Love as an Action

I don’t think a lot of us understand what love really is. We have these idealized concepts of what it means from Disney movies and television series that romanticize it and spread all the wrong messages. I recently read All About Love by bell hooks and it truly informed my understanding of love and what it means. hooks proposes we treat love as a verb, rather than a noun.

When we change our definition of love from a feeling to an action, it debunks the majority of these stories we grew up watching and listening to. It makes us understand that while our dysfunctional families did care about us, that does not mean they were loving. Love and pain do not coexist. It is not loving to beat your kids or call them terrible names. Redemption can be found, but as that infamous saying goes: actions speak louder than words. We can claim to love people, but it is in our actions that we are loving. 

To be loving to others, we have to be loving toward ourselves. We spend much of our lives dreaming of receiving this romanticized notion of love from others, but we fail to realize that we are fully capable of giving this sort of love to ourselves. Once we learn to do this, any other form of love we receive will pile onto the love we are already getting. No one can make you feel unloved when you already love yourself. hooks wrote that self-love is an action we take for our own spiritual growth and that once this process of self-love has begun, it makes it possible to extend ourselves to others (hooks 54). We have to take measures to ensure that we are avidly growing and being mindful each day. Living consciously, as hooks put it, is another fundamental step. She claimed that we have to “engage in critical reflection about the world we live in and know most intimately” (hooks 56). In doing so, we become more aware of our surroundings and the role we play in them. The best thing we can do for others is to be loving toward ourselves because it will subsequently enable us to be more loving toward them. 

hooks briefly brings up the concept of cathexis. Cathexis is defined in the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as the concentration of mental energy on one particular person, idea, or object (especially to an unhealthy degree). She explains that sometimes, we think we have found ourselves in love but we are really just experiencing cathexis. I don’t know if that is what that boy and I had. If we look at our not-relationship from the lense of love as a verb, then maybe we were not actually in love. The not-relationship was and still is really important to me and it made me feel more than I have ever had, but I think the best parts of it were the parts that happened after it ended. I am loving toward that boy now, and he is the same with me. It took us a while to mend our friendship after we exploded but we are finally in a good place— in which I actually let him read an early draft of the second chapter that I wrote about him. He told me that I did not discuss his own flaws enough. We had the most honest conversation in the entirety of our friendship that day. We both took accountability for our flaws and admitted that we still have much more growing to do. But we had begun the first part: taking responsibility. 

Taking responsibility for our actions and how they affect the people we are loving toward is one of the most crucial aspects of living consciously and loving. hooks claims that, “taking responsibility means that in the face of barriers we still have the capacity to invent our lives to shape our destinies in ways that maximize our wellbeing” (hooks 57). When we accept accountability, it changes our reactions and our feelings. We cannot control the events that happen to us; we can only control how we react. 

One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “[w]hat we allow the mark of our suffering to become is in our own hands” (hooks 209). A lot of us have damage, but we cannot let that rule our lives. We have to practice self-assertiveness. Without it, we perpetuate the cycle of abuse by letting it continue in different forms. If we don’t treat ourselves with respect, why should anyone else? I started standing up for myself these last few months; I started with my mother. It obviously did not have the best ending, but I am not being taken advantage of anymore. I am not having daily reminders of my trauma and swallowing it down just so that she can live with herself. Her boyfriend has haunted my dreams for many nights in the past few years. Last night, he visited them again, but this time I was different. I stood up to him. I called him out for everything he had done in front of an audience, but I did not care who heard. All I needed was for myself to be heard. I don’t know if the dreams will continue. If I am being realistic, they probably will. But I stood up to him last night and now I feel a little more free. 

I know that I have to forgive my mother. It is not healthy to carry that pain and resentment within me. Now, when I say forgive, I mean let go of all of this. I mean to attempt to understand where she is coming from and to finally accept all that has happened. I do not mean to let her back into my life. I yearn for my mother most nights, but I need to continue to respect myself and my pain— which she does not. Until she does, we cannot be in each other’s lives again. This is another truth I must learn to accept. hooks proposed that, “to know compassion fully is to engage in a process of forgiveness and recognition that enables us to release all the baggage we carry. It serves as a barrier to healing” (hooks 217). Releasing my baggage is a difficult task for me. At one point, it was all I had. I thought it defined me. I have to let these toxic ideas go. I have to continue working toward that compassion so that I myself may be free. 

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Jaelynn is a rising sophomore at NYU majoring in Journalism and Social and Cultural Analysis with a focus in Latino studies and is minoring in Creative Writing. The list of her hobbies is almost as drawn out as her majors are. She writes poetry, essays and stories, she dances, mentors high schoolers in the Bronx and often plans environmental events in NYU Residence Halls. She has a poem published in the introspective study Inside My World by the Live Poets Society. Despite vehemently condemning social media, she ironically has instagram which you could follow her on. 

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