[Editor’s note: This piece was written for LRN LAF LUV LIV™ by Calvin Cockrell. Calvin and his fiancée Katie are getting married in October 2019. Congratulations to you both! Calvin eloquently discusses the perspective and importance of “charitable love”. His description touches on several Philosophy for LYF concepts, including goodness and respectfulness as core values from which to love and the LUV deed of goodness outward (to nurture others) and inward (to value yourself). As stated in Do LUV to value and nurture, LUV is not about the love you want or the love you receive from others. LUV is about the love you do and the love you give.]
The way people often think about love today is to a great extent, selfishly. We love things because they bring us pleasure. We love our favorite foods because they taste good. We love our hobbies because they bring us a sense of accomplishment or exhilaration or some other type of emotional fulfillment. This may seem obvious. Obviously, we wouldn’t love something that didn’t bring us joy. But it may be less obvious that we also tend not to love people who don’t bring us joy. We expect that same sort of return from our personal relationships.
We love our friends because we enjoy their company. We have some common interests, experiences, and beliefs that we can talk about and participate in together. They help and support us. The same goes for our romantic relationships, with the additional emotional and physical fulfillment that comes with them. But when those relationships stop bringing us satisfaction, when we no longer get what we want out of those relationships, we start to drift apart, and eventually those relationships come to an end. Or worse, they come to an abrupt end when we have a strong disagreement.
But when we think about love in this selfish way, we are naturally not going to love very many people. If love is only quid pro quo, how can we love people who have done us wrong or whom we barely know? If they haven’t done anything for us lately, we can’t love them even mentally, let alone show love toward them in a tangible way.
A Better Way
There is, however, a better way to think about love. The King James Bible translates the Greek word agape, the highest form of love, as charity. If our philosophy is based on love as actions, as deeds of goodness, as nurturing others, then our love should be charity.
When we think of the word charity, it typically brings to mind an organization that, through donations, helps people in need at no cost to them. A charitable person usually describes someone who gives money to needy people either directly or indirectly, through these organizations. But at its most basic level, charity is not about money and organizations. It’s compassion and kindness with nothing needed or expected in return. If we think of love in this way, as a charitable love rather than a selfish love, loving everyone comes much more naturally.
When we engage in charitable love, we always try to help other people to the best of our ability. We prioritize the needs of others over our own wants. We want what’s best for them, even if that means we have to make some sacrifices. When our mindset is focused on others, we help people without considering what they have done for us in the past or what they may do for us in the future. We want to help people regardless of who they are.
All of this is not to say that there is anything wrong with receiving fulfillment from our relationships. A good relationship should be fulfilling. But our relationships should not be founded on what we get out of them. There should be a foundation of charitable love toward all people. That does not mean we love everyone in the same way. Our relationships with the people with whom we do share common interest, whom we do enjoy being around, who do bring us fulfillment, will naturally grow stronger. It also does not mean that we should stay in close relationships with people who hurt us, or that we should neglect our own well-being.
But all our relationships should start with this charitable love, and that should never go away, no matter what happens. When a relationship is not the same as it once was or there is a problem, even a big one, we don’t stop loving that person, because our love is not dependent on what we get from them. We still show them the same kindness and compassion we have had from the beginning. We still want the best for them, in some cases despite perceived wrongs or even harm they have done us.
Practicing charitable love is hard. It’s hard to love people we don’t know. It’s hard to love people who make us mad. It’s hard to love people who seem evil. It’s hard to love people who don’t love us back. It’s also impossible to help everyone. Although we can make small sacrifices to help others, on a major scale we do have an obligation to take care of ourselves and our families first.
But we should strive to love everyone and help everyone we can. That means, if we can buy someone a meal who needs it at the expense of having dinner at a nice restaurant for ourselves, we will. If we can help someone move at the expense of our Saturday afternoon, we will. If we can keep a friendship despite some hurt feelings, we will. If we can keep a romance going, even though it’s not always perfect, we will. If our love is charity, knowing we are nurturing the other person is all the fulfillment we need. If our love is charity, there is no room for hate.