Love is perhaps the most important thing we desire, but we also tend to get confused about it. One of the things that is confusing about love is we don’t always have a good definition of it. We see two celebrities getting married after a few weeks of dating. Is that love? What about the college students who hook up at the local bar? What about the older married couple who is committed to one another but the passion has waned? Do I really “love” the White Sox?
It gets confusing because some things that seem like love on the surface, really aren’t, whereas other things that don’t seem like love on the surface, actually are. Can we get clear on the definition of love so we can move forward purposefully in our relationships?
In his book, “The Road Less Traveled,” Scott Peck defines love as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. I like this definition quite a bit, and I’d like to walk through the key parts of the definition.
Will is different from just having a desire or wanting something. When you will something to happen, you have a sufficient enough desire to act. Your desire translates into actual behavior. When it comes to love, just wanting to extend one’s self for another person isn’t enough. Your desire has to be strong enough to compel you to act.
Extend One’s Self
Love involves extending one’s self for the benefit of either yourself (in the case of self-love) or someone else (in the case of relational love). It means going beyond what you would normally do. Naturally, people can be pretty selfish. I want what I want when I want it. Love counteracts this natural tendency and extends the self for the sake of another.
The key end result of love is one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Peck is speaking generally when he uses the term spiritual growth—it isn’t meant to narrow in on a particular religious domain. It refers to one’s overall spiritual/emotional growth and development as a person. When you love someone, you extend yourself in order to aid their overall spiritual/emotional growth and development.
This is an important point, and I think it clears up some of the misperceptions of love. For example, the couple who meets at a bar and feels “in love” isn’t yet actually engaging in true love. They are caught up in a euphoric feeling (which probably developed via evolution to ensure procreation of the species), but they aren’t yet interested in extending the self or spiritual growth.
Or, consider the parent who is so concerned about the well-being of their child that they are overprotective, never letting the child get hurt or make a mistake. The parent might feel as if they are loving the child, but in reality, they are stalling their child’s spiritual development, which is the opposite of love.
Self and Other
Love can be extended toward both the self and the other. When we love ourselves, we extend ourselves for our own spiritual growth. This sometimes means doing difficult things so we grow, expand, and move forward. Just like we should be concerned about the spiritual growth of our loved ones, we should also be concerned about the spiritual growth of ourselves.
How do you define love? What do you think about Scott Peck’s definition? Can you think of instances in your life where you thought you were loving someone, but actually the behavior was unloving?