In the pur­suit of a bet­ter world, wouldn’t it be worth try­ing to ex­change that af­fec­tion for true love?

New Straits Times - - Opinion - fan­ny­bucheli.rot­ The writer is a long-term ex­pa­tri­ate, a rest­less traveller, an ob­server of the hu­man con­di­tion, and un­apolo­get­i­cally in­sub­or­di­nate

TRUE love! That’s what we are all af­ter. As in hap­pily ever af­ter. But, what is true love, re­ally? Is it un­con­di­tional love? Is it re­spect­ful love? Is it self­less love?

As one of the most cen­tral themes of our lives, it re­mains strangely elu­sive.

In a per­fect set­ting, love is the first emo­tion we en­counter when we en­ter this world — a mother’s ten­der em­brace of her new­born child. But soon, as we grow older and life be­comes a lit­tle more com­plex, love be­comes this in­tan­gi­ble con­cept we con­stantly search for, we need to end­lessly re­de­fine, ex­plain, prac­tise and fine-tune.

As a child, we are told fairy tales that gen­er­ally end with the ul­ti­mate prize of true love, the Dis­ney kind that hero­ines à la Snow White, Cin­derella, Belle and co. hap­pily find, be­cause they de­serve it.

So, love isn’t un­con­di­tional, is it? It can’t be ours un­less we de­serve it first. We have to brave al­most in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cles of hard­ship, poverty, mean rel­a­tives and atro­ciously bad tim­ing to gain some merit. What about the seem­ingly lucky few who grow up sur­rounded by a de­voted fam­ily within de­cent or even priv­i­leged fi­nan­cial means?

Are they doomed by ways of the un­bear­able light­ness of be­ing?

As a teenager, we start to look for love out­side the in­ner cir­cle of fam­ily. And, what a pit­fall that proves to be. Peer ac­cep­tance, first crushes and dis­ap­point­ments all around.

Pop songs have ex­ten­sively cov­ered the sub­ject for decades, and so have ab­struse opera li­bret­tos be­fore that. And lit­er­a­ture, clas­sic and other­wise, wouldn’t even ex­ist with­out the end­lessly re­cur­ring theme of un­re­cip­ro­cated af­fec­tion.

In adult­hood, the sub­ject be­comes se­ri­ously con­fus­ing. Do we marry our first love or our last? Have we found our soul­mate? Is there a soul­mate for ev­ery­one?

Is crazy, mad, burn­ing love a sound base for a sus­tain­able re­la­tion­ship? Or should we drop the ro­man­tic no­tions and build on solid at­tributes like re­spect, ac­cep­tance, com­mit­ment?

How about good looks ver­sus so­cial stand­ing? Does the recipe for suc­cess lie in ar­ranged mar­riages or in the al­go­rithms of mod­ern-day dat­ing apps?

Be­fore we can hon­estly claim to have found the per­fect an­swer, we be­come par­ents and life comes full cir­cle. Will we prac­tise unabridged ten­der­ness or rather tough love? How can we be ex­pected to teach our off­spring the mean­ing of love while we still strug­gle with its def­i­ni­tion our­selves?

Our daily news con­sump­tion deals with the un­fath­omable atroc­i­ties some in­di­vid­u­als in­flict on their fel­low hu­mans.

Chil­dren are bul­lied to death by school­mates, raped by rel­a­tives or beaten within an inch of their lives by the ones they trust most.

Adults are stabbed over the con­tent of their wal­let or blud­geoned cour­tesy of sense­less road rage.

And help­less el­der­lies are aban­doned in the for­est by their kin, left to starve and gen­er­ally dis­re­spected in the worst man­ner imag­in­able. So we ask our­selves: where is the love?

What we should re­ally ask our­selves is: “what is love?”

Maybe we need a par­a­digm shift. Maybe we need to spend some time pon­der­ing the con­cept of Fish Love.

Cour­tesy of Abra­ham Tw­er­ski, this is the tale of a young man who is asked, “why are you eat­ing that fish?”

His re­ply: “Be­cause I love fish.” “Oh, you love fish. That’s why you pulled it out of the wa­ter, you killed it and you boiled it. You don’t love the fish, you love your­self. The fish tastes good to you, and there­fore, you killed it.”

The para­ble shows that so much of what is per­ceived as love is re­ally fish love. When a man and a woman fall in love, the author elab­o­rates, what the young man sees in this woman is some­one who can cater to all his phys­i­cal and emo­tional needs, and she feels that the young man is some­one she can trust and who will sup­port her.

They be­lieve that this is love, but each one is re­ally look­ing out for their own needs. It’s not love for the other, Tw­er­ski says.

The other per­son be­comes a ve­hi­cle for our own grat­i­fi­ca­tion, a means to an end. Too much of what is called love is re­ally noth­ing more than fish love. True love is not about what we are go­ing to re­ceive, but rather what we are will­ing to give.

All too of­ten, we make the mis­take of be­liev­ing that we give to those whom we love. Real love how­ever, is lov­ing the ones to whom we give. True love, there­fore, must be a love of giv­ing, not a love of re­ceiv­ing.

In the pur­suit of a bet­ter world, wouldn’t it be worth try­ing to ex­change fish love for true love?

Let’s give it a try, in the name of love.

Real love how­ever, is lov­ing the ones to whom we give. True love, there­fore, must be a love of giv­ing, not a love of re­ceiv­ing.


‘Fish Love’ is a story by Abra­ham Tw­er­ski, about a young man who is asked, ‘why are you eat­ing that fish?’

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