Many people say that love makes the world go round.’ To find examples that confirm this statement, we do not have to go far: we have learned about love since early childhood - primarily from our parents - and later from friends, partners, movies, music, and literature. Even though our lives are abundant with examples of love, author bell hooks (who prefers to spell her name in lowercase) thinks we know little about it. The book ‘’All About Love’’ is her attempt to discover what love is, and how we can feel its ‘’transformative power.’’ So, get ready to gain a new perspective on the art of loving!
The author’s contemplation on love and its meaning began once she experienced the lack of it. After ending a 15-year relationship, she found herself in despair, believing that love did not exist. ‘’It had become hard for me to continue to believe in love's promise when everywhere I turned the enchantment of power or the terror of fear overshadowed the will to love,’’ writes hooks.
In moments of sadness and hopelessness, it helps when you talk to someone about the things that are bothering you. Unfortunately, the topic of love is not often discussed. ‘’When I talked of love with my generation, I found it made everyone nervous or scared, especially when I spoke about not feeling loved enough,’’ says hooks. On the other hand, popular culture has much to say about love, ‘’Movies, music, magazines, and books are the place where we turn to hear our yearnings for love expressed.’’ Yet, it seems that the doubt in the existence of love prevails in popular culture too. The song ”What's Love Got to Do with it” is one of the examples that illustrate the overall disappointment in love.
The lost faith in love and the inability to talk about it and express it has led numerous authors to write about it, particularly in the form of guides to successful relationships and self-help books. As hooks notes, most of these nonfiction books were written by men who speak about love from a different perspective compared to female writers. She says: ‘’Men writing about love always testify that they have received love. They speak from this position; it gives what they say authority. Women, more often than not, speak from a position of lack, of not having received the love we long for.’’ Furthermore, men often write about the possibilities of love, not its reality.
To restore our faith in love, we need to learn about it from a different perspective. The first step in that process is finding the definition of love.
To know the meaning of something begins with defining it, and our confusion about love begins with our inability to find an official explanation of it. Probably every one of us has their definition of love, and we are looking for a partner whose understanding of love is similar to ours. Of course, things would be easier if we all defined love in the same way. However, even if you searched the word “love” in a dictionary, you would find an incomplete description of its meaning. The dictionary says love is ‘’profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person, especially when based on sexual attraction.” But, affection is just one aspect of love, and we cannot use this word to describe it accurately, says hooks. Moreover, the vast majority of books on the topic of love avoid giving clear definitions of it. For example, in ‘’A Natural History of Love,’’ Diane Ackerman defines love by saying, ‘’Love is the great intangible.”
The definition hooks gives is taken from the book ‘’The Road Less Travelled’’ by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, first published in 1978. Peck uses the teachings of Erich Fromm to describe the art of loving as, ‘’The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.’’ Then, Peck says that: ‘’Love is as love does. Love is an act of will-namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” This definition is maybe difficult to grasp as it opposes love to a feeling.
When we accept that love is an act of consciousness, we cannot justify mental and physical abuse, which some people connect with love. ‘’Often we hear of a man who beats his children and wife and then goes to the corner bar and passionately proclaims how much he loves them,’’ adds hooks. We should think of love as an action. That way, it assumes responsibility, affection, care, respect, honesty, and trust.
We first learn about love in childhood. Children associate love with positive feelings from their parents who care about them deeply. In most cases, these relationships set the foundation for our understanding of love in the future. That is why it is wrong to interpret punishment and cruelty as a gesture of loving. After abusing their children physically and mentally, parents may say, ‘’I'm doing this because I love you,” or, ‘’It hurts me more than it hurts you.” Hooks says this sends the wrong message about the cause of their actions. As she emphasizes, ‘’There is nothing that creates more confusion about love in the minds and hearts of children than unkind and/or cruel punishment meted out by the grownups they have been taught they should love and respect.’’ Children who learn to associate love with cruelty tend to justify this type of behavior later in adult relationships. Studies on the topic of childhood abuse show that both males and females who were treated violently in their early lives are predisposed to display dysfunctional and abusive behavior toward others.
