Indebted Love: Part B

“The essential characteristic of love: That the lover by giving infinitely comes into – infinite debt.” Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 2006, p. 172.

     I truly enjoy Star Wars. To clarify, I enjoy the “real” Star Wars (episodes IV-VI). I even read the books and bring my lunch to work in a Star Wars lunchbox. Not even kidding. One of my favorite relationships throughout the series is Han Solo and Chewbacca. The life debt Chewie swears to Han began as the fulfilling of a cultural institution, but grew into a genuine relationship of Love. If I can have a bit of license, I think Chewie’s life debt is a fantastic illustration of healthy Indebted Love.

      When Han prevented Chewie’s clan from being enslaved by the Empire, Chewie took a life debt to Han. Now, this doesn’t mean that Chewie is Han’s slave. Nor does it mean that Chewie’s life debt is fulfilled if he saves Han’s life. What it means is that without Han, Chewie would not have a life, so he willingly (see Intentional Love post) gives his life in service to Han.
     Articles on Star Wars state that the idea of a “life debt” is fictional and does not exist in the real world. I would suggest that it does exist and we call it marriage. Kierkegaard continues to expand on this idea when he writes that “for his own sake the lover wishes to be in debt; he does not wish exemption from sacrifice, far from it” (Ibid, p. 174). For instance, is there anything that can be done, any act that can be committed, that will fulfill the vows of marriage so that one is no longer married? No! That makes no sense and renders marriage useless.
     Any relationship based in Love must be based in a willingly taken on indebtedness. Perhaps, instead of saying indebtedness, it may be more accurate to say selflessness. Selflessness, truly understood, is being joyfully indebted to another whom we Love. This does not mean we sacrifice self to another. If that were to happen, then “we” couldn’t be in the relationship, could we? In fact, a relationship would not exist at that point. Kierkegaard addresses abusive relationships by submitting that staying in them would be tantamount to enabling, which is one of the least loving things we can do. However, we are not to give up on the other.
     One seemingly inescapable conclusion of this line of thought is the inability to remarry after a separation. While I do not have an argument to defend staying single after a separation or divorce, I would offer this: Would people be as quick to rush into Love relationships based on indebtedness if they knew the ending of that relationship limited their access to relationships later? If we were obliged to suffer the consequences of our relational choices until death, would we act any differently? Would we be more free to love? More free to make mistakes? What if, as Kierkegaard wrote, we were to live relationships of Love “imprisoned in freedom and life” (Ibid, p. 176)?

If a Wookie gives you a Valentine, you take it!
(C) Nathan D. Croy


Intentional Love: Part A

     I only know of one way to write about love: personally. Everything in my life, from my personal philosophy to my professional practice, hinges upon my understanding and definition of love. So much so, that when I refer to love throughout the rest of this blog and in my other writings, it will be capitalized. This is to set it apart from the general population’s use of the word “love” to describe how they feel about everything from their family to various carbonated beverages. “love” has become a shadow of its former self and if I can restore the concept of Love to its former glory for just a few people, I will consider my life a success.
     I was sitting with a friend at restaurant and we were discussing Kierkegaard’s book, Works of Love (aka Ethics of Love). The server walked over, saw the book on the table, and asked what it was about. We both froze for just a moment because the book is such an intensely in-depth study of the concept of Love as it applies to various settings; it was difficult to say what the book was precisely about. In a moment of panic I did the best I could do and said, “It’s a book that tells you how to know if you’re really in Love”. That seemed good enough for her, probably because she wasn’t that interested in the first place, but for me the answer seemed very hollow. I decided that, right then and there, I would have an answer the next time someone asked me about Love.
     Love, as defined by Kierkegaard, is an infinite debt to another, willingly taken on (Works of Love, 2009, p. 172-173). When asking ourselves, “What is the most Loving action in in this situation?”, there are three basic facets of Kierkegaard’s definition that must be considered: (1) Intent, (2) Infinity, & (3) Indebtedness. This post will address the Intentionality necessary for true Love. The next two will address its Indebtedness and Infiniteness.
     Part of Kierkegaard’s definition is that the infinite debt of love must be “willingly” taken on. In order for this to be the case, we must Love others on purpose. This may sound like a trivial point, but it is most certainly not. How often in popular dialogue do people talk of “falling in love”? People do not fall on purpose. Falling implies a lack of intent or awareness; as if love was something they happened into or was sprung on them by surprise. While attraction and the emotions result may in fact happen unexpectedly, that is not Love. It is more likely that is hormones. Or beer goggles. Or both.
     Love, true Love, requires an intentionality of commitment that regardless of what the other person does, who they become, or how horribly they fail, we will continue to be in relationship with them. Please do not take this to mean that people should stay in relationships that are abusive. There will be another post about why staying in an abusive relationship is the least Loving action possible. For now, it should suffice to say that it is almost never acceptable or Loving to remain in abusive relationship.
     The point that must be adhered to is this: once I enter into a relationship of Love, I cannot truly leave. Therefore, entering into Love relationships must be done with the utmost Intentionality and forethought possible. The initial condition for Love is a commitment, made willfully and intentionally, to the best of our ability. Anything less will inherently doom the relationship to temporality; even if there is no separation.
There is a great deal more to be said on this particular topic, but it’s not within the scope of this blog. Please click this link to be redirected to a Forum topic titled “Love”, as I would like to encourage more dialogue on this. Also, leave a comment on your thoughts about intentionality as it relates to Love.

