Many of us will be celebrating this Valentine’s Day with chocolate, wine, and roses. While this celebration of romantic love is certain to warm many hearts, The Forgotten Art of Love: What Love Means and Why It Matters, by cardiologist Armin A. Zadeh, challenges us to take a bigger-picture view of the important role that love plays in our lives.
The Forgotten Art of Love examines love in its complex entirety — through the lenses of biology, philosophy, history, religion, sociology, and economics. Dr. Zadeh looks at love’s crucial role in every aspect of human existence, exploring what love has to do with sex, spirituality, society, and the meaning of life; different kinds of love (for our children, for our neighbors); and whether love is a matter of luck or an art that can be mastered. The result is a fascinating, empowering guide to enhancing relationships and happiness, which concludes with a provocative vision for firmly anchoring love in our society. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
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The loving mind recognizes the value and beauty in every living thing. It seeks to preserve and protect the world around us, including our environment. A loving person is incapable of committing acts of violence, betrayal, theft, or other social or ethical crimes, or of exploiting other humans, animals, and natural resources out of greed and selfishness. The loving individual suffers with any destruction but rejoices at every act of kindness.
World affairs are often managed by politicians and businesspeople whose prevailing impulses are not loving. Politics and economic wealth appeal to a very strong human impulse, the drive for power. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche coined the term Wille zur Macht (will to power) to describe what he regarded as a central human drive to reach the highest attainable position in a group. Nietzsche believed the will to power to be the main force underlying human behavior.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it is intuitive that the drive for power should be a strong impulse, because a dominant position in a group allows a greater probability of successful reproduction — both in terms of the number of progeny and the probability that offspring will survive to reproductive age. A powerful person can provide for more sexual partners and more children. He or she also is better positioned to protect himself or herself from antagonists and to support descendants. Accordingly, striving for power, wealth, and comfort is a strong trait in humans, one that frequently trumps considerations of love in political and business decisions.
Following the will to power requires self-serving impulses to prevail, and these often conflict with impulses to serve others. Even for those who manage to reach a position of power without compromising their integrity, the desire to remain in power may clash strongly with their intentions to control egotistic impulses. The disastrous result for world affairs — and for humanity — is that people who obtain commanding positions are often not driven by a focus on loving.
Conversely, those who prioritize love in their lives are less likely to end up in highly influential roles. They are more likely to focus on family, community, and volunteer work. Furthermore, people who immerse themselves in loving activities are often indifferent to politics, leaving contests for political leadership open to those who are hungry for power. These dynamics pave the way for governments and important institutions to be headed by egomaniacs driven by the desire for influence and control instead of a genuine aspiration to improve people’s lives. The renowned psychologist Carl G. Jung summarized this pattern: “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” Occasionally, we see world leaders who retain a strong focus on loving after rising to positions of great influence. Sadly, these individuals remain exceptional.
The economic and political impact of the lack of love in world affairs is difficult to ascertain with any precision, but it is surely enormous. International politics is fundamentally not different from interactions between individuals. A nation devoted exclusively to advancing its own interests, without any concern for its global neighbors, will earn resentment and opposition from other nations rather than cooperation and goodwill.
Political leadership that is not guided by love is also likely to foster inequality, hardship, and injustice, which in turn may lead to violent conflict. Research suggests that the perception of injustice is among the most important motivations for terrorism. If a country’s policies are perceived by others as threatening their fundamental rights, such as the freedom of religion, they may elicit fervent and violent resistance.
On the other hand, as in interpersonal dealings, if a government’s policies and actions demonstrate care and respect for others, it gains credibility and trust and undermines support for antagonizing, extreme voices. The same applies to citizens who live under an unjust and immoral government. The genuinely caring policies of another nation may weaken the authority of the corrupt government, whereas confrontation and threat only unify opponents and escalate conflict. Importantly, compassionate politics facilitate the building of broad alliances to isolate nations that violate human rights.
Like love, amicable relationships between nations require effort and introspection. If a nation’s leaders do not try to understand the effect of the nation’s actions on others, it will be difficult to have good international relationships. If they make errors of judgment and antagonize other nations (or factions within nations), they must concentrate on restoring others’ trust by acknowledging their mistakes and by displaying consistently honorable behavior. While such an approach will not convince all extremists to drop their weapons, it will erode the support for extremists and discourage followers from joining an antagonistic group, which is a critical measure for containing extremist movements.
Many believe, however, that international leadership requires a show of strength and that it is naive and dangerous to trust in the goodwill of others. Ultimately, it comes down to our view of human beings. Do we believe people are inherently selfish, greedy, and hostile, or that people generally act from good intentions but may sometimes be misguided?
The former attitude has led to worldwide distrust and suspicion, hampering progress in international relationships. An approach of respect and goodwill is more likely to bring peace and cooperation in the long term. Along with numerous devastating wars, world history contains many examples of treaties and agreements between nations. At the heart of diplomacy is the willingness to compromise: to respect another party’s interests and to make concessions. Leaders with a genuine interest in peace and in improving the human condition will choose this path whenever possible.
Before World War I, for instance, the nineteenth-century Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck carefully arranged a balance of power among European nations by crafting a number of alliances. Bismarck is credited with preserving the peace during turbulent times in Europe, as many countries strove for power and influence.
Little more than a decade after Bismarck, however, Europe was careering toward war. World War I — which the American diplomat and historian George F. Kennan called the “seminal catastrophe” of the twentieth century, and which paved the way for World War II — is now widely regarded as resulting from failures of leadership and diplomacy. Considerate actions by European leaders could plausibly have prevented the seventeen million deaths as well as the destruction that ravaged the continent. Winston Churchill believed, as many historians do today, that World War II and its sixty million deaths could have been prevented if the international community had worked together to contain Hitler.
The fundamental principle of love applies to all human interactions, from the individual to the global scale. It helps to remember that this planet is our home and that we are all related: we have much more uniting us than separating us. Most people indeed are well-meaning and want to live peacefully: avoiding conflict is an evolutionary impulse that promotes survival.
Does this mean all people are good? Certainly many people all over the world display disrespectful, selfish, greedy behavior at times. We may not be able to change their ways, but we can control our own actions and form alliances among those with common interests. Leading with integrity has always inspired others because it speaks to our strongest intrinsic, evolutionary purpose: that is, to unite our species for the sake of its survival rather than to divide it.
It is evident that the human impact on our planet has been disastrous. We are flooding the earth with our waste and pollutants, destroying other species with whom we share it. We were given a paradise, but we seem to be doing our best to turn it into hell. It is easy to assign blame, but it is difficult for individuals to halt the destruction in which we are all, to some degree, complicit.
The first step toward effecting change is awareness and recognition of what we are doing to the world. Love requires us to value other lives. We cannot expect love for ourselves while being unloving to others. Loving involves respecting and nurturing life, recognizing the miracle in every being. To have love in our lives requires us to love the world. Exploitation of other humans, animals, or our environment may lead to material gain, but it will preclude our own happiness.
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Armin A. Zadeh, MD, PhD, is the author of The Forgotten Art of Love. He is a professor at Johns Hopkins University with doctoral degrees in medicine and philosophy as well as a master’s degree in public health. As a cardiologist and a scientist, Dr. Zadeh knows, from firsthand experience, about the close relationship between heart disease and the state of the mind. Visit him online at www.theforgottenartoflove.com.
Excerpted from the book The Forgotten Art of Love: What Love Means and Why It Matters. Copyright © 2017 by Armin A. Zadeh.