I joined Facebook dating recently, and as I must admit, I only have a vague idea how people date these days and what is the current perception of love.
I am a bit lost when it comes to articulating my own view on this subject.
But as I often use writing as a way of discovering what I actually think, I decided to write a short article on below as shared by my friends at Elephant Journal:
What’s the best, least cliché, most down-to-earth advice you’ve ever been given about love—the advice that freed you from an emotionally unavailable asshat or sent you running straight into the arms of your maybe soul mate?
“Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.” ~ J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)
I don’t think I can recall a specific advice, but I’ve recently finished a book by Mark Manson, Everything is F*cked (A Book About Hope), and one of the most beautiful things mentioned in the book is this:
“The problem with hope is that it is fundamentally transactional—it is a bargain between one’s current actions for some imagined, pleasant future. Don’t eat this, and you’ll go to heaven. Don’t kill that person, or you’ll get in trouble. Work hard and save your money, because that will make you happy. To transcend the transactional realm of hope, one must act unconditionally. You must love someone without expecting anything in return; otherwise it’s not truly love. You must respect someone without expecting anything in return; otherwise you don’t truly respect him. You must speak honestly without expecting a pat on the back or a high-five or a gold star next to your name; otherwise you aren’t truly being honest.”
Kant summed up these unconditional acts with one simple principle: you must treat humanity never merely as a means, but always as an end itself.
So if I want to translate the above into an advice on love, it could read something like this:
If you decide to love someone, or something, do it for the love itself and not for anything else.
For example, if I love a girl, I’ll buy her flowers because I love her, not because I might get sex for it. The only problem is that it’s incredibly hard to teach our minds to do things this way, as there’s always some kind of expectation beyond the original intention of doing something for love itself.
But I guess that advice could continue with “as best as we can.” It might require practice to live and act this way, always treat people as “end” and not as “means to an end,” but that’s probably the best one can do, whilst we all battle with our egocentric ways of being.
Because as long as there’s a chance of the other person giving us something back in return, we’d always slip into “means to an end” way of being. I’ll scratch your back if you scratched mine, which perhaps isn’t absolutely terrible way of treating others, but it isn’t exactly love per se. It sounds like some kind of contract, and I’m convinced that love isn’t contractual.
And this is the bit I struggle with when it comes to dating. It seems awkward to start a conversation with this theory with someone I just met and started talking to. It sounds like too much. It looks like that there’s a lot of demand for something “casual” amongst the people on dating sites, and to love unconditionally isn’t exactly casual, is it?
But if I was to take side with Mark Mason or a typical person on a dating site when it comes to choosing the way to how one can find the deepest experience with love, I’d put my bet on Mark and Immanuel Kant and his idea of one treating people as an end, opposed to a means of satisfying my own egocentric desires.
“It’s good to make your spouse happy sometimes! But if I treat my wife as a means to the end of sex, then I am now treating her merely as a means, and as Kant would argue, that is some shade of wrong.
Similarly, lying is wrong because you are misleading another person’s conscious behavior in order to achieve your own goal. You are treating that person as a means to your own end. Cheating is unethical for a similar reason. You are violating the expectations of other rational and sentient beings for your own personal aims. You are treating everyone else who is taking the same test or following the same rules as a means to your own personal end. Violence, same deal: you are treating another person as a means to some greater political or personal end. Bad, reader. Bad!
Kant’s Formula of Humanity doesn’t only describe our moral intuition into what’s wrong; it also explains the adult virtues, those actions and behaviors that are good for their own sake. Honesty is good in and of itself because it’s the only form of communication that doesn’t treat people merely as a means. Courage is good in and of itself because to fail to act is to treat either yourself or others as a means to the end of quelling your fear. Humility is good in and of itself because to fall into blind certainty is to treat others as a means to your own ends.
If there were ever to be a single rule to describe all desirable human behavior, the Formula of Humanity would probably be it. But here’s the beautiful thing: unlike other moral systems or codes, the Formula of Humanity does not rely on hope. There’s no great system to force onto the world, no faith-based supernatural beliefs to protect from doubt or lack of evidence.
The Formula of Humanity is merely a principle. It doesn’t project some future utopia. It doesn’t lament some hellish past. No one is better or worse or more righteous than anyone else. All that matters is that conscious will is respected and protected. End of story.”
And personally, I must agree. I have not heard better advice on love or treating people than this. The success might look differently on different days; as like I said, our ego is likely to step in and create a narrative revolving around some kind of means within each action we take toward other beings, but if we just try to be aware of this possibility, we might recognise that our actions were hijacked by ego and take necessary corrections.
And even if we allow ourselves to add some personal gain into what we do, no one can judge us too harshly, as abandoning of ego is a herculean task that perhaps only giants amongst us will manage in their lifetime. Still worth trying.