Love. It’s that other four-letter word. When we speak of it, we usually think of the romantic kind, though, generally understood, it can have several meanings; love is difficult to define and for good reason, it’s a complex emotion. More than that, like the proverbial Eskimos’ legion nomenclature for snow, there can be many kinds of love. The ancient Greeks identified eight different kinds of love. Let’s examine what those are.
Agape: This is the slogan you sometimes see on bumper stickers; it refers to a love for others in the broadest sense. Another term for agape might be altruism. Often this kind of love is associated with God or religion because it is a selfless kind of love that generalizes toward humanity or the world. It is perhaps for this reason the most difficult kind of love to achieve inasmuch as it entails the ability to extend one’s feelings beyond what we are most familiar with to embrace something that might seem otherwise merely abstract in nature.
Eros: This is the kind of love we are most familiar with when we use the term. Eros is romantic or passionate love. Cupid’s arrow blindly aimed at no one in particular suggests that it is a feeling we are prey to, struck by an emotion that jolts us out of our senses. Romantic love, actually, is a recent development in Western civilization, originating with the troubadours of the Middle Ages serenading maidens aloft in ivory towers, hence its association to a more idealized kind of love that, nonetheless, arises from sexual longing. While Eros is the stuff “that makes the world go round,” it is generally regarded as a more immature kind of love because it is usually transitory, self-serving, and at least in part biologically driven.
Ludus: Ludus means “playful” in Greek. Playfulness is often a part of flirting though it needn’t be limited to sexual relationships. When we play we open ourselves to our creative side. In order for us to become playful or creative we must be in a situation or relationship where we feel safe from harsh judgment. Otherwise we expose ourselves to feeling foolish, self-conscious, or embarrassed, so when we are playful with someone it suggests there is confidence and trust in that relationship. Intimate and close relationships depend on playfulness to demonstrate that special bond still exists.
Mania: As the name suggests, mania is an intense emotional fixation on someone or something. When someone is manic it means they are obsessed. Sometimes love relationships or feelings a person has for someone else can take on manic qualities. Romantic love has an element of it. There are also instances when an individual becomes obsessed with another person that sometimes can lead to stalking behavior (we may remember the pathological relationships portrayed in the movies Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction). Erotomania is a term for instances when someone develops the delusion that another person is obsessed with them. Understandably, manic kinds of attachments often are directed toward movie stars and celebrities and thus a common subject for the tabloids.
Philautia: Self-love; a modern term we commonly use today is narcissism. This word has a bad connotation and reputation but it isn’t all bad. Love of self is the foundation for the ability to love others. It is only when love for self fails to mature into generosity of spirit or when it ultimately prevails in relationships that it becomes problematic. In order for love of self to evolve into mature love one must cultivate the capacity to experience the joy of how giving of oneself is a sacrificial investment well worth spent.
Philia: As the slogan on the license plate of the state associated with The Society of Friends reads, philia, the love of friendship, is the linguistic root for its largest city. Friendship, perhaps the most rewarding and enduring kind of relationship, entails sharing things held in common and that each party deems valuable; it also is founded on loyalty and reliability. Friendship takes time and effort to develop. It may constitute the most important aspect of romantic love that enables it to become a lasting relationship.
Pragma: What we might more familiarly call commitment, pragma is the emotion one feels toward those with whom one is engaged in a long-term project or mission. You might call it an allegiance by virtue of shared purpose. This might include a business partner or workforce, a legion of soldiers, even a married couple. A long-term relationship entails working together for the good of the relationship, children, or family; it is a vital element that anneals the bond of a long-term relationship.
Storge: The closest word we might have to this kind of love in the modern dictionary is compassion. Storge is the emotion we feel toward those close to us that compels us to provide succor and caring attention when needed. As with philia and pragma, storge seals the bond in a relationship that promotes long-term commitment.
All of these words for love from ancient Greece, no wonder how difficult it is to understand and express our feelings when this emotion is the topic of discussion. Love is complex! And when we express our love toward someone it involves more than likely an admixture, not any one, of these definitions. All these definitions of love are part of what makes us human, none is more human than another though some might be identified as reflecting a more mature state of emotion than others.
