Senior Perspective: The ubiquitous four-letter word
Written by Marge Woodfin, Pilot staff writer   
February 16, 2011 04:00 am

Today, as I look around me, read the news, listen to the radio and television, I’m reminded of that ubiquitous four-letter word.

No, not that word. My generation didn’t use that word as readily as the current one does, so it doesn’t come easily to my mind.

The four-letter word I’m thinking about is one used a lot by all generations, not always with quite the same meaning – l-o-v-e.

“I love ice cream, I love that new dress, I love that movie, that music, that house that store.”

In fact, you might say it’s over-used to the point it loses its real meaning when used so superficially.

Some say, “Love makes the world go round,” and I believe that’s true. The problem is, how the world is going around, and what each of us means by “love.”

It appears to mean different things to different people. And there are many, in all age groups, who are truly seeking love.

I’ve heard it said that if you go out looking for love, it will be hard to find, but if you go out giving love, you’ll have no trouble finding it.

Perhaps it might be helpful if we define “love.”

Scott Peck’s definition of love, in his book, “The Way Less Traveled,” is, “…the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own, or another’s spiritual growth.”

I like that definition. It reminds me of the Bible’s admonition to love your neighbor as yourself, which would seem to imply that one must be able to love and accept oneself before one is able to truly love another.

Eric Fromm, in “The Art of Loving,” wrote, “Without love, humanity could not exist for a day. Love is the answer to the problem of human existence.”

But, he also added, “There is hardly any enterprise which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations which fails so regularly.”

Perhaps that rate of failure is due to an inadequate knowledge of what love really is. Fromm explains, “Love is an action, the practice of a human power which can be practiced only in freedom and never as a result of compulsion.”

And, he added that love is an art and must be mastered, in theory and in practice, as is any other art, such as medicine, music or mime.

Rollo May defined love as “a delight in the presence of the other person and an affirming of his value and development as much as one’s own.” May added, “The capacity to love presupposes self-awareness, because love requires the ability to have empathy with the other person, to appreciate and affirm his potentialities. Love also presupposes freedom; certainly love which is not freely given is not love.”

Our romance novels, TV sitcoms and movies lead us to believe love is something spontaneous. You know, “Some enchanted evening, you will meet a stranger…” no matter what your age, and you’ll get this warm glow as he rushes to your side to sweep you up on his white horse and carry you away to live happily ever after.

I’m sure men have their own romantic version of having the right little woman rush up to fulfill all their needs – cooking, cleaning, baking, entertaining and adoring them.

And they’ll live happily ever after, too.

But, it doesn’t always work that way, perhaps because both lover and lovee fail to understand the nature of real love.

According to Fromm, and I agree, there are four elements basic to mature love: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

It’s a little hard to swallow all that in one enchanted evening.

Care denotes concern for the life and growth of that which we love. Some appear to love their gardens, hobbies and cars more than the members of their family, as evidenced by the way they spend their time.

Are we guilty of loving things and using people rather than loving people and using things? Do we relate to people as philosopher Martin Buber suggests, as “I and it,” rather than “I and thou?”

And then, there’s responsibility. True responsibility is entirely voluntary. We have an opportunity to exercise responsible love as we respond to the needs of others, even when they are unlovely. I must admit, I find that difficult.

There is some danger, however, of responsibility deteriorating into domination, possessiveness and manipulation, if we fail to go on to the next aspect of love: respect – the ability to accept the other person as he is, in his own unique individuality.

It’s also important for us to insist that our beloved have respect for us. If we allow another to disrespect or abuse us, we are harming that person as much, if not more, than we are harmed.

And, finally, in Fromm’s list of requirements, there is knowledge. To really love someone, we must know them, as they really are, and love them anyway.

Don’t expect anyone to live up to your unrealistic expectations.

The problem with our “romantic evening” kind of love, sold to us by the entertainment industry, is that we tend to see our beloved in the perfect rosy light of first enchantment, and expect them to live up to that elevated view.

And, when reality sets in, with dirty dishes and dirty diapers, we are incensed:

“That isn’t what I expect of love. He/she isn’t fulfilling all my needs.”

I’ll tell you a secret. There is no human being on earth who can fulfill all your needs. And, you will be just about as happy as you decide to be.

Besides, remember, you probably won’t live up to your beloved’s dream of you, either.

Love is an act of will, an art if you please, which includes care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

Let’s go forth and love.