What’s Love Got to Do With It?

It’s drummed into our heads that true friendship and true love are selfless. Nobody attempts to practice this principle consistently. It would be ridiculous.

Choosing a friend (or romantic partner) selflessly? Choosing a friend precisely because he shares none of your interests, aspirations, beliefs or viewpoints?

It’s intuitively, self-evidently and logically absurd.

The problem is that most people still feel that they should be selfless — as much as possible — in all of their relationships.

The false idea we’re taught and the logic of reality, as well as our emotions, tell us two completely different things.

‘Be selfless. Don’t get anything out of this. Or get as little as possible. Then you’ll be a better person.’

And at the same time, everyone’s internal and perfectly natural motivation in any context: ‘Love, value, enjoy, cherish”all of them self-interested, personal evaluations and benefits.

This constant inner conflict most people experience on a daily basis leads to faulty assumptions and faulty thinking.

It creates a false alternative: that in order to love someone with self-interest, you must treat them badly. By loving someone for whom you have no personal interest, you will treat them well.

Popular wisdom goes like this:

Lack of self-concern = love.

Presence of self-concern = badness, narcissism, ‘selfishness’ as commonly conceived ‘ anything but love.

This popular wisdom, of course, makes no sense at all.

If you love someone because he or she is important to you, then it logically follows that you WANT to treat him or her well. It would feel upsetting, disgusting or mean-spirited to treat someone poorly if you admire, love and respect that person.

Love of self and love of another. The two things go together, in logic and in actual practice. ‘I value so-and-so. I value him because he has qualities which I admire, respect or love. Therefore, I can’t wait to cherish him or treat him well, the next opportunity I get.’

It sounds funny when you write it out like this. But emotions contain thoughts and ideas, and these are something like the thoughts within the emotions of one who loves in a self-interested and, therefore, healthy way.

An old song observes the nearly universal human truth: ‘You only hurt the one you love.’ Why? The one you love, if you value and admire this person because he or she embodies your own personal values, ought to be the one person (other than yourself) you most consistently treat well.

I recognize this goes against the grain of everything most of us are taught, and everything we hear throughout our culture every day. The Pope; the President; the church of your choosing; any popular song; any oldie hit; any play, musical, dramatic performance, the fights of the couple next door ‘ all refer to the same condemnation of self. ‘You’re selfish.’ Outside of a sociopath (who has no concern for morality or rationality, by any definition), it’s the most horrendous thing you can say to anybody, no matter who they are: You’re selfish.

The self, most people would ask? What’s love got to do with that?

My answer: everything. The two are, in fact, inseparable. There is no love without someone who loves.

As a result of this constant internal warfare going on within most people, one of two things tends to happen.

#1 People choose their friends (or lovers) somewhat mindlessly — without cause for their own well-being — and as a result treat them badly. (There’s no incentive to treat someone well unless you choose someone based on your own personal interests).

Or, # 2, people choose others based on their own interests — but then treat them badly, because they feel dissonance or even guilt for having done such a selfish thing.

It’s perverse, but it’s only that way because the rational selection of a friend or lover for rational, self-interested reasons is at war with what we’re all told is the essence of goodness.

People say they don’t wish to go to a therapist because “I’m not crazy.” But given how crazy most of the ideas many of us absorb are, there’s no shame in being “crazy” — just a desperate need for course correction!

Most people are not crazy as psychiatry defines it — meaning, suffering from outright delusions or hallucinations. But the vast majority do have this inner war going on and it hampers their ability to be happy in their friendships and relationships, or even any of their important associations with people in their lives.

The puritans, the hippies, the supernaturalists, the postmodernists, the liberals, the conservatives, the intellectually sophisticated, the common-sense streetwise types ‘ they’ve all got this one wrong. The inner turmoil impairs the capacity of love to flourish, of marriages to function, of family bonds to be authentic, of businesses to operate professionally, even of governments to properly function and recognize their limits.

Self has everything to do with love, because it’s the self who actually does the valuing. If and when human beings ever get this one right, you cannot even imagine the happiness and prosperity that will flourish on earth. If you’re addressing the issue in your own life, it’s real and possible for you today.


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