In his classic book from the 1950’s, The Art of Loving, the German psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, identified four types of emotions that express mature love: Care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge, the last pertaining to awareness of our strengths and weaknesses as opposed to idealization. The hallmark of maturity according to Fromm is the extent to which our love extends into the world as opposed to the self-absorbed and consuming relationship a strictly passionate love entails. Nonetheless the author grants that all must originate from love of self without which love for others is not possible.
Love for oneself has not always been accepted by our society and it still carries negative connotations. In his treatise, The Heresy of Self-love that explores this topic the author, Paul Zweig, points out how in the fourth century St. Augustine's personal conversion from Manichaeism helped establish the notion of the sinfulness of self-love as a founding precept of Christianity. This ethic prevailed at least until the dawn of the modern era beginning with secular philosophers such as Spinoza and Rousseau in the 17th century . Self-love forms the foundation from which all love derives because our emotional investment in others which is made possible through our capacity to feel for others begins with how well we are able to identify in others what we feel in ourselves. When either from self-centeredness, resentment, or fear the other remains “other” and empathy fails to be sufficient the development of feelings of love is inhibited.
In my work with patients in private practice, we sometimes explore the dimensions of love in personal relationships and how both the experience and expression of love is influenced by our relationships with ourselves and our personal histories. It is our endeavor, then, to confront the fears associated with the trust necessary for love to develop, and all the unconscious defenses we unwittingly erect to keep ourselves safe from sharing the most cherished emotion of human life. Love, like intimacy, is not for the faint of heart.
It isn’t easy to be human. Beyond the lessons of learning and striving for what is necessary to survive and to meet our creaturely comforts, there is something that takes us beyond the animal kingdom, what we call civilization. Through the invention of language coupled with a capacity to contemplate the sublime humans are unique in that we can transcend what is momentary to visit in our minds civilizations from a distant past, possibilities in a distant future, abstract languages such as mathematics, to create sophisticated technologies, appreciate art and music, extract meaning from metaphor, and more. But it comes at a price, the ability to experience in a rudimentary way the world as we did when we were young children, without prejudice, without beliefs and judgments. It is extremely difficult to undo what we learned since early childhood through a process known as acculturation. Acculturation is the internalization of beliefs and values handed down to us through generations; it is part of what makes us human. It is also the source of racism.
So, racism is a set of beliefs rather than a reflection of the “natural” state of our species as it is. The word, “race,” implies that a distinction is made among members of our species that sets us in competition with one another; we are in a race set by the laws of natural selection in which only the fittest survive. However, the competitive connotation of this term, race, also suggests it can be used as a measure of judging who is superior. While it is likely that racism has some measure of origin in our ancestral past that reflects a xenophobic attitude toward strangers and those who are different than we for the purpose of survival, as a belief system this aboriginal tendency to distrust “the other” can be used for any purpose whose agenda is to divide and establish a hierarchy by which groups of people may be judged and ultimately privileged. As Kurt Barling, professor of journalism at the University of Middlesex, England, observes in his book, The R Word: Racism and Modern Society, “racism is about getting deep into people’s imagination and shaping the way they feel about the other.”
CONCEPTS AND FOUNDATIONS OF RACISM
Our conventional definition of racism establishes this concept as a belief that is seated in our conscious mind, in other words, an attitude or belief that is endorsed by any individual or group who hold ideas deemed racist in nature. However, a more modern definition broadens the meaning of the term as being also systemic in nature. This broader definition encompasses a less consciously held but subtly manifest and thus, in effect, insidious belief system embedded within a culture itself.
The confusion between the more overt, conventional and the more covert, systemic definitions of racism is nowhere more clearly exemplified than by the common reaction, “No, All Lives Matter!” in reply to the slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” If we take this phrase literally it is simply an endorsement for Black lives, but it implies that none but Black lives matter, what defines racism in the conventional sense. However, if we understand it as an expression of a deeper implication that the purpose for proclaiming the phrase is to reclaim what is absent in society it makes sense according to the modern definition of the word. Identification of racism as systemic in nature through the phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” reclaims acknowledgement that it still exists.
