I attend a bi-weekly meditation group and this was the prompt for the discussion this week. I decided to type out my thoughts and include an example from my life before I head to the meeting this week.
What Is Love
Love is one of the places the English language suffers from rudimentary vocabulary. The Ancient Greeks had six words for the different kinds of love. Today, we lump them together and scare ourselves out of using the word for fear of implying the wrong thing.
“You can’t love another until you love yourself.”
I think an important place to start is defining the word for oneself. In my case, I start with self-love. As the old saying goes, “You can’t love another until you love yourself.”
But what does self-love mean? I have done a great deal of reading on this topic and I have answered the question for myself; self-love is being kind instead of unkind to yourself when the person you are (or were) is different from the person you want to be.
Through this lens, it’s easy to look at other people. Every example I’ve come up with in daily life where I get upset or frustrated with someone is because something they are doing is different than what I want them to be doing. Conflict in traffic, politics, and relationships often fulfil this definition for me. In fact I haven’t found any examples where I am upset at someone and this is not the reason why.
Being unkind instead of kind to someone who is not what you want them to be will do nothing to change them.
So what is the reaction when one is angry? I think the default response is to try to punish the other person into being what you want them to be. Phrased this way, it’s obvious that this won’t work. Being unkind instead of kind to someone who is not what you want them to be will do nothing to change them. In fact, attacking someone will only cause then to resent you and your motives and to defend themselves rather than analyzing themselves. Attacking someone can not make them change.
Fundamentally, I define love as a verb, not a noun. For me, it means choosing to be kind instead of unkind when someone is different than I want them to be.
This is another hard word to define. I choose to think it means valuing love as a chosen behavior when loving is hard, or not the first reaction we have.
Whenever I feel myself becoming upset or frustrated with someone, I try to ask myself how I can be loving towards this person as opposed to unloving, meaning how can I be kind instead of unkind in reaction to them being different than I want them to be.
This is fundamentally tied to the eternal philosophical conflict between prescriptivism versus descriptivism.
Countless variables contribute to the makeup of any person. Maybe I have an idea of who I want to be or who I want other people to be, but I can not control every variable. In fact the only variables I can control are my own behaviors, and then only with great difficulty. Luckily my own behavior can be a very impactful variable.
I had a close friend in high school who had a difficult relationship with his father, a neo-nazi. His father had recently come back into his life after a long absence and my friend was very excited to have a father once again. He started trying very hard to fulfil his father’s expectations and build a closer relationship.
My friend was very conflicted between wanting to have this relationship with his father based on fulfilling his paternal expectations, and with the consequences for the other relationships in his life if he were to follow the path of radical xenophobia and bigotry. I felt very strongly that he was making the wrong choices in following his father, and I tried very hard to change his mind. Over and over, every time we talked about it, he would eventually agree with me and come to the realization that he needed to get away from his family and start over somewhere with better people around him. But over and over, he didn’t follow through with walking away. He wanted a father in his life more than he wanted to be a good person.
I moved away after high school and we drifted apart. A couple years ago, I read in the newspaper that his body had been found in a dusty gutter. He was beaten to death in the street. The reports say he choked on his own blood while people watched and did nothing to help, did not call 911. They just let my friend lay there and die. He had crossed the wrong line, did the wrong thing, said the wrong thing to the wrong person and it cost him his life. I picture him imagining his dad’s satisfied reaction as he did whatever he did that cost him everything. As he lay there in the street choking to death on the taste of blood, I can only imagine him finally deciding he had made the wrong decision in following his father’s path.
I have decided to crop out his face and not identify him for obvious reasons.
I really wish more people in his life had tried to be understanding and tried to be kind rather than unkind when he said or did the often evil things he did. I really believe he would have eventually come around and become an ally. He would have had an incredible story to tell of escaping the dark and evil side of the generation that’s on its way out.
I think about him all the time and how conflicted he was, whenever I see someone do something that upsets me. I try to picture the reasons why they are the way they are and what sort of choices I can make to be understanding and be loving, rather than the alternative.