bell hooks meets with Thich Nhat Hanh to ask: how do we build a community of love?
As teacher and guide Thich Nhat Hanh has been a presence in my life for more than twenty years. In the last few years I began to doubt the heart connection I felt with him because we had never met or spoken to one another, yet his work was ever-present in my work. I began to feel the need to meet him face to face, even as my intuitive self kept saying that it would happen when the time was right. My work in love has been to trust that intuitive self kept saying that it would happen when the time was right. My work in love has been to trust that intuition knowledge.
Those who know me intimately know that I have been contemplating the place and meaning of love in our lives and culture for years. They know that when a subject attracts my intellectual and emotional imagination, I am long to observe it from all angles, to know it inside and out.
In keeping with the way my mind works, when I began to think deeply about the metaphysics of love I talked with everyone around me about it. I talked to large audiences and even had wee one-on-one conversations with children about the way they think about love. I talked about love in every state. Indeed, I encouraged the publishers of my new book all about love: new visions to launch it with postcards, t-shirts, and maybe even a calendar with the logo “Love in every state.” I talked about love everywhere I traveled.
To me, all the work I do is built on a foundation of loving-kindness. Love illuminates matters. And when I write provocative social and cultural criticism that causes readers to stretch their minds, to think beyond set paradigms, I think of that work as love in action. While it may challenge, disturb and at times even frighten or enrage readers, love is always the place where I begin and end.
A central theme of all about love is that from childhood into adulthood we are often taught misguided and false assumptions about the nature of love. Perhaps the most common false assumption about love is that love means we will not be challenged or changed. No doubt this is why people who read writing about racism, sexism, homophobia, religion, etc. that challenges their set assumptions tend to see that work as harsh rather than loving.
Of all the definitions of love that abound in our universe, a special favorite of mine is the one offered in The Road Less Traveled by psychoanalyst M. Scott Peck. Defining love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth,” he draws on the work of Erich Fromm to emphasize again and again that love is first and foremost exemplified by action—by practice—not solely by feeling.
Fromm’s The Art of Loving was published when I was four years old. It was the book I turned to in my late teens when I felt confused about the nature of love. His insistence that “love is the active concern for the life and growth of that which we love” made sense to me then and it still does. Peck expands this definition. Knowing that the world would be a paradise of peace and justice if global citizens shared a common definition of love which would guide our thoughts and action, I call for the embrace of such a common understanding in all about love: new visions. That common understanding might be articulated in different words carrying a shared meaning for diverse experiences and cultures.
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