Let me ask you, do you love the people around you? Before you answer that question, think about it. Think about what it even means. There is a lot of talk in this world about love. And there should be. It is well worth our attention and thought. But one thing that does happen as a result of all the talk is that we get confused about what love really is. When I asked you that question about whether you love the people around you, what did you hear me asking?
Can I confess to you that I think differently today about the meaning of love than I used to? I used to think of love according to the defining idea of doing basically right by someone. If I treated you right and did not harm you, then that was love. It was all defined for me by that idea of objective actions toward the other party. Treating someone well and not harming them equals love.
This is well in line with a common thought that you have probably heard: “Love is an action.” I have heard that or related statements many times. I used to give hearty approval to it. It guided my way of thinking. Not exactly so any more.
While I still can appreciate very much the idea that is conveyed by this statement, I think that it can also run the risk of changing our conception of love in a very negative way. The good side of this idea is that we cannot separate the concept of loving someone from what we actually do in relation to them. Many people who say they love someone then continually do wrong towards them and mistreat them. How can this be love? It is very important to realize the truth that if we love someone, we will treat them well and do them right.
But is that all there is to love? I have come to the very decided opinion that it is not. There is more. In fact, love is not first and foremost about what we do towards people. I am careful in saying that, because I maintain my previous point that we cannot separate love from what we do towards someone. But that is not the same as saying that love is what we do towards someone. And while perhaps you might initially think that this is nothing but splitting hairs, I think there is an important point to be seen here. I know it has been important for me to see and that I need to remember and learn this fact better.
Our acts towards someone are intimately connected to our love for them in many ways, but they are not the same as our love for them. Our love really and truly is about what we feel for them. Those feelings will indeed lead us to act a certain way if they are truly those of love, but the love itself is an ardent feeling within us of care and desire for another. Love is, after all, about our feelings.
This has been so important for me to understand because I can fall into the mistake of thinking that my relationships towards others ought to be defined primarily (even if not exclusively) by the propriety of my actions towards them. This has led me to devalue the emotional quality of love within that picture. I am of an emotional constitution that it is fairly easy for me to act very properly towards people without a great amount of deep and heartfelt concern and care for them. I know I am supposed to lend a helping hand, so I do, but it is not because there are deep impulses of compassion hurting my heart within me when they hurt. I know that I am supposed to congratulate someone when things go well for them, and so I do, but it is not as if I am bursting at the seams within myself because I, too, am overjoyed at the good that has befallen the other person. Is this true love? I do not think it is, at least not of the sort that is ultimately best and necessary.
I ask you, what do you want from your closest friends? Do you want mere proper behavior towards yourself? So long as they treat you civilly and go through the actions at the right times, will that content you? How about from your wife or husband? Do you not want more than that?
Of course you do. We all do. Love is one of the most basic human needs. We need to be loved, and we know that love is more than simple objective actions. We know that a mother’s love for her child is far more than simply giving food to that child and putting clothes on that child. A loving mother does those things, no doubt, but love is something deep within the heart than can hardly be expressed. If you have ever known true love, you would not diminish it to the mere level of propriety of action. It is far richer and deeper.
Love satisfies. We can often rest content when we are loved, regardless of what other outward circumstances might befall us to our harm. On the other side, we can have all the good circumstances of life, and if we do not have a companion in life with whom to share love, we will feel rather empty indeed.
Now, let me return to the question. Do you love those around you? Do you love them the way that you want others to love you? Do you truly and deeply care for them? Again, I did not ask if you act uprightly towards them. I asked if you love them.
Love is the driving force behind all right relationships. That cannot be overstated. If you have any right, true, deep relationships with anyone, it will necessarily be based upon deep love.
For how many people in your life would you say you have true love? That is, for how many people can you say you really feel within yourself a deep emotion in their favor and behalf? It really matters in your heart whether things go well for them or not. You hurt when things don’t go well. You desire to be in their company. You long for things to go well for them. You love them. You care for them within. Do you love people this way?
I have had to recognize that I need to work at loving people more. I must foster within myself the emotions of true love towards others, not mere civility or friendliness. I must learn to love them.
And you know what? People respond to love. You can win people over with love ten thousand times more quickly than you can with any other means. In truth, it is probably the only way you can really win them over to yourself in the end. Love is deep, and it is powerful. When someone perceives that you truly love them and care for them, they will listen to you. They will appreciate your love. They will become your friend, very likely. They may even return your love as well, which will be a rich gift for you.
If you can simply become a person who truly loves others, you will have achieved a great and noble thing. You will have become what you were meant to be. Love is at the heart of life. Let us learn to be those who truly love.