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April 25, 2013

What on earth is it?   We throw the word around like we sprinkle salt on our eggs.

Here’s a stab at what it’s not.  It’s not self-sacrifice.  It’s not saccharin words—you know what I mean—”I’ll love you forever”, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, and my favorite, “You complete me”.  (I confess, though, I did ‘love’ the movie:).  It’s not about getting someone else to do what I want them to do.  And it’s not about putting all-consuming attention on the object of my affection to the exclusion of the rest of the world.

I think the self-sacrifice one is possibly the toughest ‘not that’ nut to crack, and may be the most confusing, so this is the one I’m going to explore today.

Self-sacrifice implies we’re giving up something.  And here’s the rub–if I believe I’m giving up something, then I’m likely going to feel resentful if after I’ve given it up the one I’m giving to isn’t appreciative enough, or doesn’t do or behave the way I want them to, or doesn’t notice I’ve given up something to be oh so loving to them.  Because that’s just sort of how we humans are wired.

We’re paradoxes, yin yang, both sides of the coin, greatest strengths = greatest weaknesses, both/and rather than either/or.  We can be mind-bogglingly generous and that lives with the reality that underneath it all we look for a payoff, even if it’s as simple as the reality that giving can make us feel good.  So the conundrum is that if we stop feeling good, then our generosity, or our self-sacrifice, can turn into something that looks very different from what we intended.

I recently read a story about an elderly man who was the primary caregiver when his wife became ill and needed round the clock care.  At first he felt really ‘loving’ and good about himself and his wife.  He was sacrificing a lot but felt proud of how he was handling an incredibly difficult situation.  But then he got tired.  He didn’t get enough sleep, had no time to himself, caught cabin fever and started noticing that he was missing out on his favorite rituals.  It all began to take its toll.  He no longer felt loving.

As I was reading the story I saw the complexity behind his behavior.  What does it mean about love when he starts feeling not generous and cranky and under-valued.  Which led me to wonder if maybe when we’re in a situation that requires some degree of sacrifice on our part we make it less about love and more about our values, about who we want to be as human beings, what really matters to us.

I know I haven’t even attempted to answer the question, what is love?  And I’ve only scratched the surface on what it’s not.  I’m hoping you guys will throw out your ideas about what it is, or isn’t.  I think it’s a HUGE, complex topic and I’m excited to read your thoughts.


  1. Kim says:

    I wonder if it is possibile to LOVE even when we don’t feel LOVING? To me, it seems like maybe it is. Thanks for all the wonderful Seedlings!! Definitely these grow into larger thoughts ….

    • robyn1001 says:

      Love this idea. My brain is cooking. I’m thinking it’s another one of those paradoxes! Warmly, Robyn

  2. Cathy Dempesy-Sims says:

    Love is life giving. “Not love” is life depleting. So what is love? That which gives us life….

  3. kd says:

    I love reading the words of Confucius about love. In book IV of the Analects, #1: The Master said: “Love makes a spot beautiful: who chooses not to dwell in love, has he got wisdom?” In the same book, #2: The Master said, “Loveless men cannot bear need long, they cannot bear fortune long. Loving hearts find peace in love; clever heads find profit in it.” And #4: The Master said: “A heart set on love will do no wrong.”

    These things may not define what is and what is not love, yet they bring me closer to living a life of loving and being compassionate to my fellow man. I find this the most tranquil way of living.

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