Love is all you need?

My daughter made this collage when she was nine years old. This is a poorly PhotoShopped version (the original has faded pretty badly):

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Love is all you need

I was listening to The Beatles recently, music that takes me pretty far back into my childhood. I’ve been thinking about musical cues to memory for another poetic project on which I am currently working, so the concept of music evoking imagery, subjects, memoir has been uppermost in my mind. More on that project perhaps later, when I have arranged my thoughts more cogently. Meanwhile, some thoughts on “All You Need is Love.” Or more correctly, some musings that begin with “All You Need Is Love.”

When I was an adolescent, that Beatles’ song seemed to signify on several levels. One level was the universal: Love as the root of human sharing, as the means to peace and understanding, as the solution to the Big Problems. Another level was the romantic: Love as the way to solve personal loneliness, finding the partner with whom I could mesh, forge a permanent and personal understanding.

Love as solution. I view that ‘philosophy’ as a non-philosophy now; it is simplistic and impossible. Love is not a solution; it is a verb, active and engaging. Love certainly does not fix things. Its necessity, however, I do not question. Not for those who wish to be fully human.

Wait, you’re going to object–love is a noun, too. In most dictionaries, love as a noun is the entry before love as a verb. Arbitrary on my part to assert precedence for the verb, but I am cautious of abstractions even though I relish philosophy. Love as noun is abstract.

Merriam-Webster: “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.” My OED (compact, print edition) contains 9 columns defining Love as a noun and two defining Love in the verb sense.

When I say love is a verb, I mean that in definition 3b in the OED: “to entertain a strong affection; in the reciprocal sense” and 4c: “to take pleasure in the existence of (a virtue, a practice, a state of things) in oneself, in others, or in the world generally.” Love need not be reciprocal, though that feels best to us–hypersocial beings that we are (see my post on Brian Boyd). Love is the greater part of compassion, in which case love is something we do.

I know people who have chosen to take their own lives. A few felt the sense of despair that comes from feeling there is no love (and therefore, no hope). But that is not always the case; some who took their lives did feel love, knew love deeply, knew that others loved them and would miss their physical presence. Love was not all these people needed.

And love was not the solution.

I think we damage ourselves when we believe that love is the solution to our problems. We need other strategies, other fullness in our lives, the tools to overcome or bear with many obstacles; we need perspective and humor and grace. Love alone, in and of itself, doesn’t make peace break out. It does not solve all the issues in a truly profound and sharing relationship–not on its own. Love needs other actions, and other abstractions (trust, communication, compassion, patience, for example) to do its work. It does not solo well–that is not what love needs. Altruism cannot exist in a vacuum, nor can romance, nor compassion.

It takes some effort not to become sentimental here (but Bachelard defends a certain amount of sentiment…)

This is not my definitive post on the subject of love! I need to read more philosophers on love, and to consider love’s evolutionary role, and its spiritual role, in human existence. I’ve done reading on t his in the past, but it was all very long ago. Now might be a good time to begin anew (since “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”).

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4 comments on “Love is all you need?

  1. You present a very valid perspective here – love is not all there is nor is it all that we need. I agree that love as a verb is of real significance when accompanied by other abstractions, like trust, communication, and compassion.This is what might be called in practical spiritual terms, “Love with skin on.” Your daughter’s collage was delightful, and I enjoyed your philosophical reflections here.

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    • Thanks. “Love with skin on” starts to make physical the abstract notions we so often heap onto our love definitions. Does this phrase stem from Anne Robertson’s “God with Skin on”? (Which I haven’t read, but have heard about from a friend).

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  2. singingbones says:

    A definitive blog on love! Now that is something I would love to read…. (thinking it is an impossible dream…) I like your thoughts here, and agree… love is not a solo act. Thanks for the ponderings… the Beatles song is also one of my and my daughter’s favorites. it may not be ALL we need, but it is definitely up there in the top five…. SB

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