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What is love? (Baby don't hurt me)
10 Feb 2020
What is love? Lucrative for one: Haddaway's in his 50s and still coining it in behind his 1993 thumper. Although let's face it, he never fully engaged with the question.
In the name of love, music sells and creativity blooms. Arguments, fights and even wars break out. But apart from the obvious answer (complicated), what is love?
Ancient Greece had a number classifications of love. The four which made the cut – and the modern lexicon – are Eros, Storge, Philia and Agape.
Still in ancient times, Valentine's Day is inspired by a third-century priest of that name. When Emperor Claudius II of Rome banned marriage (he reckoned it made men wimpy and unfit for battle), defiant Valentine would marry couples in secret. So the legend goes.
Anyway, our Val got rumbled and sentenced to death, which was the style at the time.
When a person thinks about love, especially around Valentine's Day, they generally think romantic love, or Eros. But there's also a bit of Storge in Valentine's Day.
Storge is soul bond love felt between any two people. That could be parent and child, or it could be long-time lovers with a connection beyond the physical. More later.
“Love is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed.” ~ Rick Sanchez (from Rick and Morty)
If you've experienced romantic love you'll know - it feels real. Sometimes physically so. But at the risk of repetition, what is love? Is it a primal urge, a body chemical, an emotional state?
Modern science just about knows the answer - love is all of the above. Consensus is that love lives in the depths of our subconscious, where we hold ten times more information than we do in the active part of the brain. Love is emotional.
We feel 'in love' because hundreds of emotional calculations (that we have little-to-no control over) smash around our subconscious and somehow reach a conclusion. Real romantic love might feel momentary and spontaneous but it's much deeper than that. Love is chemical.
And if only to ruin the romance of romance, love also stems from the same basic urge that drove animals and cavemen to partner up and breed. It's a pretty bleak view on love - but Rick Sanchez (see above quote) isn't far wrong. Love is primal.
When love comes together in the subconscious, the reaction can be so intense that it supercharges a person's behaviour. Think about a friend who has just fallen in love - do they want to spend every waking hour with their new beau? Do they report more thrilling thrills? Do their emotions seem sharper?
Love amplifies our feelings - that's what love is and does.
From Eros to Storge can love last?
With all those emotions and chemical reactions fizzing and popping, love is way more intense during the honeymoon period. Generally that’s not sustainable so the pilot light soon starts to flicker. Does this mean that the chemical part of love can't last?
See intro - it's complicated. Various experiments have proven that intense romantic love (Eros) between two people can last in the brain for decades. For those couples who do lose 'the spark', doom, gloom and divorce don't necessarily follow. Remember Storge? The deep emotional connection we feel with a lover is just as real as Eros.
Soul-bond connections breed loyalty, habits, shared experiences and routine. Relationships, even without the Eros spark, are a framework of identity. Couples come to rely and depend on each other, seeing themselves as a team, partners, a pair.
This is Storge – and it's not bulletproof either. The experience of love, like anything else, goes through different lifecycles. A person's body and brain chemistry are constantly evolving and those bring shifts and awakenings. When one half of a couple changes, it can test the foundations of Storge.
What about love is an action?
All this hifalutin theory is confusing. Classifications, caveats and chemicals - maybe love needn't be so complicated. Instead of describing a state of mind and body, maybe love is simpler. Maybe love is an action.
Back to the ancient world, this time China where theories of love were codified some 800 years before the Greeks put pen to parchment. Like the Greeks, the ancient Chinese had several ways to couch love. Special mention goes to the Mandarin Chinese equivalent of Eros, which is Ai. Yes, in Mandarin Artificial Intelligence is love …
Anyway, one influential school of thought, Confucianism, defined love as an action - less about the tingly feelings and more about showing someone, dutifully and consistently, that you care.
Philosophies travel, and love as an action has caught fire in the modern western world. Messages about loving by doing are now an Instagram staple. It's a neat classification because it's easy to comprehend love as something to do versus something to feel. It's way more graspable.
For Confucianists, love is an action was a code that worked. It defined a person's obligations to their partner, their children, their land and their community. Ultimately to their ruler. But this love was local and limited, it didn't breach family or city limits. It was almost a propaganda tool in order to preserve harmony and social order.
Mohism and Agape
In 4BC, Chinese philosopher Mozi saw the limits of love is an action and instead spoke about universal love - powerful, unflinching and open-ended.
Where Confucians cared about people to varying degrees (depending on bloodline, status and location), Mohism says all people should care for all people equally, whether stranger, neighbour or kin. Basically, universal love is infinite and unconditional.
The closest Greek iteration of Mozi's universal love is Agape, one of the four mentioned in our intro and another unrestricted, all-encompassing kind of love. Agape is the highest order of love. At one point in history, Agape was interchangeable with 'God's Love'. It was pure and bulletproof, no matter who, what or where.
Nowadays we don't, beyond the traditional parent stereotypes, hear about unconditional love. Neither Mozi's universal love nor Agape has much profile. Still, some like to fly the flag.
LifeSearch and Agape
“Today's daily practice is tolerance, would anyone like to speak about their experience of tolerance?”
A peek behind the curtain, this is how all LifeSearch meetings begin. We have 31 practices (today is Care, for example) for each day of the month. Each of our 31Ps ultimately stem from the purest form of love, from Agape. We reinforce our values and give Agape air in meetings and discussions every day.
To outsiders it might sound odd, but it works for us. And after several dozen awards for company culture, we think there's something to it.
So what is love? Who knows. To us it's a combination of daily practice yet it’s the concept that soars above us and underpins everything. Love is also a word, you’ll find it in our company strapline. We think protection is love.
But do we fully understand love? No, we know it’s big. Love takes different forms, there’s everyday love and there is universal love. Love is instinctive, emotional and chemical. Love is also an action. Love is big.
History's greatest philosophers, scientists and singers (inc. Haddaway) have struggled to crack love. Maybe us mortals don’t need to fully understand.
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