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What is Love?


Evidently, love must begin with looking for the good news in the other.


Love is looking for the good news in the other, leading to the acceptance of the other as a lovable self, giving rise to the desire to be with the other and to do good for the other, giving rise to a unity with the other, whereby it is just as easy (if not easier) to do good for the other as to do it for self, which yields mutual acceptance, shared being and doing, and interpersonal unity.

Love is not a stoic act of will in which one heroically overlooks the nastiness of the other.  I do not look at the bad news in the other, noting all of his weak and irritating features, and then say, "It is my Christian duty to love that irritating, boorish, weak, and inferior thing.  Therefore, I will, I will, I really will!"  Clearly enough, there is no love in that.  This is simply the comparison game on skates.

Evidently, love must begin with looking for the good news in the other.  From this, love grows quite effortlessly.  True love revels in the good news, while "stoic love" focuses on the bad news and congratulates itself for looking beyond it.  Sometimes the good news may seem remote or inaccessible, particularly when the other is acting mean spirited or difficult.  Even then, true love enables one to recall the good news and remember that the other is the good news and not the transiently apparent bad news.

The lovability of the other draws me out of myself and makes me want to give myself to the other.  The greatest gift I can give is my acceptance.  Acceptance means letting the other into my inner world, letting the other matter to me.  Love approaches unity when it becomes just as easy, if not easier, to do something for the other as to do it for myself.  Parents, for example, often find it easier to do things for their children than for themselves.

True love is about giving and reciprocity.  The spirit has an inherent need to create something of value outside itself.  We do this in relationships.  A deep relationship may become a unity, which might be termed interpersonal personhood, in which the connection between two persons takes on a life of its own.  Each discovers that part of his personhood is derived from that connection.  The person is not merely an autonomous island, but interpersonal, connected to others with varying degrees of affinity.

The care of the other, the other's response and being, switch something on inside me — they ignite my spirit.  Further, I ignite the other, and I know it.  My care and response make the other come alive, and I enjoy providing this good.  It seems to justify my existence.  I feel I contribute something important to the other, that I have left an effect that could last an eternity.  Alone, I am a mere shadow of myself — a shadow of what I could give, of what the other could make come alive in me.  But in relationship, I come alive.  From the ego perspective of the second level of happiness, personhood may appear autonomous, but from the love perspective of Happiness 3, personhood is interpersonal.  Pure autonomy would seem to be the emotional equivalent of amputation.

True love revels in the good news, while "stoic love" focuses on the bad news and congratulates itself for looking beyond it.

Deep interpersonal unity becomes a living entity; our me's meld into an us.  The relationship becomes an interpersonal person.  When this degree of unity occurs in marriage or deep friendship, it becomes necessary for the friends or couple to find a common vision or shared cause larger than themselves, for a relationship, like an individual, must reach beyond itself or wither.  There are many goods beyond "ourselves": common projects or ideals, children, or the community, to name a few.  Relationships not oriented to larger purposes often stagnate.  Lovers can look into each other's eyes with such infatuation that they become for each other the pool of Narcissus — they gaze so deeply that they fall in and drown.

While infatuation is to be expected in newlyweds, the healthy marriage grows beyond that stage.  Couples whose relationship has grown beyond infatuation will tend to include others within their unity (although each is capable of relating separately.)  They will extend some of their mutual acceptance to others, including them within the family circle.  Conversely, infatuated couples not only will exclude outsiders; they also will avoid goals beyond each other.  Without connections to others, with no thought of good beyond themselves, their relationship becomes an island no more self-sufficient than that of an autonomous individual, just twice as big.

To be fulfilled, love must move beyond itself to a greater good.  The greater good need not be a person: Happiness 3 can also be experienced through serving a cause or an ideal.  A relationship that does not reach out to a shared goal loses its connection with the world.  When we are not a part of the whole, we feel great alienation.  Without external connection, a relationship lacks objective validation of its worth.  Like an individual, an "interpersonal person" without a larger purpose feels empty and useless.  Relationship is not, therefore, an end in itself.  It is a means toward love and good."



Father Robert Spitzer, S.J. "What is Love?" from Healing the Culture (October 9, 2012).

Excerpted from Father Spitzer's book: Healing the CultureReprinted with permission of the Spitzer Center .

The purpose of the Spitzer Center is to strengthen culture, faith and spirit in Catholic organizations for the new evangelization. Read "Why the Spitzer Center Adopted a Catholic Mission" by Father Spitzer here

The Author

Spitzer73spitzer7Father Robert Spitzer, S.J. is President of the Magis Center of Faith and Reason and the Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership. He is the author of New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, Spirit of Leadership: Optimizing Creativity and Change in Organizations, Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life: A Practical Guide to Prayer for Active People, Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom, and the Life Issues, Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues, as well as videos such as Suffering and the God of Love, and Healing the Culture.

Copyright © 2012 The Spitzer Center
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