“Never the twain shall meet.”

     I heard an article on NPR about the change in courting behaviors in youth. The piece ended with with a quote that gave me pause. The author said, “For me one of the most moving comments I heard over and over and over from 18 to 25 year olds was ‘We’re the most connected generation in history, and yet we are the worst at real love’.” The people of my generation are desperately longing for something real, yet they are constantly inundated with the means to distract themselves from their own longing. It’s as if they are separated from themselves and their own desires. Now, it would seem, the children of my generation are being isolated from themselves and others via electronic communication that lacks authenticity. More than that, it lacks risk.
     In Works of Love, Kierkegaard defined Love as an infinite debt to another willingly taken on (2009, p. 172). An infinite debt like that also requires infinite risk. The “other” will always have the option and the ability to leave me. If I attempt to take that freedom away, either through abuse or manipulation, in order to assuage my own fear of abandonment, then I am clearly acting out of selfishness instead of Love. Please, click on this link and listen to the report. How do you think we can bridge the gap between the seemingly unavoidable inauthenticity that arises when technological interactions usurp genuine face-to-face interactions? Is this any different than writing love letters? Is it the technology/means in and of itself, or is it the way it is being employed?

(c) Nathan D. Croy

Mediocre Expectations

     Kierkegaard, in Works of Love (2009, p. 246) writes that “The eternal does not even understand, it divorces itself as vanity the cleverness which speaks only about the extent to which one’s expectation has been fulfilled but does not at all consider just what the expectation was. In eternity everyone will be compelled to understand that it is not the result which determines honour and shame, but the expectation itself. Therefore, in eternity it is precisely the unloving one, who perhaps was proved right in what he [frivolously], enviously, hatefully expected for the other person, who will be put to shame — although his expectation was fulfilled”. Expectations matter. But what may be even more important than our expectation is an awareness of them and then being able to act on them authentically; genuinely.
     I remember reading a case about a man who desperately wanted a divorce, but was unable to ask his wife for one for multiple reasons. Instead, he began verbally and emotionally abusing her. It started a little at a time with passive aggressive comments about her cooking, her weight, or how long it took her to get ready. These escalated into more direct comments about who she was a person, how she was a failure, and could never make anyone happy. This went on for several months, nearly a year, before, she had an affair and left eventually left him.
     After the divorce he found himself in therapy trying to make sense of why he wasn’t happy. After several months, the therapist asked, if he could remarry his ex-wife, would he?  After thinking about it, he said no. The therapist then asked, “so, what’s the problem?” The client looked up and said, “the problem is, she left me and I was supposed to leave her.”
     These things may seem like technicalities or hair splitting, but they matter because they expose intent. If this man had been authentic and asked his wife for a divorce there would have been fighting, but there was plenty of that anyway. What he would have retained is the knowledge that he was honest; i.e., genuine because his intent was congruent with his act. And who knows, maybe a marriage could’ve been saved because both parties would know something was wrong. With his passive aggressive and inauthentic actions, his wife, and his self, were merely fighting shadows. Inauthenticity produces anxiety that takes an excessive amount of time to abate. Authenticity may produce discomfort and fear, but not anxiety. Discomfort and fear may give way to acceptance and courage. If anxiety as the byproduct of inauthentic actions, it merely conceives more anxiety.

Just Love.

   What hill am I willing to die on? This is an important question, and one everyone should know. For every aspect of our existence, in each phase, we will have to fight some battles. Deciding which ones are worth fighting is often more important than how many battles we win. Even if someone had an adequate amount of resources and energy to fight every battle, they would eventually run out of time. And, more likely than not, they would run out of ground (i.e., they would be on the morally wrong side of at least a few of the battles). This leads us to learn how to prioritize; figure out what matters and why. In my own life this has not always been easy. I am often overwhelmed by the moment and lose sight of context. However, an attempt at increasing personal awareness of our own priorities should be done at frequent intervals, otherwise, we may forget what is important.

      This week I read John 15:17. It quotes Jesus saying, “This is my command: Love each other” (NIV). When Christ was put in the position to summarize all of Scripture and God’s desire for our lives, he summed it up in three words: “Love each other”. That was, quite literally, the hill he died on. I will not often get into theological issues on this blog because I want it to be as inclusive as possible and, for many people, any theological statement becomes one they want to die on. I’m not interested in that. What I am interested in is my own hill. For me, the hill I am willing to die is “Love each other”.
     What I am discovering is this: love is very difficult. Trying to decipher what the most loving action or intent is in any given situation quickly reveals how limited my scope of awareness is. I am certain that I will be a failure at loving everyone. I am equally as certain that I will still try. What would it mean if you joined me?