Do you remember the fairy tale about the frog and the princess? A beautiful princess loses her favorite play thing, a dazzling golden globe, in a pond. A frog ends up finding it and bringing it back to her. Delighted and grateful, she promises the frog that it can come to her palace (never thinking it will take her up on the offer). The frog shows up later, much to her dismay and disgust. But feeling convicted of her need to be true to her word, she lets him enter, feeds him every day, and puts him to sleep every night in her bed. And then one morning, feeling sorry for it, she plants a gentle kiss on its head. Suddenly, the frog turns into a handsome prince … and in true fairy tale fashion, they live happily ever after.
This simple story reveals the deep psychological connection between our attitudes toward people and their capacity for transformation. As one author says, “Only what you have not given is lacking in any situation.” A counter-intuitive concept, isn’t it.
As it turns out in the tale, the frog had once been a prince but had come under the evil spell of a wicked witch. She had turned him into a frog to live in a pond forever or at least until someone kissed him again. Sounds like the story of the Beauty and the Beast. An act you would least think of doing or even want to do is the act that brings transformation.
Our Typical Approach: the Blame Game
The author’s statement is unusual to how we typically think. We often look at others (the people in our lives closest to us, especially) and think that the way they’re choosing to behave is creating the lack in our relationship. “If she or he would just act this way or that way, we’d have a great relationship.” Our focus is on wishing for something different from them. So we’ll cajole, criticize, guilt, shame, or “encourage” a change in their behavior. It’s the typical blame game.
But the quotation above states a counter-intuitive reality: what is lacking in any situation is what WE are not giving to it. That’s not to say that the other person doesn’t have responsibility for their behavior and actions in how they are contributing to either pain or joy, peace or conflict. They do have responsibility. But you and I cannot force their responsibility. And our delusion is in thinking we can “help” them change their ways. And as we often discover, unfortunately that only exacerbates the issues, certainly our own personal frustration and pain.
3 Principles for Healthy Relationships
Years ago I read Cecil Osborne’s book “The Art of Understanding Your Mate” in which he points out that there are 3 primary principles in developing healthy, fulfilling relationships: 1. I cannot change other people; 2. I can only change myself; 3. But other people tend to change in response to my change.
Sounds like the fairy tale. As much as the princess shrank in disgust from housing the ugly frog, it was only when she softened her heart toward it and then ended up kissing it, that the frog was transformed back into what it had originally been created–a handsome prince. There was no amount of arguing, cajoling, guilting, shaming, forcing, criticizing she could do to change that frog. She had to change her attitude first.
So you and I have to ask ourselves the questions, “What is lacking in this relationship? What am I not giving that I can give to it from a place of authentic heart and soul?”
Loving First Is the Highest Way
Marianne Williamson, in her book “The Return to Love,” states this reality: “What this signifies is the miraculous power of love to create a context in which people naturally blossom into their highest potential. Neither nagging, trying to get people to change, criticizing, or fixing can do that. The Course says we think we’re going to understand people in order to figure out whether or not they’re worthy of our love, but that actually, until we love them, we can never understand them. What is not loved is not understood.”
In the fairy tale, the princess doesn’t suddenly know the trick for transformation. She isn’t aware a handsome prince is hiding inside the skin of an ugly, warty frog. She doesn’t therefore simply grit her teeth and force herself to endure the gross act of kissing the ugly thing. She comes to a place where her heart softens to a frog not a prince. And she ends up kissing the frog in an act of gentle acceptance. When her heart was in a place of “pure love” her act brought transformation.
Now let’s be honest: I don’t think the princess ever really enjoyed having the cold, damp, warty frog sleeping in her bed or eating at the table right beside her in the royal dining room. We don’t have to like the difficult characteristics of the people in our lives. And in some cases, their dysfunctions might be so dangerous for us we have to separate from them for safety’s sake. We can’t hold ourselves responsible for their irresponsible attitudes and behaviors. Sometimes, no amount of personal change can change the other.
But the principle is true: what is not loved is not understood; and accurately understanding the other is the foundation for compassion, empathy, and respect which all combine to reinforce a space of love which is the only environment in which genuine transformation can take place. Without that love and understanding, we hold ourselves separate from people and wait for them to earn our love or we resort to trying to force their change through whatever devious or not so subtle ways we can think up.
Accessing the Divine Miracle
So Marianne continues: “But people deserve our love because of what God created them to be. As long as we’re waiting for them to be anything better, we will constantly be disappointed. But when we choose to join with them, through approval and unconditional love, the miracle kicks in for both parties. This is the primary key, the ultimate miracle, in relationships.” (p-129-130)
Our attitude toward people powerfully impacts their capacity for transformation. The rub is that they have the ultimate choice (the whole freedom thing) for what they want to do with it. And painfully, sometimes they choose not to respond in kind to our love. But if transformation is going to happen, it will happen through our choice to love first.
But Frogs Are Disgusting!
The whole thought of kissing a frog is pretty disgusting. I grew up in the rice paddies of Japan spearing frogs for entertainment, not kissing them (I’m ashamed to admit … I’m still not sure where that behavior came from … the tendency toward violence of little boys is scary). We were told that if you even handled frogs you would get their worts. The whole point is that we were instilled with the attitude that you simply stay away from or certainly don’t get close to, much less handle frogs.
No wonder this fairy tale points to such a counter-intuitive experience that we don’t have much proclivity toward. We carry this “hold at arm’s distance” philosophy into our human relationships. Relating to The Other (those who are different from us, who don’t act or believe like us) is extremely difficult. So we tend to insist on the other “changing” first – we want them to change to become more like us in order for us to accept them and love them and embrace them.
We see this paradigm manifested in attitudes toward people of other religions and belief systems, sexual orientations, political parties, racial profiles, and yes, even in our closest relationships in marriage, romance, and friendships. No wonder our world is in such a mess!
Following the Divine Way
I’m reminded of the divine example for how this works. The disciple always considered closest to Jesus writes about it this way:
“10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a way to show His divine love in the midst of our waywardness. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” 1 John 4
The divine way is “kissing the frog” when it’s still a frog. Notice the radical, countercultural dimension of this approach: it’s when we love each other in this way that the fullest expression of God is experienced in both the giver and the receiver. It is the only way that the full expression of divine love is grown in us which results in transformation. God knows that. So God acts first. And the frog turns back into the prince. That’s the divine miracle we receive and we pass on.
I know I can be such a frog at times! I’m painfully aware of many of my warts–I am awakening to more and more. Thank God my wife keeps kissing me! My princehood is awakening. The miracle continues … and it empowers a desire for me to do the same with others. Imagine a whole world where love keeps awakening everyone to their true royalty! Now that’s a world I want to live in.