The exploitative, violent nature of the capitalist system cultivates a culture of lovelessness. The hyper-consumerism of late-capitalism –– with its damning demands for domination, rugged individualism and conformity –– permeates and toxifies our interpersonal relationships, making way for a severe drought of love. Simply put, love and capitalism cannot coexist. They’re incompatible. Only by reconnecting with our inner divinity and embracing radical love can we find ourselves one step closer to deconstructing oppressive structures on our path towards liberation. Liberation, however, is just one aspect of the journey, for love is our true destiny.
German social psychologist Erich Fromm, in his book “The Art of Loving,” discusses the ways in which love is the answer to the problem of human existence. He explains that having awareness of ourselves, of our fellow man and woman, of the future and the fact that we will inevitably die, prompts within us an awareness of our aloneness, or “separateness,” which is the source of all anxiety.
In our attempts to overcome separateness, Fromm claims that we achieve (re)union by transcending our own life and finding at-onement (harmony). He also describes the ways that humankind has strived to prolong the anxiety of our separateness through inadequate means; from the orgiastic states of drugs, sexual desire or the accumulation of capital, we’ve seen time and time again an overwhelming tendency to try and alleviate our own experience of separateness.
Much like author C.S. Lewis once stated, “All that we call human history — money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery — [is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” Whether we refer to it as God, higher consciousness, a higher power or whatever, there is truth in the fact that amid the mystery and miracle that is life, forces beyond our own seem to be guiding our spirit in the direction of interconnectedness, communion, fullness, wholeness or simply put, love.
As Black feminist activist bell hooks remarks in her book “All About Love,” “my belief that God is love, love is everything, our true destiny — sustains me.” The Buddha defined the spiritual path to freedom as a practice characterized by the liberation of the heart which is love.. And as the Biblical passage 1 John 3:14 states, “Anyone who does not know love remains in death.” Even in a culture distinguished by immense lovelessness, we all still seek to know love.
But how do we know love, and what separates love from basic attraction?
Martin Luther King Jr. sought to answer these questions in his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” in which he said, “When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: ‘Let us love one another, for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.’”
Similarly, according to bell hooks, to know love we must “let go of our obsession with power and domination” which pervades Western society everywhere from our places of employment, religious institutions, political arenas, school systems and interpersonal relationships.
We can let go of this obsession with power and domination by first understanding love as an active force. With this in mind, we can come to an understanding of the four basic elements, according to Fromm, that denote the active character of love, and exist in all forms of love: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.
Fromm cites care of love as “an active concern for the life and growth of that which we love.” He explains that we must labor in order to love, and that it requires dedicated work and effort in order to enhance the life of those we love.
He describes the responsibility of love as “being able and ready to respond.” In order to love, we have to be able to react to the needs of others and understand the necessity of putting others first –– before our own needs are met.
Fromm describes respect of love as not out of fear or awe, but “in accordance with the root of the word.” This means that respect is predicated on the basis of freedom and independence, or the absence of exploitation. If we’re in accordance with someone, that means we are aware of and conscious of their boundaries and rights as a human being. But to do this, we must know them.
Thus, the knowledge of love, or the knowing whom we love, is an absolute necessity. Fromm claims that “knowledge is empty if not motivated by concern.” He goes on to say that this knowledge has another aspect to it, and that by knowing someone else, we come further to uncovering the secrets inherent in the miracle of life itself. While we can only know ourselves to a limited extent, knowing others allows us the affirmation and assurance that we are not, in fact, alone in this universe. In this, Fromm concludes that the only way to “full knowledge” lies in the act of love.
It is only when we are taking action, or acting in some way that we are fully alive. As Christine Valters Paintner states, “our greatest creative act is living our daily lives.” What better way to live our lives than with love in our hearts and on our minds? As bell hooks asserts in her chapter on Divine Love, “To be fully alive is to act … I understand action to be any way that we can co-create reality with other beings and the Spirit. Action like a sacrament is the visible form of an invisible spirit, an outward manifestation of inward power.”
By being critical and examining our own actions, we become better at outwardly putting forth this inward power inherent in all of us. By offering care, remaining responsible and respectful and having a desire to learn and to know, in all our interactions, we enrich not only others, but ourselves in the process. As we continue to strive through our actions to be fully alive, we embark on a lifelong trip towards our true destiny –– love.
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