"I love you," said the mother to the child, and the pretty young woman to the old billionaire, and the addict to his needle, and the kids to their ice cream.

Why is love so important? Are there different kinds of love?

"Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired." (Robert Frost)

To love and be loved, this is the goal, this is the ultimate, for romantic and hardhearted alike. In fact, we become hardhearted because of a past failure of love. It is not that we don't want to love. We are afraid to love or ask for love, then be rejected.

We are humans. We are hard wired to connect to each other in confidence, respect, and mutual admiration. When we fall into prejudice, it is not that we do not want to love. No, we want to love, but we are afraid of the unknown, afraid to love the unknown.

We often think of hate as an opposite of love, which it is, but fear is also an opposite. Fear and love both have the element of respect, even reverence. Hate, like love, has the elements of attention and attachment. When I let go of fear, I let go of the inflated value I placed on a person. When I let go of hate, I let go of resentment and revenge. In both cases, I become free.

Freedom is at the core of love, because true, sincere love is not forced. I did not marry my wife because her dad held a shotgun to my head. I married her because she freely chose to place value on me above all others, and I upon her. Sure, we also have similar beliefs and hopes, and we love to do similar things, but if that was it, then we are just one among many good friends. To be elevated to the position of one-and-only by another is true love.

Of course, love is not limited to marriage. Family, friends, co-workers, and society are larger circles of connection. Our relationships with individuals in each of those rings are different degrees of attachment, mutual respect, and shared experiences. What makes each of them rewarding is when they are freely chosen, motivated by the heart and not forced by circumstances.

There is also mundane love, which comes in the form of tastes and preferences. “I love pizza. I want to marry it, but it would just be to eat her family at the wedding.” (Mike Birbiglia)

Even this type of like retains freedom at its core. I can be forced to eat pizza, but I cannot be forced to love it. You can be forced to exercise good behavior towards me, but you cannot be forced to love me.

What is the highest form of love?

Imagine a world where unselfish love prompted every action of every relationship. The love we give would be the love we would receive. At home, at work, at the store, at the traffic light, wherever, we would put each other first with courtesy. We would always feel well thought of, taken care of, and provided for. We could always give because we know we would always receive. We would never worry about having too little. We would never worry about ourselves, because others would do that for us.

When everyone is unselfish, there is no need for selfishness. Fear, hate, and prejudice melt away in the growing experience of loving concern and compassion. Our vision, individually and collectively, would expand beyond instant gratification and the need of the moment. Those moments would link together to launch us to bigger unity and deeper communication.

Which leads us to my favorite definition of love: Doing what is eternally best for everyone. At that level, love becomes a principled mixture of wisdom and compassion. We often give in to short term indulgence (of ourselves and others) that leads to long term suffering or failure. When we really care for each other (when we are not just reacting because we don't want to be bothered) true love takes the time to listen, learn, plan, and help towards goals that permanently benefit someone else. Love takes the time to find the solution that might require temporary pain and sacrifice, but results in long term growth for everyone at no one's lasting expense.

It may seem impossible that everyone could win in a world of limited resources, but this is only because we limit our thinking and feeling. True love expands "me" to "my group" to "everyone." Wise love expands "right now" to "long term" to "forever." This is all possible when we choose to replace selfish love with unselfish love. When I invest in others' growth, and they invest in mine, then we all get the growth we need and want without the damaging side effects of ego, stinginess, discontent, hypocrisy, self serving, and evil desire.

What is the opposite of love?

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.” (Mahatma Ghandi)

“I have decided to stick to love...Hate is too great a burden to bear.” (Martin Luther King Jr)

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.” (Elie Wiesel)

“At first I assumed hate was the opposite of love. But it isn't. The opposite of love is indifference.” (Helen Fisher)

Love is so multi-faceted, that all three opposites in the quotes above are correct: fear, hate, indifference. However, there seems to be a different point of view with indifference. Hate and fear are viewed from the victim's or recipient's view point, while indifference is viewed from the giver's perspective. How do these positives and negatives fit together?

Quotes and Questions

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” (Lao Tzu)

"Love has reasons which reason cannot understand." (Blaise Pascal)

“One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.” (Paulo Coelho)

Here is a key distinction between love versus faith or hope. Both faith and hope need good, real reasons to exist in a healthy way. Love needs no reason at all or can even overlook negative reasons. Love can give even in the face of hatred and indifference. Love can bestow value on the worthless. Love can change a negative pattern to a positive one.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” (Dalai Lama)

“Where there is love there is life.” (M. Gandhi)

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” (C.S. Lewis)

“Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you're wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn't love you anymore.” (Lady Gaga)

Perhaps Lady Gaga was betrayed by the vulnerability that C.S. Lewis wrote about?

“A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love.” (Max Muller)

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone — we find it with another.” (Thomas Merton)

Can anyone be a full hermit all their life? Is it true that no one is an island without bridges, that no one is a self-contained unit of all talents and resources?

Is life and love positive personal interaction?