I’ve been reading and thinking about this thing we call “love” (a close cousin to compassion) for many years. I’ve read various theories and definitions of love from theological, romantic, philosophical, psychological, and biological perspectives. I’ve researched the many benefits of being able to give and receive love.
Of course, many philosophers and spiritual thinkers have been saying for hundreds of years - "Hey folks, get into loving each other." It isn't such a new interest or need, but it somehow seems more urgent as I watch what's happening around the nation and globe. We have to get better at it quick before we blow ourselves to smithereens. Three simple ideas come to mind to help us love each other more.
One method comes from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. For Fredrickson love is those small moments of connection and resonance between people. According to Fredrickson if we want to better love each other, then we need to value meaningful connections and create more opportunities for meaningful connections to happen.
Fredrickson has tested her “connection” method out with good success. Basically, she advises people to start off the day with the intention of creating three meaningful interactions. At the close of the day she asks people to reflect on the degree to which they were successful in having these connections. That sounds good, but how does one go about having a meaningful interaction?
Fredrickson advises certain behaviors and attitudes like eye contact, approaching others with goodwill, respect, and warmth, listening and being present, and sharing in response to others’ sharing.
The second method for developing love was devised by Dr. Arthur Aron and has been used successfully to bring strangers closer together. The idea is that people become closer to each other as they disclose themselves at deeper and deeper levels. Dr. Aron and colleagues developed questions to provoke self-disclosure. The specific 36 questions that Aron devised are widely available on the internet and in books, but Aron says the questions aren’t all that important; it’s vulnerability - the opening up to each other, seeing commonality in each other, and appreciating each other that’s important.
The third method of loving each other builds on the work of Dr. Shelly Gable. Gable points out that most of us think that better loving involves being attentive and responsive to others during their low periods, during the bad times. Gables’ research shows that better loving seems more about paying attention to others’ GOOD times and celebrating with them. Celebrating with others might involve asking others to expand on their good times, letting them relive the good moments, generally helping others savor their high moments.
However we love, in the general sense it comes down to not treating the other as an object (an “it”) to be manipulated, but a subject (a “thou”) as Jewish philosopher Martin Buber explains it. When we love, the person we love is unique and valued, sacred even.
Any of these methods - purposefully connecting with others, disclosing ourselves and inviting others to disclose themselves to us, and being responsive to others’ good times are something we can try right away. It certainly can’t do any harm and has the potential for doing a lot of good for others as well as for ourselves. I could stop the blog right there with those ideas to try, but let me also remind you of some benefits of loving others.
Dr. Stephen Post is a professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook. He says that in addition to all the health benefits often touted around love (lower blood pressure, better immune function, increased heart health for example), we rarely realize that loving others keeps us from getting bored!
Post maintains that selfishness and self-focus keep our worlds small and uninteresting. As we begin loving others - desiring their well-being, we become much more interested and engaged in their world. Most of us can recall stories of when love for others has broadened our understanding.
My world was certainly broadened when our son married a girl from the Chinese mainland. My affection for my daughter-in-law has provoked me to learn much more about Chinese culture. When I made an acquaintance with a person who was addicted to drugs, I became much more interested in addiction. Beyond opening us up to new worlds, Post says when we love others and see their suffering, we often shake off our ennui and develop our talents in ways we could have never imagined.
As an example, when I was returning home from South America on a Delta flight, I read a feature article about a guy named Jake Wood, a former U.S. marine, who had founded a group called Team Rubicon. Team Rubicon gets Army vets involved in disaster relief and has brought many out of depression as they look beyond themselves to helping others. The immense suffering around the world seemed overwhelming to the vets at first. Over time, they have risen to the challenge, providing disaster relief to many (including to people in my area after devastating fires).
How might we try a few love-building ideas and Journey together To The Good Life?