The Secret to Well-Being
Love is a complex and powerful emotion. The Greeks had a bunch of names for it, Eros, Philia, Ludus, Storge, Philautia, Pragma, and Agape. Love in its various forms has been the subject of literature and theatrical fare and music and art and dance forever. It brings joy and pain and hope and fear and is entwined with so many other emotions. We have examined it forever, studying it and trying to understand it. It is the basis of the Christian gospel, the Good News, and some form of the Golden Rule exists in many of the world's diverse cultures, though it is not always extended to "other," those outside a group. Agape is the Greek word for the universal, empathetic love, the love of the Christ.
Some say indifference is the true opposite of love. Robert Louis Stevenson's "Fire and Ice," so short and simple, identifies both hatred and indifference as apocalyptic forces. But we don't tend to think of indifference as a force. It is a lack of love rather than the stuff of great passion. The wealthy Londoners stepping over starving waifs, oblivious to their humanity, shocks the modern westerner who, no doubt, fails to notice things an observer from another time might think obvious. Hate is the obvious opposite of love, the equally strong emotion. Hate is pretty straight-forward. Sure, one can love and hate the same person, and that's a complicated duo of emotions. Hate can be specific or general and mild or intense, and it is sometimes disguised or hidden. But as Margaret Atwood said in Cat's Eye, "Hatred is clear, metallic, one-handed, unwavering; unlike love.” One must put energy into love. We naturally feel love, the noun, a feeling of affection, for some people in our lives and could no more cease loving them than breathing. But anger, resentment, and hate can nibble at or dilute the feelings of love that should be. It destroys insidiously, driving out love, and blinding and crippling its hosts. Love means work and sacrifice. Compromise, not of integrity or of virtues, but of selfish desires, preferences, time, energy, and emotional capital, is the lifeblood of successful relationships. Love means striving to be better and worthy of trust, working for the benefit of those dear. When love is not returned, it is uniquely painful. Our need to be loved accompanies our need to love. But learning to love those who don't love us back, to love without the reward of returned love, is the mark of character and purity of soul. Ideally, love is rewarding and wonderful.
Hate means sacrifice as well. It is mentally, physically, and emotionally stressful, even exhausting. If love makes us better, hate makes us worse. Hate brings out our most unpleasant traits and obscures our "better angels." Anger is actually addictive, and it can lay hold on the human heart of someone in pain, driving him or her to obsession and commitment to the anger. Many have noted that hatred is like poison. The most hearty plants and relationships can't survive being poisoned. It is simply not compatible with living things flourishing. It doesn't take the kind of work to maintain hatred that it does to maintain love, but either can slip into that purgatory of indifference with neglect. Hate does take energy. In the grip of hatred and anger, it is difficult to think or act rationally. These negative emotions cloud the mind and impair judgment. Inspirational writer Israelmore Ayivor said in Daily Drive 365, “Never loan your heart to hatred; it pays you back with self-destruction. Majority of people living are not aware that anger is an acid that destroys its own container.” Hate damages as poison, and the person in its grip will destroy things of value in service to anger or hate. An angry boss fires a valuable employee. An angry employee tells off the boss and quits impulsively over a resolvable difference. An angry husband punches a hole in a wall or breaks an expensive vase. An angry and distraught wife flushes a wedding ring. Warring divorced parents weaponize children. Someone defriends a friend of decades over a political post on Facebook. A daughter withholds grandchildren from grandparents over political disagreement.
Love means seeing the goodness in a person's soul. It is loving that goodness and seeing another person's demons and loving no less. Sometimes love means overlooking things. It means reserving unnecessary criticism. Sometimes it means putting aside some expectations, desires, and hopes. It invariably means forgiving things. Love grows easily in the right environment. My invasive Susans grow every summer with not the slightest effort on my part. So long as we don't dig them all up or poison the ground, they thrive. They leave us when it gets cold and couldn't survive if no water fell. But they come back the next year, year after year, so long as minimal conditions required for life exist. Hearty philodendrons are are an easy houseplant. They need a little bit of sun and and water now and then. They are famous for ease of care.
Sometimes, it's natural to love. Sometimes love is like the Susans and philodendrons, thriving, or at least surviving, through the years, so long as nothing catastrophic happens, and no violent, destructive act takes place. Relationships that seem indestructible are a blessing. But some plants will struggle even if well-cared for. Some take a lot of effort to maintain and are always fragile. Some relationships take a lot of work. Many, with work, can strengthen and become more resilient.
Both love and hate can motivate to action, foment revolution, and bring about change. Both are intensified by fear. Both can define lives and civilizations. Neither love nor hate diminishes as we share them. Love can be fulfilled and bring joy and, sometimes, pain. Ideally, it makes us better, completes us, gives our lives purpose and meaning. Hate is never satisfied, always wanting more, always demanding. It can take from people marriages, families, opportunities, and even their integrity. It can take from nations lives, opportunity, treasure, and freedom. For the Christian and non-Christian, in the simple admonition of Jesus, to "love one another," lies the secret to individual well-being, national greatness, and the better world people of good will seek.