Last week I went “home”—or, at least, my Los Angeles home—to visit my mom who broke her wrist and then her foot recently. (Bad luck, I know, but she will bounce back, as she’s the strongest person I know. Or, as Shakespeare once said, "Though she be but little, she is fierce!") We spent a lot of time together, and in the final day of my trip, we pulled out the three remaining boxes of my old school work, dusted them off, and peaked inside. I don’t often spend time thinking about the past (and can’t remember the last time, if ever, I’ve opened up those boxes); I feel as if people are much too often consumed by the moments of yesteryear—both those heartwarming and those heartbreaking. I’m a fervent believer that we must live in the present, for as if there is one thing that we all know for certain is that time only moves in one direction.
But, once in a while, it’s nice to look back. Looking at our past can tell us who we are and where we’ve been, and where we must go. It can remind us of important ideas or concepts that we should continue to think deeply about in our future days. For me, in this instance, it was love.
As I perused those boxes I realized that there was a lot of love—love that made me who I am today and, as I look forward to my upcoming marriage (and hopefully kids not long after), who I want to be. It was overflowing with so much love. I was, and still am, beyond fortunate to have been surrounded with so much love, a nod to a poem my brother once wrote at my grandparents' 45th anniversary many years ago.
There was one letter in particular in these boxes that caught my eye that mentioned love: a letter that I wrote to my former high school principal almost a decade ago. In this letter I thanked him for all he did on the eve of my graduation, and how I constantly thought about one phrase he would repeat that the principal before him would always say:
Driven by dreams, inspired by love.
I’ve always agreed with this statement—it’s powerful, poignant, admirable even. But, this message got me thinking. I actually think it’s the other way around:
Inspired by dreams, driven by love.
I feel as if the prospect of maybe one day reaching our dreams is what inspires us to act—whether those dreams are big, small, or somewhere in between, whether professional or personal. Healthily, we all aspire to different life dreams, dreams that are adjusted as the realities of the world seep into our veins in each subsequent stage of our lives. Yet, it is love that drives our ambitions to reach those dreams; in fact, it is love that drives every single human, in every facet of life. Every thing we do in life is, on some level, because of or for love. Stripped down to the core of our motivations, it is why we go to work each day: out of love to provide for our family and friends (or our own life). Or, for some, love for a profession—we operate out of a love for a product we are building, a company we are growing, a book we are writing. For the best of us, love for our neighbor or a person less fortunate. Love takes infinite forms, and can be applied to infinite people—to friends, mentors, family, co-workers, and strangers.
My point is this: we often speak of love as if it’s some idealistic notion, something imagined or something we strive for out of optimism or some other ethereal feeling. But I’ve come to the conclusion that love is not any less “real” than other things deemed more “real” in society such as intelligence—something humans have constantly tried to measure in people (unsuccessfully and incompletely, in my opinion). Just because we cannot fully quantify love does not negate its existence, or its practicality. If kindness is, in my mind, one of the most important characteristics a person can possess, love is a “thing” that, while uniquely different and malleable for each individual, it is not only the foundation of lives but the glue to our society.
Take this recent example about the shootings by police officers and on police officers in various cities the last few months that have received high media coverage. In an article on the conservative blog RedState.com—yes, I do read a wide variety of news outlets!—the author in part discusses the social contract between individuals in society that are taken for granted. He writes (with my emphasis in bold):
Here's the reality that we don't often talk about - that societies are held together less by laws and force and threats of force than we are by ethereal and fragile concepts like mutual respect and belief in the justness of the system itself.
In America, there are 376 police officers per 100,000 citizens - or one police officer per every 266 citizens. Stop and think about that. Could every police officer in America maintain order over 266 unruly people who had no respect for him or the badge he wields? Absolutely not. The only thing that makes the situation even a little bit tenable is that the vast majority of people never think about confronting or challenging a police officer, and instead get up each day with the commitment to live their lives peacefully and lawfully, because they believe a) that they live in a society that is basically just and b) they believe that the few policemen who do exist will be there to protect them if something goes wrong and c) they have faith, by and large, that if someone commits a crime against them, they will be caught and punished.
Think, though, about what happens when these invisible bonds that are the most important part of maintaining law and order begin to dissolve - especially within a given subcommunity.
Of course, the article was written at the height of these events, and the urgency of the author’s prose is noticeable. He goes on to explain how when one group, such as Black citizens, rightly feel as if the (justice) system is broken—feelings that are backed up by decades of statistics about lack of police indictments, more frequent subjection to force, higher likelihood to be killed, serving longer criminal sentences, and so on (not to mention decades of discriminatory policies in housing, education, the workplace, etc.)—then society breaks down. Here, the problem is not just the crime, but that the crime too often goes unpunished—the system fails to work as it should. It’s a thoughtful (if imperfect), accessibly written article and I highly recommend reading it.
However, I bring up this article not to discuss the author's main conversation on the pertinent issues of race in America here—as central as they are and as passionate as I am about them—or about police brutality from a white, suburban perspective, but of the author’s suggestion that what holds society together is not only laws (or police officers, for that matter) but mutual understandings of respect and human decency. However, I would take this tangential idea and go one step further: love also holds our society together via this same notion, and has even greater potential. It drives our daily lives, and those around us—both strangers and friends—to do “good” every day. Quite simply, a world devoid of love is a world devoid of order—a world of chaos and indifference. Recognizing the realness of love, however that love manifests is essential to not just personal happiness, I believe, but an important step in making society better.
Of course, love is not the simple solution to our many world problems. It won’t alone solve the deep legacy of racism, the complicated hazards of terrorism, or the existential threat of climate change nor will it fix the challenges of globalization or the increasing economic inequality, for example. We certainly need tangible and smart, research-driven policy. However, I do believe love is where it all starts; it is an essential vital ingredient. And this is where the clichéd saying of the "power of love" rings true. To me, love has always felt so "real"—I have emotions that I may not be able to measure, but they are so potent that they physically move me to tears or to laughter, or to get up early on Saturday morning to put in a few extra hours of work (or to write this blog!).
Yet, to be sure, because love is so powerful, we must also refrain from using love as a shield for hate—as a justification for loving ourselves or someone close to us just to mask our conscious (or unconscious) prejudice for others. We all have equal claim to love and to being loved, and acting on love in a way that prevents others from doing the same is not love at all.
I think it goes without saying that we all understand to love to be the world’s common language—it has no discrimination, no preference, no barriers. We all love. We all seek to be loved. And it is this love that drives us each day that we should recognize when interacting with others or writing policy with regards to our fellow woman and man. It is love, in partnership with mutual respect and kindness, that keeps civilization together (and the lack of it that has the potential to tear us apart). And so, we must be driven by love, not by hate, fear, apathy, or indifference. Every thought and every action, must be driven by love. Using love as a guide in each action and each thought will then not only enrich our own lives, as we all well know, but, cement stronger bonds between the invisible forces—or, as the author above writes, the “fragile concepts” of things like mutual respect—that keep our society functioning. To me, we must bolster these fragile concepts that make the world "work," wrapping them with an undying love for everything we do, in everyone we meet, in everything we are.
Coming full circle, I pledge to not speak blindly about love, as if its to broad or an imaginary idealistic force. I want to recognize its true power, not just in thought, but figure out how it works in practice. And, so, let’s not just be inspired by love, but let us be driven by it—let it guide us—as we navigate life. We must reclaim the potential of love and recognize that a life without love is not only a life without meaning, but a world without love is a world without reason, a world without order. Some of the most extraordinary people who walked this Earth spoke about love—MLK, Einstein, Mother Theresa, to name a few. I think they knew what they were talking about.