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The Education of LOVE

The Education of LOVE

by Alvin B. Kuhn

* Electronically typed and edited by Juan Schoch for educational research purposes. This notice is not to be removed.


In a recent article in the NEW OUTLOOK – “Why Not Try Love?” – we suggested in the final sentence that Prof. Ashley Montagu (author of On Being Human) should now write a book on The Education of Love. A NEW OUTLOOK editor was moved to propose that perhaps we should try our hand at the job in the meantime, and so this article will be a hesitant and tentative effort to present some ideas on this tremendous theme.


To begin with, the attempt is complicated by the fact that in the eyes of the world-at-large love just does not need any education. Love is, in this respect, regarded somewhat as being equivalent to the sex feeling, which without any particular education knows what it is commissioned to do, dictates its own terms, and sweeps through spontaneously to its objectives. Love and sex are indeed closely akin to each other, as integrated aspects of the same great force, and love should be, and in very great measure surely is, the generator of education. Indeed, it probably outranks all other motivations as a force driving humans to educative activities. Love of music, love of adventure, of philosophy, of power, of money, of nature, of humanity; romantic love and Platonic love – all inspire or drive us to train, discipline and educate ourselves.


With this view goes the common presumption that love is unerring and infallible in its aim and in its wisdom. Love is sure that it can never be wrong; it seems to carry its own justification with it, furnishes its own proof, and ever vindicates its rightness. To this universal opinion it may be necessary, in an ultimate sense, to give assent. One must surely be rightly oriented with life and truth if one’s actions are generated and inspired by love. Yet default of Love is the great human shortcoming, the saddest and most tragic human dereliction, the deplorable cause of most of man’s gross inhumanity to man.


If our answer is correct, if our analysis stands up, love can never be wrong in its motivation, in its aim and objective, but it can be quite wrong in the choice of objective and its particularized mode of striving toward that objective.


Love is a principle evolved by Life to further its advance toward its own objective, which is, ultimately, the greater evolution of consciousness, and as such, love can never be wrong. But love as the force that dictates given actions in given cases, love as the judge that determines the choice of particular procedures, may (and all too frequently does) err in its judgments. One may love the wrong thing or the wrong person. Too often we love things, hobbies, interests, addictions, or people that work to our detriment and injure others as well as ourselves. We love our minor or major forms of habit, our pet foibles; we cling to our vices or our insane habitudes.


Perhaps this is using the word “love” in a sense not fully consistent with what it should connote for the purposes envisaged in our discussion. But if we deal with the word we must take it in the connotations it carries in common speech and common thought. There can not be too wide a distinction made between variant uses of the term – between love of such things as card-playing, baseball, dancing, fishing, an automobile, a person, a pet dog, a book, a sonata, on the one hand; and love of beauty, truth and goodness in the abstract, on the other.


In all such cases, love is the set or cast of feeing directed upon or wrapped up in the particular object loved. It is psychologically the same kind of force poured out upon a variety of things. The difference in the things loved may mark distinctions in its character, its purity, its measures of force, or differentiations in its feeling modes. But all its manifestations must still be subsumed under one nature and definition. Love is still one thing, however wide the range and difference of its objectives. One can even be in love with love itself, just as consciousness can be made the object of its own activity.


Again, it is strange that love should be ideally regarded as infallible when another universal shibboleth says that “love is blind.” This old adage seems to say that in the sweep and strength of its great nobility of motive, love will overlook all considerations of advantage or disadvantage, gain or loss, good or evil choice. It sees only the glory of its main consecration in an all-enveloping aura of attractiveness, and by the very beauty of this picture it will be prevented from seeing subsidiary facts or items that may come in to defeat its splendid expectations.


Oddly, too, while revered Scriptures assert love to be the consummate attribute, the synthetic principle of all righteousness, and the fulfillment of all law, they do not give it the first place in a practical program of human effort. They do not say “without love the people perish,” but, “without vision the people perish.” They do not say, with all thy getting get love, as more precious than rubies, and sweeter than honey, and greater than all the things one can desire. The Scriptures say, first and foremost, get wisdom, get understanding.


We are not told that the cause of all human ill and tragedy is the want or default of love; that one great cause is named ignorance. The Buddha ascribed all human suffering to ignorance alone. Hermes – greatest, perhaps, of all teachers – says that “the vice of a soul is ignorance; the virtue of a soul is knowledge.”


Socrates and Plato spent years in the search to find and name what constitutes the good in life, and the conclusion to which dialectical reasoning forced them, every time, was that the ultimate good thing is knowledge. The want of knowledge, they found, generated all evil. In short, they demonstrated, by the most invincible logic, that being or doing good in every case depended on knowing: knowing first what was the good thing to do, then knowing best how to do it.


Platonic philosophy institutes a distinction – and a crucial one – between what is good and what is right. It determines that a thing is good only and always when it is also right. The “good” motive or objective of an act guarantees neither its rectitude nor its beneficence. It provides no certainty that the act might not inflict wreckage or do injury, as it will if guided by a wrong course of procedure. Thus, we may conclude, Love will wish to do that which is always good.


