I do not know if there has ever been a time in history
when the word love has been used so promiscuously as it
is at present.
We are told constantly that we must "love" everyone.
Leaders of movements declare that they "love" followers
they have never met. Enthusiasts of personal-growth
workshops and encounter-group weekends emerge from such
experiences announcing that they "love" all people
Just as a currency, in the process of becoming more and
more inflated, has less and less purchasing power, so
words, through an analogous process of inflation,
through being used less and less discriminately, are
progressively emptied of meaning.
It is possible to feel benevolence and
goodwill toward human beings one does not know or does
not know very well. It is not possible to feel love.
Aristotle made this observation twenty-five hundred
years ago, and we still need to remember it. In
forgetting it, all we accomplish is the destruction of
the concept of love.
Love by its very nature entails a process of selection,
of discrimination. Love is our response to what
represents our highest values. Love is a response to
distinctive characteristics possessed by some beings but
not by all. Otherwise, what would be the tribute of
If love between adults does not imply admiration, if it
does not imply an appreciation of traits and qualities
that the recipient of love possesses, what meaning or
significance would love have and why would anyone
consider it desirable?
In his book "The Art of Loving," Erich Fromm wrote: "In
essence, all human beings are identical. We are all part
of One; we are One. This being so, it should not make
any difference whom we love."
Really? If we were to ask our lovers why they care for
us, consider what our reaction would be if told, "Why
shouldn't I love you? All human beings are identical.
Therefore, it doesn't make any difference whom I love.
So it might as well be you." Not very inspiring, is it?
So I find the advocacy of "universal love" puzzling --
if one takes words literally. Not everyone condemns
sexual promiscuity, but I have never heard of anyone who
hails it as an outstanding virtue. But spiritual
promiscuity? Is that an outstanding virtue? Why? Is the
spirit so much less important than the body?
In commenting on this paradox, Ayn Rand wrote in "Atlas
Shrugged": "A morality that professes the belief that
the values of the spirit are more precious than matter,
a morality that teaches you to scorn a whore who gives
her body indiscriminately to all men -- the same
morality demands that you surrender your soul in
promiscuous love for all comers."
My own impression is that people who talk of "loving"
everyone are, in fact, expressing a wish or a plea that
everyone love them. But to take love -- above all, love
between adults -- seriously, to treat the concept with
respect and distinguish it from generalized benevolence
or goodwill, is to appreciate that it is a unique
experience possible between some people but not between
Consider the case of romantic love. When two adults with
significant spiritual and psychological affinities
encounter each other, and if they have evolved to a
decent level of maturity -- if they are beyond the level
of merely struggling to make their relationship "work"
-- then romantic love can become a pathway, not only to
sexual and emotional happiness but also to higher
reaches of human growth. It can become a context for a
continuing encounter with the self, through the process
of interaction with another self. Two consciousnesses,
each dedicated to personal evolution, can provide an
extraordinary stimulus and challenge to each other.
But such a possibility presupposes self-esteem. The
first love affair we must consummate successfully is
with ourselves; only then are we ready for a
relationship with another. A person who feels unworthy
and unlovable is not ready for romantic love.
Of course, there are other kinds of love besides
romantic love. What I feel for my grandchildren is a
different kind of love. What it has in common with
romantic love, however, is that I see in my
grandchildren values and traits that touch my heart. But
it would be a corruption of language to say that I
"love" my grandchildren the same as I "love" children
whom I do not even know. Whatever my feelings for other
children, the experience is entirely different.
Apart from what I feel for my wife, Devers -- who is the
highest value in my life -- writing is my paramount
passion. What this means, practically, is that a good
deal of my time and energy is devoted to writing. This
has to do with living one's values, not simply
You ask, "How do I bring love into my life?" My answer
is that I focus day after day principally on what I care
most about in this world -- on what I most respect and
admire. That is what I give my time and attention to.
Since my highest priorities are my marriage and my work,
I give the greatest part of my time and energy to them.
With regard to my wife, I frequently communicate to her
my awareness of all the traits and characteristics in
her that I so much love, respect, appreciate, and
We all want to be seen, understood, appreciated. I call
this the need for the experience of psychological
visibility. I strive to make my wife feel visible to me.
I also spend a great deal of time thinking about the
things I love. I am keenly aware of how much there is in
life to appreciate and enjoy. I dwell on that every day.
I do not take anything good in my life for granted.
I am always aware of our mortality. I know that if I
love someone, the time to express it is today. If I
value something, the time to honor it is today.
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