The idea that a belief system can be subtly embedded in culture is not new. Nominalism, the concept that all classifications and qualities attributed to them are man-made constructions, goes back to the Middle Ages. The school of structuralism in 19th century philosophy held that the structure of language itself constitutes the primary source for how we interpret the world, not the way the world itself is constructed. Certain philosophers who followed went a step further by claiming that political and social forces influence how language shapes beliefs for the purpose of serving the interests of those groups of people associated with them.
Language, then, is an effective means to influence beliefs insofar as it constitutes the source for how we interpret the world and is at the same time assumed to be a reflection of the world as it truly is. Mystification, a term introduced by the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, refers to any system of beliefs that is purposeful in nature whose effectiveness is predicated on the degree to which it is able to keep its agenda hidden. Creating a “serviceable other,” a concept introduced by Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize winning playwright and author in her essay, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, is an example of how the purpose of establishing superiority is thus achieved. A “serviceable other” is a process by which one’s identity as a group is affirmed by assigning complementary qualities to another group that serve one’s own identity through comparison. This concept explains how, in Sam Keen’s book, The Face of The Enemy, creating a serviceable other promotes a cause to go to war by painting the enemy as evil and how, in Black Panther author, Eldridge Cleaver’s landmark book, Soul On Ice, racism has been perpetuated in the United States for centuries by assigning qualities to African Americans that elicit contempt and distrust.
The challenge to address the problem of racism at the social level is a matter of changing belief systems about identity, deeply-held ideas that are both personal and as they apply to “the other.” Racism is a concept that divides. To dismantle it requires unification, to undermine its corrosive effects entails finding commonality of experience and mutuality of interest, with a tone of openness and respect. These are the principles familiar to a psychotherapist in that they are necessary to establish a trusting relationship, to suspend judgments and prejudices, which is not the same as ignoring them, for the purpose of establishing a working relationship that forms the crucible for change to take place. In order for therapy to be effective, a patient must trust his therapist enough to become open to explore and examine deeply-held beliefs about oneself and others that otherwise prevent change from taking place.
To address racism effectively at the personal level we should follow the principle used by psychotherapists to heal ourselves in order to heal our relations with others. Healing begins within ourselves. When we take pride in our identity, we may choose how we wish to be defined. To put this into practice, identifying the subtle mechanisms embedded in our society that subvert the power to do so, the institutions that contribute to systemic racism, should lead to political action that produces real change. Identity politics recaptures one’s own voice to speak in a language that, by virtue of defining the self, empowers the self.
We must also learn how to actively listen to others with both respect and a spirit of inclusiveness. Mark Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University, observed that identity politics devoid of inclusiveness, as in the case of contemporary American society, for example, the broad segment that feels forgotten, disenfranchised, and disillusioned, those most likely to resist efforts to promote change whose deference to “the other” that has been targeted and scapegoated as responsible for their condition, can only inflame longstanding grudges and feelings of resentment. To exclude is to divide; hasn’t history already taught us how ignoring its weight can influence the calamitous tide of fortune against what ultimately lies in the best interest for us all?
The opportunity to talk about racism occurs in my practice when this topic is introduced by my patient or when I feel it has relevance to their work in psychotherapy. For those who have difficulty understanding racism, drawing a parallel between the struggle to identify and change subconscious beliefs about oneself that are destructive and the difficulties changing beliefs about racism that are systemic in nature promotes an appreciation for the challenges those fighting racism confront. Others sympathetic to its cause may benefit from discussion about how they may contribute through political activism and, for those victimized by racism, empathic listening as well as guidance to navigate personal relationships or at the workplace provides the validation and skills necessary to confront racist issues at both a personal and systemic level.
Confronting racism is about investigating and challenging our beliefs about ourselves and “the other,” the historic foundations and rationality of their premises, as well as how they manifest our communities and society in general. These insights support efforts to heal the self through self-examination and establishing the self as agent for the purpose of learning how to put these insights into practice as it pertains to one’s personal life and through social and political action.
Robert Hamm Ph.D