But, the philosophers asked, how is the always fallible human going to know of a certainty what the good thing is? Love may be yearning and aching to perform the good service; but does it know surely how that service can best be rendered? The necessity of having love-impulses directed by knowledge is obvious, and it should simplify our discussion to realize that if love yearns to achieve its objectives it must know how to implement the procedures that will bring them about.


Both abstruse Greek dialectic and plain simple thinking, therefore, give us the proper answer to the query about love’s education. We have it in the obvious realization that love as an emotion is only one half of the potential, the other half – almost always left out of consideration – being knowledge. And this amounts to saying (what idealists are too often impatient and reluctant to hear) that if the deep and loving aspirations and devotions of the heart are to eventuate in good, and not run the imminent risk of working injury, they must call in the services of the head.


Now, it is a striking fact that in all highly “spiritual” religious philosophy, the “heart” attributes of man’s consciousness have been given precedence in importance and vital function over the “head” qualities. Nearly all movements in religious history aiming to bring about the spiritual unity and fraternity of mankind, have worked on the presumption that if only the heart of the masses can be brought to an attitude of mutual love and brotherhood, the ideal of a world at peace in the community of love can be directly achieved.


The odd thing about this belief is that, judging by the multitudinous prevalence and the sincere and earnest character of the movements so generated and motivated, the “heart” is already in right posture and relation to the task! Thousands of religious movements and cults, practically without exception, proclaim their consecration to the principle of a loving attitude and purpose, and their wish to extend their love to all others; or to meet all others in the spirit of love.


What is it, then, that continues to hold such movements aloof from each other and defeat their fraternization? The sad answer is: the head. While “hearts” beat together in a common accord and good will, minds generate points of disagreement. It is ever the head that blocks the way to what the heart approves or desires, and because the mind is the perpetual obstacle and divider, it has gained the disfavor and obloquy of religionists generally. The tendency, then, has mostly been to ignore, disregard and suppress the mind, so that the force of pure spiritual love may drive unobstructed toward its goal.


A better discernment makes it apparent that this attitude is mistaken. It disowns and dodges the obligation to take action for unity in the very quarter where right action would bring positive results! Granted, the mind causes difference and division, and blocks the road to amity. Then, must it not be through the mind that the possibility of unity can be recognized?

The pacifist spirit of most religionism has dictated the policy of avoiding the clash of opposing views, and shying away from religious controversy. The result has been a reciprocity of sullen silence, broken only by occasional insinuations of error, or mild protest and criticism. Love is thus perpetually deprived of its chance to exercise its miracle-working power of dissolving hatreds and reconciling differences. If we are to love our enemies, we must at least have the opportunity to come to know them – even if, at first, we know them only as embattled opponents. Love cannot fight in the dark or at too great a distance.


If the mind divides, then the mind must learn how to bring dissident elements together in harmony, and to discover the grounds for harmony. There lies the field and the necessity of the mind’s education.


As Plato and Socrates so clearly demonstrated, love must end its blindness, open its mental eyes, and become intelligent. Else its sweet and gentle overtures, put out in the welter of human ignorance and passions, greeds and lusts, will merely make it the sheep-like sacrificial victim led to the slaughter – and that, perhaps, with little really sweet savor rising from the altar to titillate the nostrils of deity! I suggest that in all likelihood the Scriptural injunction urging spiritual aspirants to be both gentle as doves and wise as serpents was motivated by this understanding.


Thus it is evident that the education of love lies in the realm of the mind, it being assumed that the heart – the disposition to love one’s fellows – is already rightly oriented to the task. This shifts the problem from the heart to the head, from right feeling to right intelligence.


At once this conclusion seems to the ardent idealist to throw a wet blanket over the glowing fire of the love-motive, to check or even to extinguish the flame of divine beauty. It is felt that love is its own law, and should not need to undergo rigorous training, the dull routine of learning, of discipline. Its spontaneous impulses of beauty and generosity are deemed sufficient to set their own standards of wisdom. Love, it will be said, can be trusted to bring to all questions and situations its own automatic discernment and decisive understanding.


To this faith, there can only be offered the contrary verdict of both history and general observation. The glowing claims of love’s certitude and invariable rightness must give way before the record of its constant blundering. Or, if it does often act with happy consequences, this is evidence that, to some extent, it must have already had much education. We must recognize as a self-evident fact that to love effectively, beneficently, one must love wisely. If nothing else does so, marriage definitely has proved that the business of loving, faces almost certain wreckage or failure, unless it is salvaged by the counsels of the head.


To bring out the sweet melodies and harmonies of the love-capability in the human psyche, one must master the infinitely complex artistry of striking the right chords on all four of the elements of our psychic life: sense, emotion, thought, and highest spirit. Whether the realization chills or thrills us, loving is not merely a matter of the sheer vehemence of our fervent love-impulse. It is rather a matter of being able, when highly inspired by love’s divine ardor, to strike those chords that will blend in sweet and soothing harmony, instead of producing a rasping discord. Ultimately, this demands adeptship in the whole science of living.

October 5, 2015 | Permalink