January 4, 2012

An Argument Against “Love”

Dear Yogis,

Have I missed something or are people pretty unskilled in the art of loving?

Please excuse my outburst.  I’ve just returned from a family holiday, and the experience has gotten me to thinking again about “love.” Do you know what I mean?

I’ve ordinarily found the widely available writing on love profoundly unhelpful, for what I’ve determined to be two main reasons: the genre’s indeterminacy about what kind of love we’re discussing (love, the noun), and the general absence of practical applications (love, the verb).  Imagine picking up Anthony De Mello’s The Way to Love (which has a lot of great wisdom) when trying to understand why a sibling has betrayed you.  Or when you’re witnessing someone you love wreck their own life and alienate everyone around them.   Or when someone allows another to ruin their life, because they “love” them.  What the hell?  These questions seem to be off the basic love roadmap.  Where is the advanced, off-road, real-life-detour map?  Anthony?  Help!?!

In retrospect, I believe that one reason I found some writing on love so disenchanting is because “love” is far too broad a term for all of the feelings that it may encompass, and it is far too broad a term for its application to the numerous people, places, ideas or things in your life that you might happen to “love.”  It seems that, like the Eskimo who supposedly have many, many different words for wide variety of “snow,” so too do we need as many different words for the many different loves that we feel.

In ancient Greece they possessed four different words for “love.”

First there is “agape,” which in modern day Greek means unconditional love.  In ancient Greek it refers to affection and true love, and is also used in ancient texts to appreciate a good meal, one’s children, or feelings for one’s spouse.  This is still pretty erratic and general, don’t you think?  More confusing yet, the word agape is used in the New Testament to mean sacrificial love, and was appropriated by Christians to indicate the unconditional love of God.

Next, ancient Greek offers up “eros,” or passionate love with sensual longing and desire.  BUT!  Wait.  Eros need not be sexual in nature.  It can refer to an intimate love, a love of beauty, and the term “platonic love” sprang from Plato’s exploration of eros in his classic, Symposium, hence becoming understood as an appreciation for the inner beauty in another.

Third, we have “philos.”  Here’s a direct quote from the Wiki:  “Philos means friendship or affectionate love in modern Greek. It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle.  It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers.”

Finally, there is “storge,” which in both ancient and modern Greek means “affection,” like that felt within a family, and “putting up” with people you “love.”

These four words introduce their own triumphs and failings, clarifications and complications, but what is important here is the effort to understand.

This effort is important because how we use and comprehend language is a direct reflection of our understanding of the world.  Pushing the concept one big step further, our words confine or liberate our experience of being alive.  This concept is known of as “linguistic relativity,” a principle that holds that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers are able to conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view.

Therefore, the ways in which the one little word “love” is deployed for various diverse uses actually confuses our ability to love.

One of my close friend’s parents both are in the field of psychology.   Once, when staying over at her home and sleeping in her mother’s home office, I noticed on the wall a colorful wheel.  I looked more closely and saw this, The Feeling Wheel: 

I found this wheel to be very interesting and instructive for understanding shades and relatedness of “families” of emotion.  I translated the feeling wheel idea into a composite list of all the nouns we really posses to express the various shades of “love” and also the verb “love:”

Noun: Deep affection fondness, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, attachment, endearment; devotion, adoration, doting, idolization, worship; passion, ardor, desire, lust, yearning, infatuation, besottedness, liking, of/for, enjoyment of, appreciation of/for, taste for, delight for/in, relish of, passion for, zeal for, appetite for, zest for, enthusiasm for, keenness for, fondness for, soft spot for, weakness for, bent for, proclivity for, inclination for, disposition for, partiality for, predilection for, penchant for, compassion, care, caring, regard, solicitude, concern, friendliness, friendship, kindness, charity, goodwill, sympathy, kindliness, altruism, unselfishness, philanthropy, benevolence, fellow feeling, humanity.

 Verb: care very much for, feel deep affection for, hold very dear, adore, think the world of, be devoted to, dote on, idolize, worship; be in love with, be infatuated with, be smitten with, be besotted with; informal be mad/crazy/nuts/wild about, have a crush on, carry a torch for. like very much, delight in, enjoy greatly, have a passion for, take great pleasure in, derive great pleasure from, relish, savor; have a weakness for, be partial to, have a soft spot for, have a taste for, be taken with; get a kick out of, have a thing about, be mad/crazy/nuts/wild about, be hooked on, get off on.

Wow.  We actually have a surfeit of ways to talk about loving feelings and behaviors.

The Greeks examined love by first considering the various feelings and then applying them to different groups of people.  I suggest going the other way.  First, consider the relationship.  Then, consider the feelings and behaviors you’d like to foster therein.

To help my students and myself clean up our relationship with “love,” I developed a very simple diagnostic tool to help determine one’s understanding of where they are in the quest to become a good “lover” of all people and things.  Behold:  The Wheel of Love.

It is my hope that this simple chart will reveal to you where you excel, and where you could use some study in the art of loving.

Now that we’ve explored some different ways of looking at “love,” let’s test a real-life application.  Imagine for a moment that you have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, who you’ve been going with for quite some time now.  Things start to go awry, and then they continue to go wrong for about a year, and you and your beloved agree to part ways.  When you do, your sibling sides with…drumrolll…your EX.  Not just sides with them, but gives you the cold shoulder and takes up with your ex, going for coffee, and road trips, and all kinds of things that seem perversely out of place for A LOVING FAMILY member.

I’m not sure that the Greek words will help here.  I’m not sure linguistic relativity will either.  I’m not sure that the Feeling Wheel or the Wheel of Love can clarify.  As the authors of A General Theory of Love suggest, the reason there are so many self-help books, and so many people who are still so damaged, is because theories and intellectual understanding actually make no lasting impression on human beings.  Love can only be taught and learned through real, live, loving action.  It’s up to us to find out how to behave lovingly, and to teach other people.

Dear Yogi, may 2012 hold more understanding of love, more true use of the word “love,” thereby expanding our capacity have a loving world-view.  More importantly, may we all learn to love well, receive love well, and thus, through our words and actions, create a better world for all of us to behold.




Photo Credits: Heart: www.deviantart.com; Feeling Wheel: www.wecarewelistenwehelp.com; Wheel of Love: Erica Mather

Read 11 Comments and Reply

Read 11 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Erica Mather  |  Contribution: 2,020