“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
As soon as I wrote the word “love” in the title of this post I had a vision of 80% of my readers rolling their eyes and thinking, “great… here comes another post about love“. For some reason love is not a very cool thing these days. But I don’t care. I’m not all that cool anyway. In this post I want to talk about how we have lost touch with the art of love and why we desperately need to get it back.
Love is not romance or sex
Before I get in to the juice of this post I need to define some terms. Love is not romance. It is not sex. Actually, I should say that it is not just sex. It is so much more than that. This is one of the reasons that we have lost touch with love because we really have no idea what it is. If you walked up to 100 people on the street and asked what love is I think most of them would talk about being “in love”. That is nice. It is romantic. But, honestly, it is selling love short. Because love is so much more than that.
Let’s take a look at few more encompassing ideas about what love really is:
The Buddhist version of love
In Buddhism love is not romantic at all. It is not about starry nights and sunsets on the beach. Nope. It really isn’t. In Buddhism love is defined as “the wish for all beings to be happy“. It is the other side of compassion which is defined as “the wish for all beings to be free from suffering”. It is the very heart and soul of Buddhism because without love for other beings you have no chance of progressing along the path to enlightenment.
The Buddhist idea of love is an excellent one because it is both personal and impartial. What it teaches you to do is take the feelings you have for your friends and family and expand them out to all sentient beings. Your love is no longer reserved just for your wife and kids; you give it to everyone. Why? Because other people are someone’s daughter or son or brother or sister too. And because you know what it feels like to love your own son or daughter you know that it must be important to others as well. Buddhist love is wanting others to be happy.
The Ancient Greek version of love
One thing that is really limited about the word “love” is that it is only one word. We have one four letter word to describe tens of different emotions and feelings. The Ancient Greeks were on to this and as such they had several different words for love so as to not dilute the meanings.
Philia is a term developed by Aristotle and is a love towards friends and family, co workers and other members of the community. This type of love is about a mutual dependence – we love each other because it benefits us both. Storge is the natural affection that a mother feels for her baby. Eros is the word used for romantic love and xenia is the greek idea of love between a host and his guest where the guest repays the host’s kindness with nothing but gratitude.
The theistic version of love
Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus also have the type of love that is between a person and God. This type of love is not romantic but is more about respect, gratitude and even fear.
Christians love God because they are grateful for the life he is given at the same time as being fearful of his wrath. The same is true in Islam where the words rafah and rahmah relate to God’s compassion and mercy respectively. As you can see the theistic idea of love is different to general ideas about love.
Love is many things
The point of looking at all of this is to show you that love is far more than just the romantic versions that we see on TV. It is about brotherhood, community, friendship, altruism, happiness and so on. When we look at love in these broader terms it is easy to see how it can be so important for the world today. And that is why we need to remember how to do it.
Why we have forgotten about love
As I said in the opening paragraph it seems as though love is not so cool anymore. It is not at the forefront of people’s “to do” list. This is a very sad state of affairs.
I like to think of myself as a pretty loving guy. I mindfully try to cultivate love towards all the people in my life – family, friends and strangers. But when I sat down today to write this article I realized that it had been a long time since I had actively thought about love. I can’t actually remember the last time I woke up and thought “I am going to try to be more loving today”.
So what have I been thinking about?
Well, work is high on the list. Why haven’t I got more clients? I think about paying the bills a lot. And the drama of the American elections seem to take up a lot of my time. What about the current financial crisis that is going on? Which bunch of idiots is to blame for that mess? I have thought about going to the gym more, eating healthier, getting some nice food for lunch, going on a holiday, changing my business structure… the list is endless. But, it has been a long time since I seriously thought about love.
The pace of the modern world is scary. We are so absorbed in our own wellbeing and day-to-day activities that we have forgotten about love. We have forgotten about love and we have adopted anger. If someone cuts us off in traffic – anger. If the bank charges you an overdraft fee – anger. If the neighbors are making too much noise – anger. What happened to love? Why is everything now about “me”? Perhaps we don’t have time to think about anything else.
In my opinion we have forgotten about love because we are too interested in self cherishing. We are under the impression that by taking care of number one we will get what we want. If I look after myself I will get happiness. We don’t have time to stop and think about loving other people because we are too busy loving ourselves.
But there is one major problem with this attitude: it doesn’t work. We aren’t happy and we aren’t getting any better.
Why we desperately need to get love back
Do you remember the song by Tupac called Changes? It was a big hit in the 90’s and it had a really good message in the first verse that was obviously intended for the gangs of America. However, it holds the same meaning for everyone else and I wanted to share it with you today. This is what it says:
“I got love for my brother but we can never go nowhere
unless we share with each other.
We gotta start makin’ changes,
learn to see me as a brother instead of 2 distant strangers.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be –
how can the Devil take a brother if he’s close to me?”
– Tupac Shakur
Tupac is right on the money with this monumental lyric. How can the Devil inside of him make him kill another man if he is close to them? Tupac is talking about brotherhood and about community. He is talking about love.
This philosophy applies to each and every one of us on both a small and a large scale. How could you hate your noisy neighbor if you were trying to develop love towards them? Or, how could people of different races murder each other in cold blood if they had feelings of love towards them? It is my opinion that 90% of the worlds problems are a result of people not loving each other enough. If we have any hope of living in a peaceful world we need to make love so much more important in our lives.
This might seem like an overly simplistic and naive notion. And perhaps it is. Perhaps the world’s problems are so far ingrained that no amount of love can repair them. I mean, is love going to stop the fighting in the Middle East? Is love going to end organizations like the KKK? Is love going to prevent the destruction of the Tibetan culture and people by the faceless Chinese Government? I doubt it.
But its all we’ve got. We simply have no other solution.
Think about love in a long term scenario:
Lets assume that 10,000 people read this article by the end of the year and of that 10,000 people 500 go home and start teaching their kids about the importance of love. In 20 years those 500 kids will have grown up and had kids of their own so now we might have 1500 people (grandparents, parents and children) who think and act in a loving way. Furthermore, we can assume that throughout their lives those initial 500 children have talked about and exemplified love with others. They might have been able to influence people and show them how important love can be. So the actual figure might be closer to 5000 people who think and act in a loving way. Are we making a difference yet?
Now what if one of those 5000 people turns out to be a leader or a role model like a politician, a celebrity or so on? They might be able to influence thousands of people of their own accord. Are we making a difference yet?
The world’s problems can be solved with love. It is my firm belief that human beings are loving by nature and because of that inherent love it doesn’t take much for them to start acting in a loving way. Love in infectious. It is contagious. And it solves problems. We need love now more than ever.
I am not trying to sell you a set of religious beliefs. I do not care whether you are black or white, green or blue, Muslim or Christian, Republican or Democrat, etc. I really couldn’t care a less. What I do care about is whether you love others. Why? Because every thing you do in life has an effect. If you live your life in an angry way you will degrade and negatively effect the people around you. And there is no way of knowing what effect that might have on a person and what that person might then teach to others. On the other hand, if you live your life in a happy and loving way you will enrich and inspire those around you. The love you give will spiral out in to the community and you will create a legacy that you can be proud of.
I have decided that it is time for me to step up and start applying love in every scenario. I no longer want to be the person who only looks out for number one. Sure, I am going to keep working and making money and going to the gym. But what I am not going to do is react in anger or search for my welfare at the expense of others. I am going to start putting others first and love them regardless of their age, driving ability or behavior.
I had forgotten about love but I desperately need it back.
Originally posted on September 30, 2008 @ 6:48 am