It’s Valentine’s Day and love is the topic of the hour. But love is a very misunderstood and abused word. Many people commit crimes for “love.” Many myths abound on what “love” is, thanks in a big part to mass media and commercialism that muddle our ideas about it. There are also so many definitions of love, and the world gets upended because of it. There are so many problems caused by these sometimes conflicting understandings of love, especially the ones relating love with altruism. I’d like to put in my own discussion about it that is a sort of remake of my earlier personal blog post about it.
There are several kinds of love. I’ll use C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves definitions for this, since this is often used in western perspectives. On Valentines’ Day, most celebrate the romantic type, called in the Greek as Eros. It’s the kind of love whose goal is mainly sex. The filial love between brothers or comrades is Philia. Familial love is Storge. Last is Agape, the love that is often called the greatest, because it typifies concern for others and willingness to help them in their needs. It’s sometimes referred to as altruism.
Altruism in an online Dictionary is defined as “the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.” I have seen others define it as “pleasing others;” and this is wrong. It is possible to please others and not be concerned about their welfare or needs. Many times, pleasing others is done with ulterior motives; our politicians are good examples, giving donations or crying crocodile tears just for their own image, and not really for helping people. And of course, this is not limited to politicians; even ordinary people do it.
Altruism or the love that leads to helping others is based on looking after others’ needs. For example, when Christianity defines this as, “when I was naked, you clothed me, when I was sick, you visited me,” it is about people’s needs, not their wants. Feeding another person’s ego is not altruism. It is not “unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.”
People love twisting the concept of altruism this way. They like to demand things from others, and if those things are not given, they may accuse others of not being altruistic. Using the wrong meaning, they demand that others please them, saying it is a “good act.” They could use that line, “hey, I need to be loved too.” But they actually mean that they may demand praises and flattery from others. Even if they are ugly, call them “beautiful,” and they call it a “white lie.” When others refuse to do it, they may launch into a tantrum and perhaps not only be angry with those who refuse to go with their game, but also try to ruin and slander them. It’s nothing more than emotional blackmail; or even moral blackmail.
Here’s where I can understand opponents of anti-bullying measures. Let’s say a vain, arrogant girl wants everyone in her class to call her beautiful. All except one do. The one may just disagree or simply say nothing, which some will assume as disagreement. The vain girl gets mad and accuses that one dissenter of bullying her. Some will say, “his refusal to acknowledge her beauty is an act of spite.” Really? That sure isn’t love.
That’s what I’ve been pointing out with the earlier article about beauty. There is a wrong sense of entitlement when someone demands being feted for who they are, and not what they do. Demanding to be feted is egoism. It leads to people becoming jerks and trying to manipulate others, which causes suffering.
Refusing other people the above has been made into a “wrong” by society, since this “offends” or “hurts” people. But it’s likely the result of a brat in power, who does not respect others’ refusal to cater to their whims. But we’re in times when societies are supposed to have moved on from sucking up to brats, thanks to more democratic institutions. So when people refuse to please someone who is wrong, they should not feel guilty or be made to feel guilty.
There is also this idea that it’s either you love or hate something. Filipinos tend to ignore this concept of middle ground. There is middle ground between love and hate, like and dislike. Non-recognition of this middle ground is also the premise behind the popular false dichotomy: either you’re with us or against us. Please me, you’re for me, or if not, you’re against me.
Another myth about love is the tendency to confuse liking and loving. The two words are often interchanged when referring to preference of things: I like this song, I love burgers, I like this painting, and so on. When it comes to people, however, a distinction must be made. Just as pleasing others doesn’t mean being altruistic towards them, neither is liking necessarily loving. Mere admiration of someone is not “love.”
There are some people who do wish to please others because they genuinely care about them. That’s fine. The problem is when someone abuses such love in a relationship; for example, the Filipina who insists that her foreigner husband give her and her 10 other relatives money all the time. The culture of dependence takes advantage of “love” to secure the mooching arrangement. The “love” here needs to be questioned and rethought.
Perhaps the ultimate lesson here is, people need to chill. They should realize that the world was not made to please them. The less people insist on the world and other people pleasing them, the less they thump their own heads with such conflict-causing expectations.
While I do encourage opposing and challenging these social norms regarding the pleasing of other people, I do understand the difficulty involved. Breaking such myths and undoing practices based on them requires a consistent, ongoing effort involving a change of mindset and its consequential lifestyle. It also involves that vital ingredient: courage. Without the courage to make the changes, it would be harder. Yet, some people do have the courage to do so. It is much easier to do once the initiative gets become and grows into a collective effort to change the culture and behavior of people.