What is Love

In honor of Valentine’s Day this week, I’m taking time out to reflect on and practice love.

Something that has stuck with me for years is when my beloved Greek friend, Dina, told me that there are four words for love in the Greek language. Yes, four. And that baffled me. I thought love was just, well, plain old love. But there are four very distinct kinds of love.

“Agape” is a spiritual, altruistic, unconditional love.

“Eros” is a lusty, come hither to me, passionate love.

“Storge” is a love that stems from a built-in bond, like the instinctive and natural love a parent will have for their child.

And then there’s “Philia” (as in Philadelphia: the city of brotherly love), the friendship kind of love. That’s the one that I need to really work on. And it’s been heavy on my mind.

It goes beyond taking care of established friendships or mending fences. It’s about acquaintances, it’s about the person driving way too slow in the fast lane on the highway who is frustrating the heck out of me, it’s about the mail carrier who delivered my bills today, it’s about the person on the other end of an email, text, or social media post.

It takes empathy, acceptance, and tolerance of everyone we meet – no matter their views, their shape, their birthright, or their character. It takes understanding and acknowledging our differences. Taking time out to figuratively stand in someone’s shoes, view where they’re coming from, and look forward to where they may be going. It takes recognition of our own shortcomings. Going beyond pettiness and righteousness cloaked as good intentions and looking at the way bigger picture and its ultimate impact.

Yeah, this is the love where I’ll need to dig really, really deep. But I think it’s going to be so damn powerful in so many ways.

Starting today (not even going to wait for Valentine’s Day) and moving forward, I’m going to try my damnedest to practice philia. I’m at the edge of my see to see what happens.

Editor’s Note: As I’m writing this, a woman in the coffee shop where I’m sitting just got up and walked out. Her back was to me. I looked up and on the back of her neck I saw a tattoo. It read: love. [insert “chills” emoji]. It became the impetus for the image.

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Here’s some related reading, viewing and listening…

One of the keys to practicing philia is to examine and understand what is opposite: hate. I’ve pre-ordered Sally Kohn’s new book, The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity, due to be released in April. Drawing on her conversations with social scientists, researchers, ex-white supremacists, former terrorists, and Internet trolls, she gets to the root of hate and hatches a plan to get us back on the right path.

This short animation created around Brene’ Brown’s empathy talk hits the nail right on the head. It’s just what I needed right now.

Just listen. His words are so true.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

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