By James Falconer
What exactly is love? The word is often thrown around at leisure: ‘I love your hair, I love your shoes, oh and by the way, I love you.’ Indeed, love has many guises; what’s its real face and where did it all begin?
How did the ancients interpret love? It appears they did so in a variety of ways. The Greek term Philia was understood as a deep, non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members. Is this the type of love many of us show to our family at weekends when they cook, clean and taxi us around? How do we repay this love? Do we raid the presses and ask for money? Imagine if we were told to fend for ourselves, would we still love them? Is the love we have for our family and friends unconditional? Philia was also interpreted by the deep bond which was forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle. The Latin term Ludus describes a more playful affection found in flirting. The act of Ludus can be witnessed in bars, clubs and generally any social space where members of the opposite sex, and indeed the same sex, congregate. Agape, is another Greek word for a love that is found frequently in the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament). It is different from erotic love in that it is supposed to be the characteristic attitude of Christians toward one another; let’s hope that certain people in the north of Ireland are reading this. Love one another, irrespective of the colour of your flag.
Metta is a Pali term and derives from the Buddhist tradition. It is best defined as a loving-kindness which recognises friendliness as its chief characteristic. It is manifested as the disappearance of ill-will. Metta is based on an outlook of kindness. When it succeeds it eliminates ill-will. When it fails it degenerates into selfish affectionate desire. Careful now!
Pragma is another Latin term which means a reality which is concrete. In the case of love, it basically represents the type of love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practising goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding. This is the love that my parents seem to have cultivated after 40+ years of marriage. Pragma appears to be the love we should all strive to emanate – love for all humanity. This can be very difficult when there are so many terrible things happening in the world. Philautia is self-love, which isn’t actually as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered, in order to care for others you need to be able to care for yourself. Lastly, and the one which causes most trouble is Eros. This is about sexual passion and desire, which can be witnessed in many niteclubs usually after midnight! Unless it morphs into Philia and/or Pragma, Eros will burn itself out. Easy does it.
As there are so many variants of love, how can we possibly know what it is? Love may or may not be an illusion, but it can sometimes disappear overnight whether we want it to or not. However, people have to try to remove these doubts when they believe they are in love. They must try to do this because it will greatly increase their contentment. In spite of all the effort we make in keeping love alive and fresh, it may not last. If love does not last, was it really love? If love comes and goes like a gust of wind, what was it?
It is unrealistic to expect to experience all types of love with only one person. This is why family and community are important because it creates more harmony and unity for us to experience a wider range of love. This does not mean that you have to go off and start a family! Lovers are breaking up all the time, some get back together and others do not. Moreover, some people go from being madly in love to the other extreme of absolutely hating one another. How can this be possible? The love they felt surely cannot have been love. Love appears to be about understanding, forgiveness and accepting your lover for who he/she is: ‘Warts and all’, as they say!
Love to you all.