We are often told that we are expected to love others unconditionally. Understood properly, it is a good and charitable approach to our relationships with God and man. But what does it really mean? How are we expected to use such a doctrine in our daily lives?
For starters, it surely means that we are to love everyone without reservation. We are called to love everyone as though they were ourselves, to paraphrase a great moral teacher. It is a difficult ideal; loving our enemies is not easy, and sometimes loving our friends and family is a challenge that can be much harder. Still, we are expected to overcome this obstacle, and find a way to open our hearts to all.
But there is a great misunderstanding about unconditional love, an error in its application which is at least arguably worse than failing to love generally everyone around us. Many people believe that unconditional love means loving others up to and including their faults. We are, according to this, meant to love others including their faults, and indeed often embracing them.
This cannot be a good and true interpretation of the standard. It cannot be a useful approach towards dealing with others. We can accept that we must love racists and sexists and criminals; but to love their faults? This is insanity on its face. Do we not want to see people become better people? Do we not want to see our children grow into mature adults? Then we should be instructing and cajoling and beseeching those around us, as they should towards us, to do better than they do, and to be better than they are, no matter how they may happen to feel about this or that issue they find themselves battling.
When our children become drug addicts or alcoholics, we do what we can to change them. When our neighbors rob and injure others, we enforce laws to stop them. We can and should still love them, but that does not mean we are obliged to tolerate their errant thoughts and actions.
It is more correct to say that unconditional love calls us to love those around us despite their faults. Because real love does not embrace error. It understands it as a part of us which ought to be altered, and wants to see us move away from the lesser aspects of our being and into better men, women, and children. If it does not want that, it is not love. It is then something which facilitates bad behavior; it is in fact a cancer of character.