally, and physically.
Loving unconditionally promotes altruism (which refers to helpful actions taken to support and benefit others, often at one’s own expense), and this altruism has a ripple effect on the world as a whole, making it a much better place for all to co-exist in.
In a nutshell, the importance of unconditional love can not be completely quantified, as a straightforward act of love and kindness could have a ripple effect that will extend far into the future. So, think of all the possible good things that can happen in life, and know that they all start from the place of unconditional love.
You control what love you give and how you give it
You may be wondering if it is worth it to give love to people who may never reciprocate it. You may ask, what if they don’t appreciate or care? Well, what if they do? Even if they don’t, remember that it is unconditional. It is to be given simply because of you and not what you aim to get.
At the end of the day, the only thing you can control is your response. Your response in any given situation is absolutely a choice. Someone may wrong you, and you decide to turn the other cheek. That doesn’t make you weak but makes you a strong person with incredible self-control. Now, this doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be taken for granted or abused by anyone, for there could be times when you need to take a stand against wrong and fight the wrongdoer to protect yourself.
My point is that you should discern every situation you find yourself in and let your actions be driven by love for what is good. Then, you can express unconditional love for everyone around you.
Love even when it is challenging.
Love when your mind tells you that you shouldn’t.
Love by looking beyond people’s imperfections, shortcomings, and whatever pain and hardships life may bring.
This unconditional love can change someone else’s life completely when we give it.
By expressing this love, your relationships with your spouse, kids, siblings, parents, friends, colleagues, and even strangers will be at their best, and this will spread until we have a world wrapped up in unconditional love!
This article is based on an episode of Passion Struck with John R. Miles. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform.
- Read my recent article on why the real prisons exist in the mind and what we believe.
- Are you having trouble prioritizing yourself? I discuss where you invest your love; you invest your life in Episode 104
- I explain why materialism is impacting your success and happiness in episode 96.
- Do you know the science of healthy habits? I explore this in-depth in Episode 108.
- Suppose you missed my interview with Jen Bricker-Bauer on Everything is Possible. Don’t panic! You can catch up by downloading it here.
- How do you strengthen your relationship with your best self? Explore episode 110.
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