If you’re looking at the pieces that make up the experience of being human, love’s got everything to do with it, is my answer. (I’ll get to the cats later.)
Love forms how we see ourselves and how we see others. It impacts every interaction we have, with strangers and with family; face to face, on a screen or in a book; whether we’re thousands of miles apart or in the same room. Love can alter our memories and it shapes how we face the future.
It’s the subject of hundreds of songs, books, poems, paintings, plays and movies, not to mention cards and letters. Although we sometimes have difficulty defining it, we have some common conceptions of what it is and what it’s not; we celebrate when we find it and grieve when it’s lost.
I think we can generally agree that something so pervasive can be considered a necessity of life – at the very least, as necessary for a meaningful life.
But here’s what I’ve observed: for a species that is generally comfortable seeing love expressed between individuals, and generally accepting that this is part of our nature, we have trouble considering love as a essential element for our collective existence. We can’t seem to make the leap between accepting love as a feeling that exists between two people, to making it part of how we structure institutions, build cities, or organize and govern ourselves.
I’m suggesting that love isn’t an exclusive or unique creation of one relationship; it’s a universal energy that manifests itself wherever it finds an outlet. Wherever there is kindness, caring, compassion, self-sacrifice, empathy, goodwill, heroism – there is love.
And maybe that kind of love is too overwhelming and too nebulous for us to be comfortable with. Maybe we feel the need to control the force of love, so we relegate it to sentimentality and emotion; something that is mushy and irrational and has no place in hard-hitting reality.
But that’s wrong. Leaving one fundamental aspect of being human out of how we live together as humans creates a gap. When we don’t factor love into the design and function of our social structures, we’re out of balance, we’re missing something, and people fall through the cracks. Just one example on a relatively small scale but one that hits home for me: the Alberta provincial government’s recent decision to go ahead with previously approved plans to rebuild the private Kananaskis golf course, ruined by flooding, at a cost of $18 million, while refusing $275,000 requested by the Child and Youth Advocate’s office to cover extra investigators hired because of serious concerns over how the deaths of children in provincial care were being handled.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but in the immortal words of John Lennon, I’m not the only one. In the 1750s, Adam Smith, the father of economics, recognized that there was more to capitalism than competition and greed: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” Just last month, U.S. President Barack Obama in his state of the union address called for “better politics where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.” Primatologist Frans de Waal writes fascinating accounts of how empathy is natural for not only humans and primates but other animals as well. He says “What we need is a complete overhaul of assumptions about human nature. Too many economists and politicians model human society on the perpetual struggle they believe exists in nature, but which is a mere projection … Obviously, competition is part of the picture, but humans can’t live by competition alone. We would not be where we are today had our ancestors been socially aloof.”
It’s in our nature to love. It’s essential to our well-being as individuals and as a species. It’s part of how we got here, and we need to make it part of how we move forward. What kind of a world could we create if our decision-making and problem-solving processes regularly included the non-rhetorical question: Where is the love?