Still talking about Love, about being in each other’s space, I’m remembering the different types of love that were explored in January when Civil Rights activist Diane Nash, a “Freedom Rider” was the guest for the annual celebration for Dr. Martin Luther King in our town.
She mentioned how her group had used what she has coined, “agapic energy” to achieve their goals of ending segregation. The phrase was to replace “non-violence” as a tactic because her strategy was not “just absence of violence,… It is the use of a power. Agapic energy is not passive. It is active,…” she said. She has said she coined it from “the Greek word agape or brotherly love or love for mankind, go[ing] beyond the practice of non-violence. It allows people to embrace their opponents as brothers and sisters, even when philosophies drive them apart…”.
“If you recognize that people are not the enemy, then you can love and respect the person at the same time you attack the attitude or the action of the person,” Nash told the crowd.*
During a followup discussion later in our community about this concept it appeared that few of us really understood there were three kinds of love put forth by the Greeks and others in various sacred texts. Eros we all know, that stuff of Cupid, Valentine’s cards and pet Poodles. But Philia, and Agape, what are they, what do we need them for?
Dr. King thought of these non-romantic kinds of love as “an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return… the love of God operating in the human heart”. ** And elsewhere, “I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.”
Romantic love as we all know preoccupies our every waking hour, especially its sexual aspect or its promise of gifts and life-long commitments. But of course, it always seeks something in return and can turn on us, fade away and move to someone else if it doesn’t get what it wants. We accept that we always hurt the ones we love. What if we got a bit cozier with that “unifying principle of life,” which we’re actually made of I’m told, rather than the hearts and flowers version? More philia, more agape might mean better relations with our difficult neighbors and in-laws, our co-workers, or dare I suggest, our enemies? Something active, on our part that can keep flowing, not be so caught up in getting? Ms. Nash, along with Dr. King, Gandhi and hosts of others seem to have proved there’s some merit to it, that it might work in breaking down present day divisions, injustice, intolerance, or just plain disinterest in anyone outside our immediate circle. So why don’t we do a better job?
Working on a writing assignment recently for a class, I was led to think about the contrast between the closeness, (congestion?) of small villages and many European cities compared to the sprawling suburbs that have taken over the U.S. and perhaps many other countries. Houses separated by lawns, effectively serving as moats, backyard decks instead of wraparound front porches, the necessity to jump in the car just for a loaf of bread, rather than a saunter around the block where we can rub up against each other on the way, dodge a bike or two. Even those living in multi-million dollar apartments in huge metropolises like Manhattan and Tokyo get to step out of those palaces onto the busy sidewalks and mingle with a vast array of humanity. They get to connect.
It occured to me this loving-our-neighbor business isn’t something that just happens, it’s a muscle we have to flex, exercise. When we’re not constantly rubbing up against each other, thrown into contact with people who aren’t “like us” we don’t get the chance to work those love muscles as much as we work the fleshly ones on our indoor machines. Having lived in some of these congested cities, as well as some quaint villages where a skateboard was more likely to run me over than a car, where you get to exercise your leg muscles and your love muscles at the same time, I can say there’s a huge difference in attitude toward your neighbor! There’s more opportunity to keep fit and get friendlier too!
Maybe it’s time to let down some drawbridges and move the deck onto the front yard? Close the streets off more often and have a party?
*”Handbook on Building Cultures of Peace”, by Joseph De Rivera
**”In the Footsteps of Gandhi”, by Catherine Ingram, pg.88
- PAULO COELHO: The other forms of love (dailymail.co.uk)