by Jessica Kuzmier
Love has become such an overused word it is nearly cliché. Someone loves her husband, someone loves chocolate ice cream, someone loves the rock group Creed, someone loves God. It is basically associated with pleasurable feelings toward an object. As the word becomes more generalized, the feelings associated with love become more ephemeral and less defined. What do you love about this musical group, why do you love this person? I don't know. I just love them, you know?, becomes the standard discourse.
Many people are convinced that love is what will heal the world. "Love is all you need", the motto of the Beatles. Hippies promoted free love in the sixties and seventies, but when the cynicism of the business-minded eighties took over, free love went the way of the history books. AIDS, the cold war, and Reaganomics took over; power was supreme. Family values became more in vogue even though the divorce, abortion and out-of-wedlock birth rate continued to rise. Conservative religionists believed that the god of their choice would come back and clean up this moral mess. In the midst of this, people professed their love for stuff by buying more than they needed of it and going into debt.
This trend continued into the nineties, but with a new twist in the Clintonesque era. Tolerance was now in. Accept the blacks, accept the gays. Issues that had been swept under the table, such as marital rape, date rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment became everyday topics, as both Clarence Thomas and Bill Clinton found out. One learned in popular culture the value of political correctness, to the point that it was an inside joke that Bill Maher called his comedy show, "Politically Incorrect".
Now, in the post 9-11 world, the fever of nationalism has swept the United States. Many European countries are inflicted with this syndrome as well, sick of rising immigration rates. In countries where the national borders have only recently been carved out, tribalism is infusing national elections, and used as justification for violence.
In the midst of all this, love is still defined as the solution that will solve all. Second-wave feminists are upset at how young the brides are becoming, social conservatives are upset at gays looking for marital rights. Meredith Phillips is the new Bachelorette on ABC, winnowing through twenty-five men to hopefully find her husband in a show designed to compete ratings-wise with "The West Wing", "King of Queens", "The O.C.", and "Nick and Jessica". You can find a spouse in the comfort of your home, using the Internet. The Eros craze, in an age of supposed isolation, hasn't waned a bit.
Then you hear that God is love. But then you read the Old Testament, with this supposed god of love kicking Adam and Eve out of paradise for eating a piece of fruit, Joshua kicking some Canaanite butt with the blessing of God, and the warlord David being hailed by God as a "man after God's heart". You hear preachers saying you're going to hell if you don't believe right, have sex with the wrong person, or don't go to church and pay your tithes. Then of course, you have Allah supposedly telling people to take jumbo jets and ram them into office buildings. If this is how God supposedly defines love, what does he think hate is?
What is love, anyway? The text in the Bible, commonly used in many Christian weddings, that defines love is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Paul of Tarsus then talks about putting away childish things. In other words, love is the more mature way. More mature than what? From what the text says, "childish things" were thinking of one's self, without regard for others. If one is acting childish, he may be doing great things externally, but may do it for his own personal security, self-aggrandizement, or pure recognition. Love tends to forget oneself.
Eastern thinking would take this one step further. Not ensconced in the separatism promoted by Aristotle and other Greek philosophers, they would say that everything is your self. If one doesn't consider all life, then he is not loving himself. Acting compassionately is a matter of self-realization. In fact, in Tibetan Buddhism, those in the heavenly realm of the gods are lower than Buddhas, because while they may enjoy supernatural bliss in the realms of pure energy, they become so self-absorbed that they forget to be compassionate towards other life. The highest realization for a person is to be compassionate towards all.
In a busy, rationalistic world, this admonition makes little sense. We need to compete, in business, personal and international circles just to survive. It's hard enough just to get your own needs taken care of, let alone worrying if Saddam Hussein is my brother or not. Modern society has set itself along the lines of competition, and compassion has little room in a world such as that.
But if change is really wanted, these external things are mostly excuses. A busy, material, concrete life thinks that all solutions must be external, and forgets that the human spirit is more than material accumulation. Love needs to be a conscious choice, all of the time. It needs to be more important than graduating college, getting a good job, or even getting the bills paid. If little change takes place, the argument that one may not really want change to begin with becomes more potent. This thinking may go along with the idea that love is great when everything is in its place, but for crying out loud, don't you have any common sense? Stuff needs to get done. Stuff may very well need to be done, but without love, and compassion, a human being is little more than an automaton. Why not do all the stuff that needs to be done with a dose of compassion?
Compassion, defined by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, is a sympathetic consciousness of others' distress, with a desire to alleviate it. Certainly, in society at large and in individual lives, more of this characteristic could be used. Very few people would disagree with this; but putting it into practice is something else. The problem is that many people want to receive it, but not put the effort through to give it to others. It requires conscious thinking for one to act on it. If one runs on "automatic pilot", he is more likely to worry about his own agenda than consider that he is part of a larger picture, and that all his thoughts and actions contribute to this canvas. It may be easier to think that nothing he does means anything, than to realize everything he does means everything.
Yet even as culture changes, and movements come and go, the reality that each person is a vital cog in the body of humanity never changes. To extend one's heart to the world is the first step in changing a world from a culture of violence to one of peace. It is this definition of love that remains eternal.
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