6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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20050410

"Do You Think Love Is Selfish?"

Yesterday afternoon my son called me from Houston, and no sooner than I said, “Hey, how are you,” he responded by asking me a classic esoteric question that was way beyond any simple answer or definition that I could give him. “Do you think love is selfish?” he asked.

Not wanting to bite right off, I asked him what kind of question was that. He said he had a paper due for a class he was taking in ethics and that the topic he had to write on was whether or not he thought love was selfish.

“When’s this paper due?” I asked.

“Last week,” he replied.

“And you’re calling me now about it?”

“Well, I’ve been putting it off because I don’t know how to answer it.”

I suggested that “love” is a basic positive emotion of regard or affection and as such is neither selfish nor selfless. How love is manifested determines whether one is acting selfishly or not. If, for example, someone chooses to express love toward another based on attraction and affection in the expectation that that person will reciprocate in kind could be considered selfish. My son paused for a few seconds and then asked, “So it’s a question of whether it’s conditional or unconditional?”

When my son was born never did I imagine a conversation like this would ensue 19 years later. If I had, I would have immersed him while he was growing up in the writings of Plato, Shakespeare, Emerson, and D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow. I suggested he find a park to take a walk in and take time to think about the question and reflect on what he thinks about it.

After saying goodbye, I sat down and pondered how he might write a paper in which he argues whether love is selfish or not. But then considering I have had several failed relationships and a divorce, I’m probably not an expert on the matter. Maybe in falling in love, but definitely not in sustaining it. Perhaps Lennon/McCartney said it best: “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” Needless to say, I am no great thinker and too often get lost in my own thought long before I can find my way through someone else’s thought. One of these times I’m afraid I just might not find my way back. Is that the phone ringing again?