| Love and Altruism in Development |
Various descriptions of love refer to it as: the greatest of the virtues (I Corinthians 13); the expansion of the self or the identity to include those closest to one; the fusion of selfishness and unselfishness to become both giver and receiver.
It can be considered four-fold (affection, friendship, eros and charity) ; or as need and gift ; or as ontological, sociological and practical.
It may also be considered from the viewpoint of the objects of love - brotherly love, love of one's mother, love of one's father, the love of a mother of father for their offspring, erotic love, self-love and love of God.
Contrasts have been drawn between sensible love (which requires the satisfaction of animal needs) and rational love (objective response to something of worth); between concupiscent and benevolent love (both aspects of rational love, the former referring to enhancement of the beloved, the latter to the beloved for whom enhancement is desired); and eros and agape, eros referring to the fulfilment of the lover, agape to the fulfilment of others. Christian agape is impossible to mankind except for God's grace.
Plato's eros is the quest of the individual for his own highest spiritual good.
The benefit of romantic love is more to the lover than to the beloved. The need behind falling in love may be that of requiring change, and this change may be more important than the love which triggered it. There is a separation, a disengagement from old commitments (whether to parents,
friends, previous lover) and union or re-engagement to the beloved. It has been said that the basis of love is the desire for unity and the misery at being separate. The paradox of development through self- assertion and being separate and yet not being alone is solved. The changes arising from
love to produce this new, expanded self may be more permanent than the love which provoked them.
Although arising from need and imagination, love is real and asserts this reality by the intensity with which it is felt and by the permanent changes it effects. The self is expanded and enriched in this creative achievement which love is, synthesizing the gratification of wishes and desires at all developmental levels. Love as it affirms and values another person as he or she actually is, rather than an ideal which one would like or a projection of one's own mind, allows one to value the other person in total as an individual, accepting negative and positive qualities. Accepting the other's totality is accepting the shadow.
Philosophically, love is not a feeling (which can come and go) but a permanent virtue manifested in self-surrender to the needs of one's neighbour, action on behalf of one's brother. Its sublime nature transforms the most mundane situation. As such, love is not something which one is capable of without effort. It is an art which has to be learned, and requires knowledge; is expressed through joyful giving, caring, responsibility and respect.
The ability and need to love and be loved is basic to the human condition and one cannot be said to be "whole" unless one has this ability. In the sense that healing, wholeness and holiness are all aspects of the same underlying truth, since all these words derive from the same root, lack of
love can be equated with dis-ease - disease. Parallels have been drawn between spiritual, emotional, mental and even physical health and development and this ability to love and be loved. If one is unloved by others one finds it hard to love one's self. Lack of caring (the same word root as charity) for one's self leads to a host of disabilities - among those cited are headaches, bodily pains, even cancer.
The ultimate love, of and for God, is said to be a nearness of approach to God and acceptance of his love. This is distinguished from nearness meaning similar, as when a person is most God-like he is not necessarily nearer in love. In fact, love when most like God is said to be most demonic as it is
then that it can wrongly be mistaken for God. A clear distinction is to be drawn between "God is love" and "love is God".
Common to all love is the vulnerability of the lover who is laid open to hurt, scorn and pain and who must give up much in order to have the object of his or her love. It may be the leaving behind of family and all other loves to be joined in marriage with the one one loves. It may be, as Teresa of Calcutta says, to give up everything in order to belong fully to God.
Many have argued that love is the single most potent force in the universe. As Teilhard de Chardin put it, "Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfil them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves". It is thus the binding power between human groupings, whether family, tribe, nation; and the motive power behind religious, cultural and social systems. One of the three supernatural or abiding virtues, love is the foundation, source or principle of all the virtues (St Augustine).
Charitable love has been considered a moral and religious obligation in most societies; the poor and the stranger are often considered as under the direct protection of God or gods.
Source : Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential CD-Rom, Union of International Associations, 1996