Saturday, February 18, 2012

Critiquing Love

The previous parts of this article are here: PrefacePart 1Part 2, Part 3, & Part 4.

I think I have written enough on love, at least for now. But then I ended my previous post with "To be continued..." So, now I feel obliged to write something more about love. Well, so be it.

Although I seem to be suffering from a mental block now, I have actually enjoyed contemplating on the meaning of love, and writing about it. It's has been a really fulfilling exercise, because it helped me see some shades and subtilties of love that I hadn't paid attention to before. It was also interesting to read through the comments and emails of my friends who responded to my posts on love. They provided some additional insights into the topic. However, despite all these musings and conversations on love (or may be because of them), today it feels like love is a pretty insignificant thing that we only have magnified in our mind by thinking and talking too much about it.

One of the philosophies that I subscribe to is what Socrates summarized with the words, "An unexamined life is not worth living." As a corollary, anything worthwhile should be examined. And so love should be examined. However, isn't it possible that the examination of a phenomenon makes it more important in our eyes? Specifically, isn't it likely that the importance of love becomes magnified in our eyes when we think and ponder over it? You may respond, "Yes, but what's wrong with that?" The problem is that when love becomes important in our mind, we expect it to be the panacea for all our problems. We start deluding ourselves that love conquers all. Consider the lyrics of the Beatles song, "All you need is love." It goes:

There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It's easy.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you
in time - It's easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

I love the Beatles! But does love really take care of everything, as suggested by the Beatles? According to Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles, "[The above song] was an inspired song and they really wanted to give the world a message. The nice thing about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything." Really? Is love everything? To be fair, it's not just the Beatles. Innumerable other poets, songwriters, novelists, movie-makers, and even saints have talked about love being the most potent and powerful force in the world. But how can that be? Let's evaluate love based on the some of the definitions that have been suggested.

In my previous posts, I talked about true love in terms of being there. I also said that irrespective of whether the other person is there or not, we should strive to be there. This may have sounded like a reasonable idea, but can you be there for your beloved, if s/he doesn't want you to be there? No! So, how are you going to practice being there, if you are not wanted? Unless you want to feel like a martyr, you cannot and should not be there for someone who doesn't want you to be there. You may think that the problem lies with viewing love as being there. But that's not true. Let's consider some of the other definitions that were suggested by my friends (based on their readings and understanding):
  • True love is unconditional
  • True love is having no expectations of reciprocation
  • True love is giving freedom to the other.
Now aren't these definitions also promoting a mentality of martyrdom? If not, then they at least seem to suggest that we will have a fulfilling experience if we love others in such selfless ways.

I just googled "real love," and one of the top results was a book titled by the same name. Here are some of the introductory words from the book that I saw through the preview feature of Google Books: "Real Love is unconditionally caring about the happiness of another person. Sadly, few of us have either given or received that kind of love, and without it we experience a terrible void in in our lives, which we try to fill with money, power, food, sex, and entertainment. But not matter how much of these substitutes we acquire, we remain empty, alone, afraid, and angry, because the one thing we really need is Real Love. Without it, we can only be miserable; with it our happiness is guaranteed." Now, you tell me, although the above view of love seems very right and idealistic, is it not promising something that cannot be delivered? Do you really believe that happiness is guaranteed with real love?

To be continued ...


  1. Going by the definition of real love, since it is unconditional, then it doesn't matter whether it makes you happy in return, right? Happiness lies in the very act of giving unconditional love. Take Mother Teresa for example...

    1. Thank you for your comment, Ma'am. You make a great point. True, if love is unconditional, then logically we are not supposed to expect anything in return of our love. However, the question is why do people advocate unconditional love? The claim is that having no return expectations will make us happy, right? Now paradoxically, doesn't that place expectations on unconditional love, if not expectations from the recipient of our love?