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Read Letter

What Is Love?

Dear Jack,

There’s a lot we need to learn about this animal called life. (I’ve chosen to be a student of life). The philosophy of life we adopt determines the outcome of our lives. Choose your philosophy carefully I’d say. The source of the philosophy of life we adopt must be proven, comprehensive in scope and robust. It cannot be limited or developed solely from our circumstances and experience. That’s the surest way to end up as prisoners of our circumstances and difficulties.

A young lady shot a riposte the other day (though sarcastically I must add): How can one say that love heals? She asked. Is it not love that breaks hearts and leaves so much pain in its wake? Here’s the problem: she has formulated a philosophy of life from a painful experience. The man simply known as Paul once analogically referenced the clinical separation of bone joints and marrow. But our lady took a crude cleaver into the analysis of her life experience instead of using a surgeon’s scalpel. She couldn’t see that love did not cause her pain. A boyfriend did! And obviously like all of us at one point or the other, does not understand what love is. She’s unwittingly bought into the off the shelf romance novel characterisation of love as heartache. And so you have a philosophy of life erected on the wobbly scaffold of false premises. From incorrect analysis, and over generalisation from extremely limited data she’s set herself up for more pain. She arrived at her conclusion from maybe one or two personal experiences. That’s a paucity of data. You can see that it’s a very short leap to characterisation of men in general.

We must avoid building our life philosophy from bad experiences, least a lonesome experience. We can’t draw far reaching conclusions from very limited data. And we must avoid philosophical imbalance. Suppose shortly after this statement our lady had met a wonderful and loving gentleman. Her definition of love as something that hurts would have become inconsistent and false.

We can’t build a life philosophy from emotional reaction to experiences. It is yet another dangerous approach. Emotion is a thermometer, a barometer, a fuel and a medium of expression of feelings. We cannot confuse the thermometer with temperature. And if thermometer is not temperature, emotion cannot be love. Emotion is an expressor. Don’t forget it can express anger too! You can’t mistake the typewriter for thoughts.

By the same token we can’t confuse sex for love even though we use both terms interchangeably. Sex is a physical progression of sensual and libidinous desire, it is not love. You can have sex without love. The obvious question then is, what is love?!

Is love the swooning of a young woman at the sight of an adonis? Is it tachycardia – the fast beating of the heart from the excitement of meeting someone we gel with? Is it the romance novel scenario of impossible relationship or the Mills & Boon heartbroken variety? Is it sex? “Let’s make love” is a common expression. What is love? Love is not emotions as I pointed out though emotion has its value. I would never know how I feel about someone without emotions. It’s a translator of feelings. When we say, “I’m in love with her” we are vocalising in human language our deep feelings and desire for someone. But feelings can be fleeting and deceitful. Lust often masquerades as love.

The classic definition of love presumes a wholesomeness of relationship beyond lust and fickleness. It presents an ideal of aspiration; it is a litmus test of the true state of our heart towards someone. It helps us determine if lust or true love is speaking, helps us to know who truly loves us and who is loving. In just four verses it condenses the indefinable into practical barometer. It was penned, again by that scholar and theologian Paul. (His writings are unsurprisingly studied in universities). I consider his treatise on love one of the most incredible literary expressions and I doff my heart. Let’s hear him:

“Love endures long and is patient and kind; love is never envious nor boils over with jealousy. Love is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. Love is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful. Love takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong]. Love does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person. Its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].” What a piece!

Look at all the fantastic relationships around you, look at the most loving people you know; you’ll see these verses in them. This is the prescription for enduring relationships. But what a standard! We can evaluate ourselves by these standards.

The key is not to give excuses or create justifications. The key is humility. And honesty. Will you be humble? And will you strive for noble ideals?

Your mentor, LA


©Leke Alder 2013




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