All About Love, by bell hooks

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"There is no special love exclusively received for romantic partners. Genuine love is the foundation of our engagement with ourselves, with family, with friends, with partners, with everyone we choose to love"

bell hooks has been thinking lots about love, as it turns out. She's turned her sharp, perceptive eye on the very nature of true love, and how current society has become a hostile bed in which it can flourish. The book highlights not only the way in which current society causes love's failure, but also how we can return to a state of love, leaving the reader feeling hopeful rather than doomed.

The Story

Actually, there isn't really a story here in this series of essays, unless you count the stories that hooks alludes to of her own failed romantic relationships and the dysfunctional home in which she grew up. Clearly, these were the catalysts for her to turn her academic mind towards the possible societal reasons that her own, and other people's relationships fail. But her losses are our gains; there's loads of insight here into how we can make a more loving society and stronger romantic relationships, and though this is a cerebral texts, there's actually a lot of spiritual wisdom here that wouldn't sound out of place in the discussions of students of a Course In Miracles.

Love in All About Love

hooks lays the blame for so many romantic failings in society squarely at the foot of capitalism and the patriarchy. These systems, she (and countless others, of course) claims encourage too much of a power dynamic between individuals, and thereby couples, for true love to really flourish. And further equality for women hasn't changed this, she argues; "It is no accident that greater cultural acceptance in this society concluded with women gaining greater social equality... [now that] women are more economically independent, men who want dominance must deploy subtler strategies to disempower them". According to hooks, men are taught to lie by omission, but women lie also to pretend powerlessness, thus setting up a system of dishonesty and poor communication in relationship; something essential to love in order for it to flourish.

Equally, she makes the point that capitalism and the worship of greed have blocked people's instinct to serve their communities. She makes the interesting point that so many of the radicals of the late 60s were some of the worst offenders when it came to renouncing idealism and embracing capitalist values of profit and power instead; "That shift came about because the free love that flourished in utopian communal hippie enclaves, where everyone was young and carefree, did not take root in the daily lives of ordinary working and retired people." The result was the further enforcement that our culture of greed was the right way to be living. And families cannot love each other well with the spectre of 'more' hanging over them. In particular, she notes that families in poverty are destroyed often because the desire for more wealth- by illegal means if necessary- drives people to abandon their values and put profit before their own.

So what's her answer to this? Well, community, for starters. hooks points out that societies with the most balanced children are the ones in which a community has a hand in raising them. And on the personal level, hooks makes the claim that in order to know true love, we must admit first that we have no idea what that really is. Too many of us, she claims, seek relationships  because we feel they are the first place we will really get to know love, but without the skill of the 'art of loving' (love is a verb, hooks insists; we must be able to practice it rather than accept it passively) we merely play out subconscious patterns that ultimately lead to the relationship confirming out worst fears about ourselves.

Like many before her, hooks also makes the case that a spiritual foundation is an essential part of the 'waking up' process. "All awakening to love is a spiritual awakening," she writes. In allowing our hearts to fully open to the presence of a divine love, we catch a glimpse of how to practice love in the human realm.

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