Discussion group – what is love?

By Asra Gholami

“You know what love is?

It is all kindness, generosity

Disharmony prevails when

You confuse lust with love, while

The distance between the two

Is endless” (Rumi) 

So the question is: what is love?

I’ve been hearing different definitions of love recently, strange definitions actually. The discussion in the Socratic society at week seven about “dating” showed that many people are confused about love. I think the confusion is that people are looking to satisfy their physical and emotional needs, and they call these satisfactions “love”, which is not correct. Love does not have a reason, love is not for benefit. You simply love the beloved because you love him or her. Indeed in many cases you should sacrifice for the beloved and suffering is an integral part of love.

I read something interesting on the internet the other day. In a survey of 4-8 years olds, kids share their views on love. Some of these views are:

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day”.

“Love is when mommy gives daddy the best piece of chicken”

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries, without making them give you any of theirs”

To make me sad on the weekend one of my friends told me:  “Guess what, I’ve changed my opinion about love. Love doesn’t exist. It’s just people getting used to each other. Love is just a word to describe our thoughts about someone when we don’t see him or her for a while.”

However there are some other friends who keep me hopeful that love has been understood by a few people at least. One of these friends once told me his idea of love which I really liked. I think it was wonderful. He described love as “magic and hard work”. The magic occurs in the meeting of two souls. The hard work is what it takes to grow this “meeting” into something strong and robust, something lasting. A perfect description of love I think.

So I think it would be interesting and depressing at the same time to discuss about the meaning of love, so as I said before the question is: what is love?



3 responses to “Discussion group – what is love?

  1. I think that people are missing the point about love…

    It seems to me that a lot of them are seeking a feeling that is outside themselves, that they think they can get from some external source

    But isn’t love the internal feeling that you get by having an experience of self with others or just by yourself in contemplation being alone.

    It seems to me that modern love is an external gratification in this crazy modern world. Do children care about this – no!

    They have experiences with their pets, friends, parents and their world. Their reality is what they perceive and their internal experience is just that, a private internal experience that is just for them.

    Yes you can love someone or something, but you do it for yourself and cannot make another do the same. The feeling is always internal, always your own.

    Love in relationship is built over time, in trust, respect and open communication. It does get better, but is different for everyone including your partner.

    I have made the mistake that ‘everyone loves the same’. Yes it was a ‘duh’ moment of momentous proportions for me. It did teach me about myself and the person I had loved.

    It is possible to love another, but what is it really? Maybe it is two loving people who love themselves that happen to love the same moment that they are spending together and for a time that is their mutual ecstasy.

    My experience tells me to enjoy my time in an open and loving way, have an opinion, be open to being wrong. But lead an ‘active’ life. Perhaps I will meet someone to share that time with, perhaps not. But during that time I will be doing my best to be happy and healthy for me, the person who I am trying to love.

    Check out this guys experience Nick Vujicic. He inspires me to acts of selfless love.

    if he can do it, so can you and I


  2. I have two theories of love – one you’re sure to hate (although it makes a lot of sense to me), and another you might prefer.

    First one: love is an emotion, and all emotions are a product of evolution. Emotions have valence – they’re either positive or negative. Positive emotions attract the individual to whatever stimulus caused the emotion. Negative emotions, the opposite.

    Evolution endowed us with these emotions to help solve adaptive problems: finding high energy food; helping to raise young; finding mates etc, by attracting us to things that solve those problems, and repelling us from things that are threats.

    Love is an emotion that (ultimately) encourages us to care for and protect those with whom we (and our genes) have vested interests, such as mates or kin. It is often perceived as being a ‘positive’ emotion – and there’s a substantial part of love that is, indeed, positive. But it also has crucial ‘negative’ parts as well, such as fear, concern, anxiety and even tilting over to jealousy.

    However, all these emotions are heuristics. Their (proximate) triggers are only coarsely defined. This means they can easily trigger in situations that don’t necessarily advance the ends of our genes, such as feeling love for a pet (I can attest for this; my cat rocks).

    Remember, though, this is a purely descriptive account of the origins of love. It speaks nothing of the phenomenal aspects, which are compelling, to say the least.

    Which leads me to my second theory, which is, in fact, a poem written by Homer, but which appears in Plato’s Symposium (let’s see if I can remember it correctly…).

    Her feet are tender,
    And she never deigns
    To set them on the earth,
    But softly steps
    Upon the heads of men

    Take which definition you like – or both, as I don’t think they’re incompatible.

    Love ya work,

  3. Michael Hislop

    I am glad that someone like Tim, so ably and concisely elucidated the nature of the relationship between emotions like love and its antithesis jealousy, and evolution.

    There is a book by Robert Wright called ‘The Moral Animal’ that is an eye-opening introduction to the emerging field of evolutionary pyschology. I urge people to read it, if they haven’t already. I can recall how reading it as a young fellow, kind of destroyed the magic of love for me. Its motivation and ends being so practically related to evolutionary concerns of survival. Love’s pleasures and delights became for me coercing influences.

    When so convinced, the mystic shroud of uncertainty, the butterflies of curiosity, and the cohesive delight of shared first discovery have no place.

    Being a serious young man, I began to try to place my self above what I saw as base animal instincts and influences. I thought it distasteful for so many of my fellow beings to be duped by what I saw as the fakeness and irrationality of emotions. And I believed that perhaps the road to enlightenment and reason, lay in denying the human self access to such self-delusions. What a scant and desrt place, it was, I tell you.

    Now thinking back, I, like too many others, was confused about the nature and scope of the use of the term ‘love’. I conceived of it as something narrowly limited to human inter-relationships.

    Though I think it impossible to completely and successfully argue against any assertion of the indefinablity of the term, if only because of the fact of the uniqueness of each experience, perception and interpretation of it.

    I am certain that the difficulties that come when trying to put into words a generalised definition of love, are part of the essence and nature of love itself.

    How often, have you found it diffcult to express to a partner or friend the magic of their company and intercourse? How often has such a situation been ruined or tainted by trying to give it words?

    I think the great writer and philosophers of old Plato, writing thousands of years ago, has come the closest to giving us glimpses of the archetypical nature of love.

    The Greek’s conception of truth, justice and the good, offer an insight into love that coincides with the situational difficulty of putting love and its contexts into words. What is good, true and just, being that which is uniquely and perfectly suited to each situation. Everything in its place, everything fulfilling a unique and specific function as part of something greater.

    In my personal relationships, all too often, the extent and depth of my feelings for another has been measured by the willingness and frequency of actions like saying ‘I love you’. In response, I am always reminded of Plato and the Platonic concept of love, as those fleeting relational moments when everything is in its place and as it should be, and when words cant be used and shouldn’t suffice to describe them.

    Such a depiction of love encompasses moments of human relation, such as a look, a shoulder squeeze, synchronized laughing, the sereneness of shared silence, etc… But go further, being able to encompass moments and their sensations like the thrill of suddenly and solidly understanding a long sought after problem, the joy of carving the face of a cresting wave, the satisfaction of a arduous job well done, and the meditative peacefulness of a sinking sunset.

    There is another sense of love that ensues, following logically from a purely Platonic conception, that being the one espoused by religious figures since time immemorial, that one is part of something bigger and more important than oneself. In communion and synchronicity with the most perfectly ordered and balanced system of life.

    What blessed and blissful relief and peace derives from this discovery? Surely an understanding and appreciation of the principle of the unity and one-ness of all things, and a purposeful participation within it approaches the essence of love.

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