What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
– Haddaway, What is love (90’s song)
What is love? In this post I’ll tackle this question drawing from some of the world’s greatest thinkers and movers, and will follow up in the next post with a discussion on the relationship of love and religion.
From Mozi (ca. 400 BC), a contemporary of Confucius:
Where do disorders – the world’s ills – come from? They arise from lack of mutual love. The son loves himself but does not love his father, so he cheats his father for his own gain. The younger brother loves himself but not his brother or his father so he cheats his older brother for his own gain.
Robbers and brigands likewise love their own households, but not the homes of others and so rob these homes for their own benefit. State officers, princes, and rulers make war on other countries because they love their own country but not other countries. They seek to profit their country at the expense of others.
This is what the world calls disorder. This all comes from the lack of mutual love.
The ultimate cause of all disorders in the world is lack of mutual love.
For if everyone were to regard the persons of others as his own person, who would inflict pain and injury on others? If they regarded the homes of others as their own homes, who would rob others’ homes? In that case there would be no brigands or robbers! If the princes loved other countries as their own, who would wage war on other countries? In this case, there would be no more war.1
Paul of Tarsus (ca. 40 ad)
The commandments … are summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as your self. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends. On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.2
Leo Tolstoy (ca. 1900):
Some people are able to foresee and point out the path of life along which humanity must move: a new theory of life that will change the whole future conduct of humanity and will be different from all that has been before. In this divine theory of life, humanity does not find the purpose of life in fulfilling his or her own desires (the animal theory of life), or in fulfilling the desires of societies of individuals (whether the family, clan, political party, or nation) but only serves the eternal source of life itself. The motor power of this life is love.
It is natural to love yourself. It is natural to love your immediate family, extended family, friends, social group, and fellow citizens. But this love gets weaker – more dilute – the farther out we go from our self. It is possible, though, to have a love that extends to all of humanity. We all have to discover it for ourselves, but there are some who can help others internalize it and experience the depth, richness, and transformation behind it.3
From Lao Tsu, in the Tao te Ching
In nature the softest overcomes the strongest. There is nothing in the world so weak as water. But nothing can surpass it in attacking the hard and the strong. There is no way to alter it. Hence weakness overcomes strength, softness overcomes hardness. The world knows this but is unable to practice it.4
There are many ways, many paths to this type of love. Yet each path is narrow, is difficult. Not enough people tread this difficult but rewarding path. Those who do are filled with the love, strength, and passion of God. This God is not a being, does not give laws or doctrine, and does not belong to any one religion. Wherever this love exists, there God is. God is love.
1 Kurlansky, Mark. Non-violence – The History of a Dangerous Idea
2 Romans 12 and 13 (Bible)
3 Tolstoy, Leo. The Kingdom of God is Within You (with some paraphrasing and summarizing from yours truly)
4 Kurlansky, Mark. Ibid