How many different definitions of love do you think there are? Then again maybe that’s the wrong question to ask since most people probably couldn’t even offer up a definition, and even if two people could give a definition and the exact same definition there’s no guarantee they would both mean the exact same thing, so let me try again. How many different understandings of what love is do you think there are? So, no need to use any words, all that is required is that whenever the person thinks of love they are able to conceptualise it, even if they can’t explain it to anybody else or even themselves. Now, I would wager that the answer to this question is about the same number of people alive that are able to form concepts. However, there are likely to be minimal differences between some people’s understandings of love so it’s perhaps best to only think of how many sufficiently different understandings of love there are that can form their own categories. My guess is that, even still, there are likely to be countless dissimilar categories when it comes to people’s understandings of love, and yet we are so ready to tell everyone to love either themselves or others without bothering to explain what we think loving entails.
This is a significant discrepancy. Ultimately, loving people don’t really need to be told what love is nor do they need to be told to love but it is likely that the people who are not acting in a loving way, and thus the targets of calls to love themselves and others, also misunderstand what is meant by the term “love”. There are plenty of abusive and excessively controlling people that believe they are being loving towards the people they abuse and control. Thus, it is incredibly important to make an attempt to define love, both to serve as a standard for how the abusive should behave, if they are under the illusion that they are treating others in a loving way, and to serve as a standard by which the abused can judge the supposedly loving behaviour of their abusers. However, defining love is not just important in the context of an abusive relationship as, given that even someone that physically abuses their children can think they are acting in a loving way, it is perfectly possible that we would have a false impression of how loving our own behaviour really is and so it would be good for everyone if there was a less subjective definition of love against which we could judge our own behaviour.
To me, love is the facilitation of that which satisfies the soul of the receiver. My definition is somewhat inspired by this video of Dr Maya Angelou and it applies whether we are talking about loving ourselves or others. To love yourself is to act in a way that allows your soul to be satisfied and to love others is to act in a way that allows their soul to be satisfied. As we now know that there is no guarantee people will understand this definition in the way I would like them to, I think it is best that I explain my concept of love a little more in depth and explore the aspects of love that I think this definition encompasses to better the chances people will understand it in the way I intend.
First things first, when I define love this way I am not talking about romantic love or familial love or the love you would have for your friends. These types of love are determined by the attachment the people share and their responsibilities towards each other. While I do think that the kind of love I’m talking about should be present in these relationships it is still separate from these kinds of love. The love I’m trying to define is more like what the Greeks called “agape” which is an unconditional love that a person should have for all people regardless of their relationship.
Another source of confusion might be what I mean by “satisfies the soul”. When I use this term I’m really talking about contentment. Contentment seems to only be attainable by accepting the reality of today and knowing that you are doing your best to work toward the betterment of tomorrow for all people. Without doing this, it really doesn’t seem to be possible for a person to find contentment, just try to find a person that wants others to be worse off or can’t accept the world as it is today that is or was content, in the case that they’re dead, because I haven’t been able to do it. And when I say all people I am including you, it does not seem possible for a person to be content without wanting the best for themselves tomorrow and accepting their reality today. It is not actually possible for you to completely change yourself in a day, the brain is just as physical as the rest of you, your habits are physically ingrained into your brain, and so just as you can’t expect to suddenly be able to run a marathon, you can’t expect to suddenly be a completely different person, changing your bad habits takes time and you can either hate yourself for that or accept it and enjoy the ride as you change those habits. Of course, if you can’t even fix yourself today, then the folly of thinking you could fix the world today is clear.
This focus on the facilitation of contentment inevitably means the love must be results driven and receiver-centric. Our good intentions aren’t really enough, we must be focused on what the consequences of our actions are and change them if they do not help satisfy the soul of the other person. We must also allow the other person to choose how they are loved because only they truly know what will bring them contentment. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t make people’s lives difficult. Obviously we should always challenge our loved ones if they’re being hateful or refusing to accept the reality of today, as they will never find contentment this way, but sometimes we see how people wish to better the world as being unrealistic or as being too dangerous or sometimes we just don’t like them doing something that’s neither here nor there when it comes to accepting reality or bettering the world, like their haircut (and yes, that example is from experience) or something of the like, and in cases such as these I think all we can do is voice our concerns and then leave them be about it. The only way to do any of this is to allow others to be honest with us. We can’t try to dominate our loved ones and become furious anytime they say something we don’t want to hear because then we wouldn’t be loving that person but someone that shares their face. The only way we can help to satisfy the soul of others is if we provide an environment in which they feel they can bare their soul to us.
The same also applies when it comes to loving ourselves. We need to focus on if we are actually getting closer to being content and make sure we’re not just fooling ourselves into thinking what we’re doing is making us content. It’s a little bit easier to love ourselves at least because we aren’t experiencing our contentment or lack of it through the words and perspective of another. Ask yourself one of these two questions, when appropriate, and you’ll know what to do to love yourself. Can I truly be content with doing this for the rest of my life? And, could I truly be content if I never did this in my life? Becoming more honest as you go along is also an important part of loving ourselves because which of us could truly be content having never been truly and fully ourselves with anyone other than ourselves? Also, the only way you’ll change things for the better is if you’re honest about what you want. What you don’t ask for you don’t get.
And so, that is how I view love. It’s focused on the satisfaction of the soul, focused on the results of our actions, focused on the receiver of our love, and, most importantly, the definition makes it harder for abusive people to think they’re being loving by abusing others. I’ll end this post on something else I find to be important. There is a reason I wrote that love is the facilitation of that which satisfies the soul and that reason is you cannot force people to be content. Us being content is on us. The best we can do is provide the right conditions for them to find contentment, but they are the ones that must find that contentment, no amount of our love can find it for them. It’s like a broken bone, we can put it in a cast and make sure the bone isn’t used but, ultimately, the bone has to repair itself, all we can do is provide the best conditions for the mending of the bone. This is another reason it’s easier to love ourselves because at least we can do the work, but we can’t do the work for other people. So that is the obligation of love: to facilitate that which will lead them to find contentment, be there for them as they struggle, and celebrate with them when their soul is finally satisfied.