What is Love?

In a departure from my typical criticisms of Western holidays – more accurately, “holey days”, bereft of value and meaning – today I want to take a look at what Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about: Love. We can all agree that love is a nice word – we want love, we want to love. But what is love? Most would be hard pressed to narrow down a single, all-encompassing definition. After some digging and contemplation on the concept, I feel I have a satisfactory answer.

The English language is part of the problem – we have one word that can express so many different degrees of emotion – from loving your parents, to loving your one and only, to loving pizza, or that dress or haircut. But in English, generally it does refer to some emotion, and this is a further limitation to our concept of love – as we’ll see, the one true Love is about more than just a feeling.

As we did with vacation, let’s first look at the word to see if it can give us any clues as to its deeper meaning. Love derives from Old English lufu, meaning “affection, friendliness”. This doesn’t give us much. Oxford Dictionary gives us “A strong feeling of affection” or “A great interest or pleasure in something”, while Urban Dictionary gives us “Nature’s way of tricking us into reproducing.” We’ve all heard at weddings that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

In tennis scoring Love means 0, and though it is disputed I like the notion that this comes from the French, “l’ouef”, meaning egg. An egg – the protector and source from which life springs forth – this is closer to what Love means to me.

But let’s dig deeper, and turn to the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In his 1957 sermon entitled “Love Your Enemies”, he also notes the limited capacity for English to define the concept. He turns to Greek to build a better picture, pointing out three words they use for love – philia, or brotherly love, eros, or erotic love, and agape, or universal love. It is the last of these that Dr. King chooses to expound upon, saying that “agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men.” This is a beautiful description, and a true understanding of the force of Love in our world.

But we can distill this and simplify it even further – and Mark Passio does this on his excellent podcast (#003) on the topic. In his words, “Love is the force that expands knowledge in the Universe.” And this is, I believe, truly the definition of Love that encompasses all others. We’ve heard that “With love, anything is possible” – and if we replace “love” with “knowledge”, the statement rings every bit as true. Love is the force that enlightens, creates, and builds.

And so Mark’s definition can become a powerful tool for us to judge the merit of our actions. Do our actions result in greater knowledge in the Universe? If so, they are acts of Love. If instead they try to hide or take knowledge away, or if through a misallocation our time and attention they fail to create knowledge, they are as Mark says, acts of Fear.

With this in mind, let’s all take a good look at what we choose to do with our time, how we interact with our fellow Man, and how we address the challenges we currently face in the world. Are we doing a job that builds the universal body of knowledge in some way, or are we working for money, comfort, or power over others? Do we strike up a conversation with that gentleman in the train, or do we keep our eyes glued on our cell phone?1 Do we try to engage the middle path of diplomacy, or do we “bomb the hell out of them”? Do we act on Love or Fear? I think we can agree which force we prefer acting in our world.

To expand on this concept of Love and Fear, I want to draw everyone’s attention to the film series and great allegory, Star Wars. While this work is immensely entertaining, the reason it has resonated with so many people is the human message it carries – the fact that in such a creative and entertaining way, it indeed describes our current world. In this series there is something called the Force – this is Love. And there is a Dark Side to the Force – this is Fear. Star Wars portrays clearly what we can accomplish by harnessing these powerful forces. With Fear (the Dark Side, that which shuts off knowledge) we can destroy and enslave. With Love (the Force, that which spreads knowledge) we can move and shape the world according to our needs, and ultimately we can eradicate evil.

I hope this post has been an act of Love and has helped to increase your knowledge in some way. Make sure to check the Youtube video presentation for a contest related to this topic – be the first to answer the question posed in the video and I will send you a special gift. And now I’d like to hear from you. What is love? Is there a better definition than I have listed? Should I leave the preachin’ to MLK and go back to writing tunes?2 Leave your thoughts in the comments section, and have a productive week ahead!

1 this comes from an experience I recently had where I felt the urge to say something to someone in the train, but instead let the opportunity pass. Who knows what knowledge I missed out on from this decision?
2 I do intend to do this, but I also hope to use my voice in a way to promote good in the world. I see these posts as a way of practicing to do that.