Towards a deeper understanding of love
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some but for everyone.”
These words constitute the chorus of a 1965 pop music hit, written by Hal David, arranged by Burt Bacharach, and originally recorded and made popular by Jackie DeShannon. It was subsequently recorded by several other artistes, including Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross and the Supremes.
A fascination with love has been an enduring feature of the human experience down through the ages. And today, love was the focus of international attention, primarily in the Christian world, with the observance of Valentine’s Day which originated with the early Church. Drawing on an ancient pagan event associated with fertility, this day was specially set aside for the celebration of love in honour of a bishop who, according to legend, secretly married couples at a time when marriage was outlawed in ancient Rome.
What does the Hal David song specifically mean when it speaks of love? It so happens that when people think of love today, they tend to make an automatic association with romance — the kind of love which exists between a man and a woman. This is hardly surprising because images of romantic love, especially the sexual type, are constantly in our faces today. They are heavily used in marketing, for example, to fuel demand for various goods and services. As a result, it is easy to be confused about the true nature of love.
As a concept handed down to us from the ancient world, love extends beyond this narrow definition and was so understood in the ancient world. Perhaps, in our case, the preoccupation with romance stems from the limitations of the English language when it comes to giving specific expression of the meaning of some concepts. While there is one word for “love” in the English language, there were six in ancient Greek which conveyed different and distinct meanings.
We have chosen ancient Greek because it is the original language of the New Testament which, as a pillar of Christianity, has had extensive influence on Western civilization of which we are part. Indeed, love is a central concept of Christianity with God being summed up as the perfect expression of love. “Agape” is the Greek word used in this instance, referring to the highest form of love which is unconditional.
Among the six were romantic love – or “eros” – which was sometimes viewed negatively; “philia: which referred to brotherly love and was heavily prized, and “philautia” — love of self. Not the narcissistic kind but the one which is stepping stone to loving others. It is summed up in the saying that it is impossible to love another without first loving oneself.
Can we truly say as a maturing nation that we love ourselves? Against concerns that Barbados has become a self-centred society where each man (and woman) is breaking for himself (or herself), sometimes at the expense of someone else, Valentine’s Day provides a timely opportunity to revisit an important point about loving ourselves, made by the Rt Excellent Errol Barrow in his famous Mirror Image speech, delivered before a hushed audience in Independence Square in May 1986.
Concerned about certain developments that he considered unwholesome, this isand’s Father of Independence challenged us to introspection. “What kind of mirror image do you have of yourself? Do you really like yourselves? Because you can never really like anybody unless you first like yourself. There are too many people in Barbados who despise themselves and their dislike of themselves reflects itself in their dislike of other people . . . people who live next door to them, members of their family, husbands, and wives . . .”
St Paul, in his great treatise on love found at 1 Corinthians 13 which is a favourite reading at weddings, identified love as the most powerful of all forces. He listed its characteristics. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
It is said that too much time and effort are spent in Barbados tearing people down when the same time and effort could be better used trying to lift them up. The practice of love, anchored in genuine concern for our fellowman, is essential to a moral and spiritual revitalization of our world and nation. It begins, however, with learning to love ourselves which, as one well-known song says, “is the greatest love of all.”