On the other hand, there are a lot of children who were never punished in their childhood. Therefore, they think of love as something mostly given to them. Consequently, they tend to neglect the needs of their counterparts in adulthood.
If we think of love as an action and a matter of choice, we can then separate it from the act of violence. Parents must adopt this meaning of love to enable their children to have healthy adult relationships. To discipline children without physically or mentally hurting them, parents should focus on teaching children to take responsibility for their actions. One of the simplest ways to do this is to have them clean up the messes they make. That means, for example, placing toys in the appropriate place after play time.
‘’It is impossible to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth when the core of one's being and identity is shrouded in secrecy and lies,’’ says hooks. To know the art of love means to be honest with yourself and your partner. Sadly, telling the truth has become extremely challenging in a modern society that nurtures lying in many aspects. Nowadays, honest people are usually seen as naive and unable to adapt to life around them.
The majority of people learn how to lie in childhood to avoid punishment or to impress adults. Children quickly realize they can manipulate others by telling lies. The author gives an example of a little girl who lied to her teacher about being adopted to enjoy more attention and empathy. The problem is that people who embrace lying in childhood do not give it up in adulthood either.
Patriarchal culture also encourages lying, as it requires men to be in a controlling position in relationships. According to patriarchy, honesty means weakness. ‘’The very concept of ‘being a man’ and a ‘real man’ has always implied that when necessary men can take action that breaks the rules, that is above the law,’’ says hooks. This culture sees women as being weaker, so they often pretend they are powerless to play their role adequately. For example, some women get pregnant to force their partners to stay with them. Hooks says this is changing, however. As more women become economically independent, these outdated gender roles are harder to sustain. Since the existence of love without trust, loyalty, and honesty is impossible, reshaping tradition is necessary - men must give up on the will to dominate, while women should not present themselves as powerless.
Avoiding secrecy is another important lesson on love. Keeping things from the person you love weakens the connection between you, the same as lying does. Remember, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” Therefore, show loyalty and respect to your loved ones by sharing your secrets with them.
The language we use reflects our incorrect understanding of love. Consider the expression ‘’fall in love.’’ It implies that love is a force that we cannot control, appearing from nowhere, and we have no choice but to go with it. The culture we grew up in also encourages this view on love, making most of us believe that someday we will meet the ‘’girl of our dreams,’’ or the ‘’prince on a white horse.’’ To live according to this fantasy, we substitute romance for love, excluding our will and the capacity to choose. Many people are still reluctant to accept the idea that love is an act of will since they are not ready to give up on romantic love.
Fantasies of romantic love lead people to confuse passion and erotic attraction with true love. Hooks says: ‘’We often settle for lovelessness because we are attracted to other aspects of a partner's makeup. Shared sexual passion can be a sustaining and binding force in a troubled relationship, but it is not the proving ground for love.’’ Of course, true love does not eliminate passion, but ‘’gives us the courage to face reality, to embrace our true selves.’’
To love intentionally means to critically evaluate our partners as well as ourselves. When choosing a possible life companion, we should look at our needs, desires, and longings. However, many people fear being alone and therefore accept being with people who do not fully meet their needs. Hooks shares with her readers how difficult it was for her to realize that none of her potential partners had all the traits she wanted them to have.
Finally, true love is not easy. Since it is a conscious choice, it requires a lot of work and effort to be responsible, caring, and honest. If we truly love, we commit ourselves to ‘’being changed, being acted upon by the beloved in a way that enables us to be more fully self-actualized.’’
The big failure of our society is that it gives us a faulty model for learning to love. To those who lived according to this model, reading hooks’ insights might be painful. When the pain passes, the truth will be liberating as it prepares us to embrace the force of true love.
To change our vision of love, we must first change the language we use to describe it. Instead of saying, ‘’I am falling in love with you,’’ say, ‘’I am loving,’’ or, ‘’I think I am on the way to knowing love.’’
Bell hooks is a pen name for Gloria Jean Watkins. She spells her name in lowercase because she wants to shift the attention from her identity to her ideas. Hooks is an influential critic, femi... (Read more)
Now you can! Start a free trial and gain access to the knowledge of the biggest non-fiction bestsellers.