This is likely to either be a wake-up call or something to be ignored altogether. I imagine this is weighed against our sense of pride because a criticism of our human nature tends to be inflammatory to our personal feelings. There is no intention to do harm- only an attempt to bring betterment to your life. This is something that I personally weigh with extreme importance- it is part ethics, part social criticism.
Love (in its most basic form) is a behavior that we both learn and know from instinct. We build attractions and relationships from birth with those who are close based upon a need of security and comfort, similar in the methods witnessed in connections between dogs and their owners (not so much cats and their owners; their relationship is not affected by the security of the cat). Young children are uncomfortable and display stress and anxiety when the parents are not around, as do our security-attached pets. As we grow older, we stray less from this egocentric attachment into genuine affection. We may love our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, in an uncanny sense that we often cannot replicate with others until we’re able to build bridges of trust. This love can be lost with parents who treat their children poorly or when abuse is brought into the family frame.
As humans mature, they develop and almost as if at the turn of a key, a new part of our personality is unlocked. We begin to desire attachment in a way that is more than simple presence and security. We seek to be united with another individual (or in the stark reality of human nature: multiple individuals). This desire is separate from the camaraderie we feel with our friends, or the sense of ‘home’ and duty we feel with our family. We seek to go out and not only woo over someone, but also to physically connect with them.
Lastly, and because this affection has no specific time at which we develop it (some don’t ‘develop’ it at all), we seek justice, rightness, and goodwill towards others. The selfless and sacrificial love we hold towards the ‘others’ in our society and the ones we hold close. We may even seek to understand the others and ourselves as part of our positive affection to the ones we love.
I’ve presented four different types of affection (familial, brotherly, romantic, and selfless A) for which we only have one word: love. Somewhere in the mess of our cultures in the last age (~2,160 years) we lost our ability to philologically discriminate B between the two. We love our brothers and friends in a different way, yet we “love” them both. We may love the others around us, but we do not “love” them the same way we love our mates. In English (God knows I don’t know how other languages account for affection) there is only one word, which I’ve used fairly frequently so far.
Yet, as ambiguous as affection is in a lexicographic sense, its perception in our cultures have become horribly damaged. I want to discuss two “corruptions” (for lack of a better word) of Love in our current cultures. The first is when we “love” someone or something but instead of having affection we have only desire. The second is when we “love” someone or something and are careless to its actual state of being, as long as some personal understanding of their state is met. The first form happens most frequently in relationships while the second happens most in the parent-child relationship, or relationships where there is a duty involved. I will not say that one is worse than the other; both do immense damage, especially to the object of the ‘affection’.
This happens mostly in the romantic relationships and thus it runs rampant and is common enough that I see the concept of mutual infatuation as being acceptable as love itself. Let me very clear: infatuation is not love. In my entire time in ethics and philosophy, I have rarely spoken about identity ethics: the ethics that involves how we view others and ourselves, and the statuses of each, accordingly. This is one of those moments where I will break my silence and maintain this adamantly.
People are not objects. They are not things to be conquered, to be used, to be abused, and to be dehumanized. The weight of a relationship cannot be in sex. It is not acceptable to treat your loved one as an object of pleasure. People are so much more than that. Pornography, treating sex as a goal (and thus your mate as an end to a means), and treating sexuality/attraction as the main component in a relationship is the easiest way to destroy everything good and honest in a relationship. If you love someone, it should not be because you can “profit” off of them. I have seen this happen and it ticks me off. I hate seeing the friends I love mistreat each other and watch them get dehumanized by their partner. C It doesn’t matter if you and your mate agree to something. Mutual dehumanization is doubly worse. It is degradation and destruction of human identity and value, and the entire relationship goes down with it.
I must be very clear about this: Kindness is not bad. It truly isn’t. But how kindness is defined is something I must make clear. Here’s a quote from C.S. Lewis:
There is kindness in Love but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness… …is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. …Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. 1
Kindness may be a good trait to those who are unknown to us and persons we’re not invested in. We may seek to make others happy, but carelessness can place happiness far above their well-being. Lewis provides a different understanding in place of love:
It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. D, 2
This kindness is one we often overlook in our daily lives. How often do we confuse this kindness to our friends with our general and caring affection for them? Is it possible that we see the others around us in a matter of tolerance and profit? Economists often state that people do things based off of incentives, and those drive human behavior, but I have to disagree. How else would concepts like altruism, selflessness, and love even come around or even begin to be imagined? Are you even prepared to view your “loved ones” through the lens of “love” instead of “kindness”?
This “kindness” in its above sense is something that I witness as being paired with infatuation. It generates a tolerance in relationships that is balanced with personal gain. Often times, I hear the following dialog in conversations “Well, does he make you happy?” “Yeah, I guess. So it’s not as bad as it could be.” I can easily imagine relationships as being something better and deeper where such dialog doesn’t need to happen. The friendly “kindness” displayed there between the friends shows the unwillingness to get into the grit of the relationship of their friend and their partner.
Love is not passive. Love is an active force that drives one and another to the mutual construction and reparation of one another. It does not cease for ‘what is,’ it longs for what can be.
I think I will wrap this up with Lewis’ representation of Love, as I think it is a fairly good note to end on and to think about:
…Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved;… …Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all the infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal… 3
A – Greek: Storge, philia, eros, and agape; respectively. (Spellings vary, I know.)
B – In the words original sense: to tell the difference between things
C – Yes, you are witnessing my anger.
D – I can also say I’d rather suffer than watch the ones I love be happy in “contemptible or estranging modes.” (Watching others do exactly that is a source of depression and sadness for me. It produces suffering of its own kind.)
E – “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’ We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities – no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack. What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.” 4
Lewis notes, and I must too, that instances where we ask God (or our loved ones) not to intercede to our betterment, we are really asking to be loved less so that we may be ‘happier.’ (Although, in potential, less happy than what could be.)
1 – Lewis, C. S. “Divine Goodness.” The Problem of Pain. 1st ed. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2001. 32. Print.
2 – Ibid., 32-33
3 – Ibid., 38-39
4 –Ibid., 40-41