We talk about love all the time. When we are not talking about it, it comes to us in films, books, stories… ‘I love you,’ we say, and we mean it I am sure. But what exactly we mean is not the easiest thing to see.
Sometimes, we mean that we are experiencing a sense of social association linked to our biology. Our evolution is full of subtle joinings. A mother gives birth, and a being that is part of her becomes a close, dependent soul. A couple meet, and a chain of unconscious signals and chemical changes bind us in. Siblings are born into the same family, and a perplexing mix of love and hate, collaboration and competition, takes place.
Sometimes, we mean that we want the best for someone. This may or may not be linked to biology – one way of learning goodwill is with the help of natural connection. But, biology or not, wishing the best for another is ultimately independent of what another can do for you.
The characteristics of goodwill include patience, kindness, tolerance, forbearance… behaviours that do not have the self as the focus of obsession. Ironically, goodwill (or compassion) is a good way of helping yourself and being healthy. But, to benefit, you don’t need to have helping yourself as the primary aim.
AN EXPANDING CIRCLE
By all means, just love one or two people. But maybe bear in mind that love is an expanding circle. It is easy to stay self-protective – to consider it ‘sensible’ to love just your family and one or two other people.
While this narrow approach to love has a lot of wisdom in it, and helps us to limit our expenditure of energy, it can make for a difficult society. If we all just focus on our nearest and dearest, then what happens to those who fall outside our circle of resources? If we were stuck outside mainstream society, without a peer group, and without resources, we would hope that others would welcome us.
Maybe, today, expand your circle by just one more centimetre. This could be by smiling at someone you meet; by taking the time to assist someone in trouble; by learning to be patient with a difficult colleague. You choose.
You can stick with your biology. But, given that you have a good mind, it would be a shame to waste it on just that. Maybe become something more.
We all talk about love, but it is hard to define what we mean.
We have strong social and sexual impulses born of our biology and evolution. This is an undeniable part of us.
But we are also capable of a rather special kind of love, that wishes well for others regardless of our own benefit. If we can expand our concept of love to include compassionate goodwill, we may be lucky and find ourselves happier than we think.