What Does ‘Love’ Mean?

Here’s a quote from a book with the title, 6 QUESTIONS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE:
“Emerson said, ‘Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world.’
Sure, you think, in an ideal world, maybe. The fact is it’s human nature to want things and even to feel attached to them, but we need a balance between material interests and spirituality to be psychologically healthy.
When What do I own? dominates our worldview, it sends us looking outward, leading us to greed, ego-centrism, and selfishness; it narrows our lives and isolates us from other people. When we define ourselves by What do I own? we’re essentially saying, ‘I am what I possess.’

In our culture the material side of life has become very much stronger than the non-material one. There are some things we definitely do need and it’s wonderful that they’re usually so available to us, but what drives us to want so much more? We go into debt to have it all or we have to rent storage units to keep it all, and we’d rather be entertained than think about anything profound. How did we become so unbalanced?

I think it’s partly because we’re able to take the easy way out: it’s hard to be human and it’s hard to limit pleasures. It’s easy to reach for stuff so we can be comfortable. We live in a culture that provides a steady stream of encouragement and many, many opportunities to buy things or to pay for distractions. It’s still memorable that in the face of the terrible destruction of 9/11 we were encouraged to “Go Shopping” instead of to really think about what had happened, and to help each other.

Advertisements tell us a lot about our unbalanced worldview. Here’s just one example – “Love is a Subaru.” Love is many things, but it’s definitely not a car.

Our economy, most of our daily transactions, and even our physical health depend, in one way or another, on what we buy. The whole purpose of advertising is to get us to spend or to keep us involved with what we can possess, and that’s achieved by trading on our emotions in one of two ways: either by evoking fear or by calling forth positive associations. The Subaru ad works with the positive drive to love and be loved. Who wouldn’t want to have “love” especially if all you have to do is pay for it and park it in your driveway? Usually we don’t bother with thoughts about what love really is.

Other advertisements work on our fears. They use our insecurities to motivate us to compete, to gain status or, at least, to be acceptable. So we buy what will help us to come out on top, make us more popular, or make sure we have sparkling white teeth before we meet potential parents-in-law.

Some advertisers enlarge their own importance by invoking concepts connected to profound, sometimes spiritual, human values. I saw a magazine ad once that seemed completely ludicrous: it featured a young woman pulling a large, soft sweater over her head with words that proclaimed the sweet-smelling garment was her “sanctuary.” We certainly need sanctuaries, especially in the true sense of the word –  a place for what is sacred or holy, for divine worship, for true protection and refuge. But that’s not found when we are each alone inside our own sweaters.

This post may already be too sermon-y. I don’t want to preach a Puritan, sparse life! I’m one of the “us” struggling to find the balance between the material and non-material worlds, but knowing about the immeasurable side of life has been freeing. I believe deeply that learning about the pan-dimensional nature of reality is a joyful way to open the golden cage of materialism. Then we can change the question from What do I own? to Whom do I love?

Joseph Nowinski, the author of 6 Questions That Can Change Your Life, paired the 6 questions that are life-changing (more spiritual) with 6 questions that are life-limiting (more material),
1 – Who am I? instead of Who should I be?
2 – Why am I here? instead of What do I want?
3 – Where do I belong? instead of What is my position?
4 – Whom do I love? instead of What do I own?
5 – Who loves me? instead of What am I worth?
6 – How can I be true to myself? instead of How can I gain approval?

It’s a fine list of questions to begin with as we our explore what has meaning in our own lives.

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Joseph Nowinski, PhD, 6 QUESTIONS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE, Rodale/St. Martin’s Press, 2002

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Trudy Summers says:


  2. Jeycea says:

    Thank you – Emerson’s quote and the 6 questions are profound. I can see using the 6 questions to reset my inner dialogue and outer behavior, when I’ve allowed life to entice me off my balanced path.

  3. simon says:

    Thank you for saying Love is not a car. Such an ad is an embarrassment to the humanity within us. I enjoyed your article. It points to ethical living.

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