What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.
I grew up in a religious home, attending church and youth group, Sunday school and bible study. This part of my childhood was very formative in my life for a number of reasons. Religion or spirituality plays a strong cultural component in identity development and learning for many individuals. One of the more interesting and wackiest contributions of my childhood in the church may just be a singing and dancing bible named “Psalty” who teaches children Bible stories and spiritual concepts through song. A song that was a favorite of mine taught about the concept of “Agape love” which called for us to “love one another.” In my adult life I would learn that agape is one of several Greek words translated into English as love, one which became particularly appropriated in Christian theology, however the concept of the unconditional love it describes, is present in many spiritual traditions (Templeton, 1999 Agape love: a tradition found in eight world religions) and is archetypal in legends, stories and historical accounts of various cultures. Agape love is not based on feelings but rather based on a decision and commitment; agape love is without conditions and requires active response. Unlike other types of love, agape is not limited to being held hostage by its environment and someone’s perception; agape is capable of acting in a hostile environment where there are no warm fuzzy feelings.
The song about agape resonated with my 10 year old ears, I liked the idea of being “called to love others,” it felt right in so many ways, however I am not sure I was aware of how complex this could be. In my professional career I have been interested in the idea of love as an agent of healing and of growth. I think back to Psalty and his message of agape love… what did he know that I don’t know?
I have begun to look more closely at agape and the concept it represents: “unconditional love.” As I have explored this further, unconditional love seems like the key to so many problems both interpersonally and intrapersonally (within oneself), as well as globally when we think about problems of war, violence, and social injustice. This is so apropos of the times we live in, in which there is so much pain and unrest. It gives hope in the knowledge that we can CHOOSE to love, even if we don’t FEEL love. We can act lovingly towards ourselves even on days where it seems we “can’t do anything right.” We can act with unconditional love to our partners, friends, spouses, and families even if they may not always “deserve it” in the moment. I wonder what would happen if we all worked on developing this way of loving in our lives. I have hopes and dreams that it may just help us to better relate to ourselves and our fellow travelers on this life journey. In committing to pursue this compassionate way of love we may affect change and growth both personally and socially in a way that may not have been seen before. This, like many public health issues must be both a personal and collective effort.
“We are enjoined to love proactively, to go out and find those who are in need of mercy and compassion, and to meet their needs with special sensitivity, wisdom and caring. We are called to be a voice for the voiceless, to be sensitive to unexpressed need, to respond to those whose cries for help cannot be heard. In doing so we become ambassadors of agape.”
Templeton, J. (1999) Agape love: a tradition found in eight world religions p. 41