The world be a much better place if we all learnt to love selflessly
Love is on my mind as I write, as it has been over the past few weeks, as, indeed, it is most waking hours of my life.
This is an honest confession to you, and to myself. I am obsessed with love and, come to think of it, the obsession affects and influences all my actions and thoughts. I suppose that is what the psychologists call a mania.
Obsession with loving and being loved could be called philomania. I believe it is a known condition in psychiatry, but there appears to be very little popular writing about it.
Indeed, when I was looking for some information on philomania in preparation for this article, the most immediate write-up I could find was about a Swedish pop music group that bears the name “Philomania”.
This did not surprise me, as a sizeable part of my immediate family is Swedish, as I might have told you, and I know that there are lots of people there who love loving!
But talking of love, let us pull back a bit and clarify a few things. “Love” is a word that is so frequently, widely and glibly used, misused and abused that it has almost lost meaning.
Thus, whenever we want to use it seriously, we should take the trouble to give a hint at the sense in which we use it.
Otherwise we end up with such outrageous monstrosities as “sponsors” murdering their “lovers” and the love-for-hire squads of the red districts of our metropoles.
CONCEPT OF LOVE
You will remember my telling you that I am particularly impressed by the Greek concept of love, the phenomenon of our relationships with others, as falling under at least four categories. These are “eros, philia, storge and agapé”.
Eros, the lowest, is simply sex or lust, while philia denotes friendship or fellowship. Storge represents familial or parental love and agapé, which is beloved of the Christian churches, suggests the universal attraction that links humans to God.
We Kiswahili speakers may want to compare these categories with our own designations of relationships as mahaba/mapenzi, urafiki, pendo and upendo. But we will not go into all these and their ramifications today.
My obsession is with the philia, the neat, open friendship and fellowship that I think would go a long way towards making the world a really good place to live. I mean, if we all made a little more effort to like one another, there would be fewer conflicts, more tolerance, more co-operation and more development in our societies in the world than we have today.
In matters of love, we do not seem to have many valid choices between friendship and the other kinds of relationships. Over romantic, “erotic” excitement, the Eros, we have very limited control. That is why in classical symbolism it is represented by a blind boy deity randomly shooting his arrows at whomever it may concern.
In our “scientific” times, it has all been reduced to chemistries, hormones and selfish genes seeking self-preservation. Yet we still glorify these basic (I did not say “base”) instincts as love, talking about “being in love” and “making love” as absolutely sublime experiences.
Indeed, as I think I have hinted somewhere, one of the main problems with relationships today is the fallacious and idolatrous elevation of sex, erotic excitement, to the pinnacle of human bonding.
This is, sadly, reflected in our attitudes and our popular culture, including literature, film, television, song and, inescapably, the web. This has apparently led to our tendency to overindulge in rabid and indiscriminate mating, maybe in the hope that it may lead to social and spiritual bonding.
Well, it does not, as we know from the wildernesses of broken relationships, the explosion of cynical predatory sexual exploitation, addictive pornography and increasingly endemic sexist violence.
My simple hypothesis is that relationships, whether romantic, sexual or otherwise, that start and develop from a good friendship, a commonness of interests, is more likely to succeed and last than those based on what Muyaka, the Mvita poet, calls “animal-eat-animal” lustful impulses.
The same is true of even what we called familial or parental relationships.
Friendship, the philia, goes a long way towards cementing parent-child and sibling relationships. It is pathetic for parents to expect love and devotion from their children simply because they bore them or even brought them up. That is not enough.
A consistent nurturing of mutual trust, common interests and reciprocal appreciation is essential for family harmony.
Similarly, children should not expect to be “given”, given care, presents, education and inheritance, just because they are the offspring of a person. Their emotional input, their being there for their parents and siblings, contributes to the cementing of family harmony. Do you see how the philia feeds the storge?
I would like to proceed and make comparable connections between the philia and the agapé. But, since we are in a Greek mode, I should guard against hubris, the temptation to overreach myself.
Since, however, the agapé touches on the divine, suffice it to say that Holy Writ itself signals to us that we cannot convincingly claim to love God when we do not love our fellow human beings. In other words, the agapé is impossible, or hypocritical, without the philia.
Finally, the friendship, fellowship or philia that makes me a philomaniac is not a complex or abstract virtue or philosophy.
It consists in three simple steps. The first is that I expect every normal human being I meet to like me. Why should they not? Secondly, I try and look for the most positive qualities in everyone that I meet. This is based on my conviction that there is some good in every human being. Finally,
I try and connect with people by sharing with them whatever I perceive as the commonest and most immediate point of interest between them and me.
In other words, expect friendship from others, look for the best in them, and share.