Love is a term that has a myriad of different meanings. In can be used in an array of unique contexts. For instance, I can express my love for a type of food, romantic partner or family or friend. The issue with the English language is that we have one word to describe all these different sentiments.
Language shapes our reality, and consequently this limits and constricts our ability to authentically express ourselves.
On the contrary, the ancient Greeks had more diverse terminology to describe these different connotations of love. Let us look at some examples of these diverse conceptions of the word.
- Phileo: Care, tenderness or affection for a friend or loved one.
- Eros: Passion, infatuation or sexual attraction.
- Storge: Natural kinship felt by members of a family.
- Agape: Unconditional love, or in the Christian context love for God.
In this article I want to focus on one of these terms in particular – agape.
In the religious context the term agape points towards the absolute, categorical and ‘no strings attached’ love that God offers us regardless of who we are. For Christians, this was embodied by Jesus who offered the ultimate sacrifice, his life on the cross, to redeem the transgressions of mankind.
However, regardless of your cultural or religious background, I think there is significant value in reviving this idea of agape for our current times of uncertainty and fear. To practice agape is to pursue virtue, to make difficult moral decisions and to stay the course even when you are not getting anything back in return.
For instance, this can be seen through a wife’s steadfast devotion for her husband who is in declining health. She cares for him in his illness and with the same degree of emotional intensity even when he becomes less responsive, and unable to reciprocate his love for her. Agape can also be seen in a parent’s love for their new born child, enduring the immense sacrifices and difficulties that parenting entails.
The love of agape arises out of a deep reverence for life. It can provide a limitless source of inspiration motivating us to treat others with care, empathy and dignity. We can practice it through acts of selflessness. Namely, treating others with kindness and respect, regardless of who they are or how they act towards us.
As the many wisdom traditions around the world remind us, revenge and resentment only lead to a more vicious repetitive cycle of anger. Rising above our base emotions, and exhibiting genuine moral decency to our transgressors enables them and others to see the harm they are imposing on us. It exposes the similarities we all share with others, and reveals the basic humanity of each and every person.
As the Martin Luther King Jr., agape love has a redemptive quality offering a pathway to forgiveness. As he explains, it can be described as an
overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative……. It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is an entirely “neighbor-regarding concern for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friends and enemy; it is directed toward both.
In a time which seems increasingly divided and polarized, what more can we do but attempt to set aside our differences, and demonstrate compassion in our day to day interactions with others.
Agape love is inspirational enabling us to see the good in others. It provides a spark of hope, a light in times of darkness and shows the true potential of who we can become.
Joy arises when we become grateful for the many gifts that we are given in this life.
A more beautiful world is possible, one act of selflessness at a time.
Giving is the highest form of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my alivenessErich Fromm, The Art of Loving
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This post was originally posted on the Pointless Overthinking Blog: https://pointlessoverthinking.com/2022/03/12/the-power-of-agape-love/