“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” New American Standard Bible 1 Corinthians 13:13
Love is a very difficult emotion to describe. It is a conglomeration of excitement, happiness, contentment, dedication, and commitment. There are many different types of love. There is brotherly/family love (as in Philia), romantic love (as in Eros), and spiritual or godly love (as in Agape). In every case, there is little doubt that we should have as much love for our fellow human being as we can manage.
So should we have love in moderation? Is there anything negative about the impact of love in our lives? There are some things that I think we should reflect on about love. I can think of two cautions in particular about love.
The first caution can be found when we reflect on that much-praised “unconditional” love. I don’t know how else to say this, but unconditional love is just plain stupid. All love comes with conditions, and rightly so. Look, if your son murders your daughter, your wife betrays you with an affair, or your mother fails to accept your new wife, and you say “I still love them no matter what,” that’s not love, that’s a desire for that person to be something that they are not. In essence, you are “in love” with a fantasy of how you want things to be. Yes, you want the situation (and the beloved) to be the way they used to be, or to be something they are not…which is someone who deserves your unconditional love. I am a strong believer that true love requires great effort and plenty of commitment, not to mention forgiveness. However, love cannot be unconditional. Some things like my extreme examples above, require a reevaluation of whether an individual merits our love at all. A series of smaller events, may also require an evaluation of what conditions I will put on my love for others.
The second caution about love is our expectation of receiving it. If we are not paying attention to life as it is, we can begin to feel that because we deserve love, we should receive it. Nothing can guarantee that anyone will love me, not who I am, what I do, nor how I feel about another. I do crave live, but receiving love is largely out of my control. A life of service, dedication, honesty, and loving others tends to increase the love we receive, but this is not guaranteed. It is this expectation of return “in kind” that can lead me to unhappiness.
As usual, my point is not to dwell on the negative, but rather for me to be aware of things as they are. I certainly shouldn’t live my life giving up on love, but if I am aware of the reality, then I can view love rationally. When I am loved, I can appreciate it. When I give love, I can do so knowing the guaranteed consequence which, as discussed, is NOTHING…but for knowing that I have loved well.
So, when we think rationally about love, we do lose some of that euphoria of that fantasy type of love. There is a cost, I guess, to thinking too much. On the other hand, there is a payoff as well. When we pursue the good of virtue and excellence, it is necessary to see truth. To be virtuous, it is more important to unearth truth than it is to live with a soothing lie. In the end, a soothing lie will give way to an unsettling truth. When I already know the unsettling truth, I am free to love and be loved in an authentic way, rather than a make-believe one.
So, yes I moderate my love…a Stoic can do no different.
(Philadelphia panorama by Durrock Knox September 9th 2012 through creative commons)