Love and reciprocity

“All you need is love”


“All’s fair in love and war”


“Love thy neighbour”

What is love? It is one of the most elusive yet intriguing questions that puzzle us as a species, explored through poetry and narratives, investigated by biologists and delightfully entangled by those who delve into its mysteries, sometimes reaching the pinnacle of unity, while others struggle with the one they love.  Whether it is just a series of chemical excretions in the brain, or just an old meme that’s been carried around since we created language, our idea of love need not escape reevaluation.

The “love and war” expression often made me uneasy when I thought deeply about it.  The idea that “all’s fair” implies an absence ethics/morals and principles. If there is a basic principle of love, it has to be one of mutual respect, best embodied by the Golden Rule to treat others fairly, which is shared by many faiths and philosophies. This appears to me to be the basic recognition of another’s humanity. This is the way we can “love our neighbour”, people we don’t know, even people that we may not necessarily like. The quote does touch upon the passion, for good or ill, towards the intensity of emotion. However, in the case of love, I’d hesitate to plunge into an ethical nihilism the quote implies. One can still love another after discovering they share little affinity or affection, by maintaining mutual respect. This may include relating towards them in particular contexts, or not at all if the relationship is toxic. If mutual respect, fairness and reciprocity are lacking in a relationship, it will likely erode affinity and affection in time.

I don’t think there will ever be a definitive answer on love, and I prefer it that way. Even if no answers emerge, to simply immerse ourselves in that mystery may allow us to embody that idea, feeling and principle without pride and righteousness.  In time we might get flashes of clarity, enough to navigate this world filled with unnecessary conflict and strife between couples, families, communities and entire nations.  I will end with the words of one of my favourite philosopher comics, Bill Hicks:

[Life is]  just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings, and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love.

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