Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Defining Love

I am taking the time to re-read one of my favorite books, All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. Hooks is a cultural theorist and feminist that questions how love shapes how we treat ourselves and others, as well as how people in society treat others and especially those we claim to 'love'. She intertwines her look at love with not only how we treat ourselves and those we form relationships with (whatever the context) with larger issues of sexism, racism, and homophobia. I find this book truly enlightening and inspirational. I feel as it is a grounding agent, an anchor to remind me of what truly should be sought after and worked for in life. Every so often I feel the need to read this book when I feel like various parts of life are trying to pull me from my intended goals. It reminds me of the power we have not only over ourselves, but in transforming our relationships with others.

In the first chapter "Clarity: Give Love Words," hooks describes the trouble that she has had, as well as many in society, in trying to exactly say what love is. She finds this especially troubling since if most people can not define love, how are they able to clearly know when they are experiencing it, or more so when they are receiving love. She believes that while love is commonly used as a noun, it should be used as a verb. She agrees most with M. Scott Peck's definition from his book, "The Road Less Traveled," in which he describes love as,

...the will to extend one's self
for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual
growth... Love is as love does. Love is an act of will - namely,
both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do
not have to love. We choose to love.

I like this definition of love because it basis love not on only what most people perceive it, as receiving it from others in our lives, but as something we can do to ourselves. As many has heard me say before, I do not believe that one can truly love someone till we love ourselves, flaws and all. This definition of love also lends to the idea that love is an action. Something we ourselves can initiate and attain, not something we must obtain from others. This is powerful because in contrast to believing as many people do, that love includes negative and/or abusive thoughts, actions, and/ or words from others, we can find love that is truly "loving". Someone that encourages who you are, nurtures your soul, and makes you want to be a better person.
I could go on and on about what this means to me and its possibilities for the world, but this is only chapter one. Besides, I would rather leave this posting with an excerpt from Chapter One itself.

So many of us long for love but lack the courage to take risks. Even though we are obsessed with the idea of love, the truth is that most of us live relatively decent, somewhat satisfying lives even if we often feel that love is lacking. In these relationships we share genuine affection and/ or care. For most of us, that feels like enough because it is usually a lot more than we received in our families of origin. Undoubtedly, many of us are more comfortable with the notion that love can mean anything to anybody precisely because when we define it with precision and clarity it brings us face to face with our lacks - with terrible alienation. The truth is, far too many people in our culture do not know what love is. And this not knowing feels like a terrible secret, a lack that we have to cover up.
Had I been given a clear definition of love earlier in my life it would not have taken me so long to become a more loving person. Had I shared with others a common understanding of what it means to love it would have been easier to create love. It is particularly distressing that so many recent books on love continue to insist that definitions of love are unnecessary and meaningless. Or worse, the authors suggest love should mean something different to men that it does to women - that the sexes should respect and adapt to our inability to communicate since we do not share the same language. This type of literature is popular because it does not demand a change in fixed ways of thinking about gender roles, culture or, love.
Rather than sharing strategies that would help us become more loving it actually encourages everyone to adapt to circumstances where love is lacking.

More to come...

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