The meaning of love

The meaning of love

The “love” of infants and pets and even dependently obedient spouses is an instinctual pattern of behavior to which it is quite appropriate to apply the term “maternal instinct” or, more generally, “parental instinct.” We can liken this to the instinctual behavior of “falling in love”: it is not a genuine form of love in that it is relatively effortless, and it is not totally an act of will or choice; it encourages the survival of the species but is not directed to-ward its improvement or spiritual growth; it is close to love in that it is a reaching out for others and serves to initiate inter-personal bonds from which real love might begin; but a good deal more is required to develop a healthy, creative marriage, raise a healthy, spiritually growing child or contribute to the evolution of humanity.

The point is that nurturing can be and usually should be much more than simple feeding, and that nurturing spiritual growth is an infinitely more complicated process than can be directed by any instinct. The mother mentioned at the beginning of this section who would not let her son take the bus to school is a case in point. By driving him to and from school she was nurturing him in a sense, but it was a nurturing he did not need and that clearly retarded rather than furthered his spiritual growth. Other examples abound: mothers who push food on their already overweight children; fathers who buy their sons whole roomfuls of toys and their daughters whole closet full of clothes; parents who set no limits and deny no desires. Love is not simply giving; it is judicious giving and judicious withholding as well. It is judicious praising and judicious criticizing. It is judicious arguing, struggling, con-fronting, urging, pushing and pulling in addition to comforting. It is leadership. The word “judicious” means requiring judgment, and judgment requires more than instinct; it requires thoughtful and often painful decision-making.

The motives behind injudicious giving and destructive nurturing are many, but such cases invariably have a basic feature in common: the “giver,” under the guise of love, is responding to and meeting his or her own needs without regard to the spiritual needs of the receiver.






The road less traveled
Scott Peck



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