What Love Is Not

800px-KhmerchildrenThe core of all expressions of love is giving. To love a friend, a daughter, a lover or a work of art is first and foremost an act of giving. In love, giving itself is the gift returned since it is inherently rewarding. Yet, within the very pleasure that giving brings both to the giver and to the receiver lies a danger that often remains invisible until it is usually too late.

The seed for this danger is sowed when we begin our journey towards giving love with the chief purpose of experiencing the deeply fulfilling feeling it gives us. It is a pleasurable feeling, one that does not pose a danger in and of itself but rather, becomes so if it is assumed as the sole incentive of our endeavor; if, in other words, we give only to feel good, with little regard to the circumstances, context and consequences of our actions.

The relationship between parents and their children offer a good illustration for this idea. Parents give the most unconditional love to their children, expecting little in return, and trusting that their efforts will bear fruit as their offspring grow up healthy and well-adjusted. They go through a myriad of challenges and struggle continuously to do what is best for their children, even they are sometimes met with ingratitude and rejection.

Yet if a parent were to guide his behavior based on the momentary pleasure they feel when their children appreciate and reciprocate their love instead of basing it on what they know is better for their offspring in the long run, they will necessarily set themselves up to become attached to the immediate rewards of love. Consequently and eventually, they become unable to set the necessary limits that children need to develop successfully, unable to deny them whatever their immediate whims and desires may be, for fear of losing their children’s immediate love and admiration.

This relationship is not only detrimental for the children, compromising their autonomy as well as their capacity at freely making decisions and holding themselves responsible for their actions but also, though in a slightly different manner, for the parents themselves, as they also become dependent on this dynamic, perpetuating the unhealthy cycle as they go.

The essence of the issue applies to all kinds of human relationships, whenever giving becomes primarily an act of self-gratification. In friendships, in romance or in charity, whenever we confuse love with pity, need, power or weakness, we risk creating mutually dependent relationships in which the giver is essentially dependent on “being needed” and the receiver on “being pitied”. It robs both parties not only of their essential capacity to love truly and selflessly but also, from their dignity, freedom and responsibility.

We can only evade this risk when we begin with a clear understanding of the equality of humans among each other, as well as with a clear distinction between what is good and what feels good. To love another, to truly give from ourselves requires a deep humility that shields us from the need to be superior to others and that instead, pushes us to empower them to become better. Most importantly, just as a parent with a difficult child continues their difficult journey with a strong faith in the ultimate goodness of their intentions, so must we possess a strong faith in the good that directs the course of our deepest passions.

By Bruna Kesserwani, the Regional Director of Operations of WYA in the Middle East.