“Baby, don’t hurt me no more.”

The incredible self-sufficient Jelly Fish

The incredible self-sufficient Jelly Fish

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A couple of weeks ago I heard on the radio a song that Bugged me so much I had to look it up. “What is love?” sung by Haddaway  (of whom, of course, I had never heard). The song bugged me because—an unusual experience for me with recorded singing—I understood the lyrics.**

They are mindlessly (yes, mindlessly) simple. “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me.” Over and over and over again.

The answer to the question, “What is love?” is “Baby don’t hurt me no more.” Good grief! It’s not really fair for me to leave it at that. There is more to the definition:

 Oh, I don’t know, what can I do,
What else can I say, it’s up to you.
I know we’re one, just me and you.
I can’t go on

So the answer to the question is not a definition, but a plea followed by the self-annihilating assertion that the relationship is “up to you,” and the singer says he “can’t go on.”

This is patently absurd. But the lyrics of pop music have always been (generally speaking) absurd. Among my favorite absurdities (I loved it as a nine-year-old and pretended I was Joan Webber singing it) is

Oh, let me go, Let me go, Let me go, lover, Let me be, Set me free, from your spell.
You don’t want me, but you want me, To go on wanting you.
Now I pray that you will say that we’re through.

A few days ago I was part of a Facebook discussion about “What is love?” One person was quoted as saying love is a decision and that sparked a debate.

I completely and steadfastly agree with her. Love IS a decision. Certainly a complicated, difficult, dangerous decision, but a decision nevertheless.

Let Me Go, Lover

Let Me Go, Lover

Forget your Greek philosophy and forget your belief (conscious or not—we’re all Ancient Greek at the core) that there are different kinds of love. We know about philos (brotherly love), eros (romantic love) and agape (communal love). Forget it. That’s highly problematic thinking.

Here’s the example I used in the Facebook discussion: I am approached by a homeless person asking for money. I have absolutely no attraction to her. In fact, I am offended by her. I can, however, DECIDE to treat her with dignity, with respect, with concern – in short, with love.

I know all the arguments against that assertion. “That’s not love.” Well, I say it is.

Then, of course, there’s the guy at the gym I can’t keep my eyes off of, and I can barely keep my hands off him. Is that love? Well, yes. Some would say lust. I don’t think so. I have to DECIDE whether or not to try to seduce him.

Here’s my very simple point. The other person—the person who is the object of one’s “affection,” momentary or otherwise, has nothing to do with how one decides to react. It’s completely my decision how close I get either to the homeless woman or the hot man at the gym. I can decide to join or not to join a community of interest or mutual support. Those are all decisions.

I think those decisions make the difference between fulfillment as a human “being” and the superficiality of human “doing” (sorry for the cliché). If our reactions were not decisions, we wouldn’t be much different from the species of jelly fish I heard about on NPR that don’t even have sex. They somehow simply reproduce themselves. And—most unlike human beings—they’re immortal. They die, and a few of their cells stay alive and start splitting up and make a new jelly fish. They need no one else to continue the propagation of the species.

Here’s how we’re not like those jelly fish. We make decisions. For one thing, we decide whether or not to disclose ourselves to others. I’m not making this up.  I’m not smart enough to come up with such an idea on my own. Sorry for the long quote, but I’m not clever enough to paraphrase or condense it.

To disclose your fears to someone you have known for a week is one thing. . . . It is another thing to disclose your fears to . . . [someone] who knows what you have been through and has, to some degree, endured it with you. . . shared history. . . not only enables the encounter by allowing one to feel comfortable . . . It also . . .  giv[es] it a different meaning and significance. Shared histories and intimacy are thus mutually informing.

. . .  it is because having such relationships is of crucial importance to us that we regard others as irreplaceable. We need people in our lives who are not interchangeable with others so that we can relate to them in unique and specific ways. . . .  if there is no one in our lives who knows what we have been through, and who has been there with us, it is hard to resist the conclusion that we will be missing out on an important form of human interaction.***

I’d say it’s pretty much like deciding to be a jelly fish.

What will your decision be?

What will your decision be?

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**Please understand before you read what I’ve written that I have almost no pretense of being a philosopher, a psychologist, a theologian, or a social scientist. I just observe what I observe.
*** Kadlac, Adam. “Irreplaceability and Identity.” Social Theory & Practice 38.1 (2012): 33-54.

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