Love: Is it a behavior or an ability?

Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 08:20 pm
At dinner tonight, Mr. B and I entered a rather heated discussion on the nature of love and empathy. One of us believed that it was a learned behavior, the other believed that it was an innate ability. (I'll tell you my position later.)

I'm terribly curious to know which opinion you think is closer to the truth and why.

My undying gratitude is yours for responding.
Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 08:27 pm
Can't vote a poll straight.....

I think that humans are inanntely able to experience love BUT, that may not recognize it for what it is without learning what it is/how it feels/what it means. Howzat?
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Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 08:38 pm
I know I haven't revealed much about Mr. B and my conversation (intentionally) but I think that based on your response that I would put you in the "learned behavior" category.

I'm not trying to be really vague here, but I want to get people's gut reactions before I say too much.
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Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 08:43 pm
I understand
Can't wait to hear more about dinner.....
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Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 08:57 pm

It is a learned behavior.

There is an innate ease for some people, who are more prone to be able to love. They are generally the patient, more quiet ones, who more easily overlook a slight. But, these characteristics, while assisting one in love, are not love.

Those endowed with characteristics which make love easier, and us poor sots who have to work really hard at consideration, understanding and patience still have to practice love. The innate people just don't have to work at it as hard. MO.
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Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 09:05 pm
Hmmm, I voted for learned behavior, even though I think it is an innate ability--in other words, I would have voted for both if given the chance.

I agree with what littlek said. It seems that we have the ability to love, but if we aren't loved as children, I think it is almost impossible to be able to love others.

When a child isn't loved, he/she seldom is able to love. This could be because it wasn't observed or because the child's self-image was so damaged that he can't allow himself to love or to be loved. In either case, the behavior is learned, even though the innate ability is there.

So far, I don't think we've helped answer the question. Rolling Eyes
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Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 09:07 pm
"Practice" and "proneness" were concepts that were revisited often in our conversation during dinner, Sofia.

Your post is very, very interesting. I'm wondering how different definitions of "acquaintace" and "friend" may figure into the answer now.....
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Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 09:31 pm
Ah! And we have possibly another commonality!

I describe certain people in my life as 'friends' and others 'friendly aquaintances'.
My friends, a small, hardy clutch of people--know a deeper level of personal information about me and my family. These people don't get my "Excuse my messy house" routine, and know what is most important to me.

Friendly aquaintances get a few minutes at church, at the grocery store, at work... We talk about current events, I know their families, they know mine-- Nice, but they are halted at the more surface level of personal knowledge. In other words, these people, while I may really like them, do not get the 'dirt.'

And you?
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Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 09:55 pm
OK - I believe strongly that there is an innate component, which has had strong survival value - eg love for babies, friends, family - I also believe that there is an innate quality to the human pair bond - though a lot of that seems to be an approximate 2 year chemical madness - (just long enough to get a baby walking!) - which sometimes settles down into a more family/friend sort of love.

However - as a professional, and a participant in life, I believe that the expression of and "success" with this innate ability is DEEPLY affected by nurture - especially the success of attachment as an infant - and by the quality of later experiences.

For instance, at one extreme we look right back to Bowlby's effectively schizoid children, who had been raised in cold institutional care, and were so deeply damaged by the failure of early LOVING nurture (they had good mechanical care) that they were unable to function in society - and these were the ones who lived - many children die in these circumstances - we call it failure to thrive. Sadly I still see adults and children nearly at this extreme.

At the other end, we see the sunny, well attached and nurtured folk who attract and give love easily.

Then there is the rest of us - poddling about somewhere in the middle.

It is interesting to look at longitudinal studies - one I can think of at the top of my head is george Vaillant's Harvard study - initially published as "Adaptation to Life" - (there is a new book out from the same study - which continues - which I have, about aging, but I cannot lay my hand on it) - which concludes that ability to love can be influenced in the people who have done badly, beyond infancy, by very stable, loving relationships - often with a spouse, or a therapist, or friends, or teachers, bosses etc. (This sort of study is good news for therapists, since they are supporting the notion of at least two years of therapy with very disturbed folks of this ilk as being very helpful - this fits my experience - of course, wonderful friends/lovers etc help a lot - but these can be a bit hard to find when you are as damaged as some!)

This is true in animals, too - as Harry Harlow's poor, shattered, wire mother raised rhesus monkeys showed way back...when? ...the thirties, was it? The poor little mites fed via a wire dummy, with nothing to cling to, became deeply disturbed, isolated adults - barely able to mate, and almost incapable of raising young if they did so.

The poor little ones given a dummy wrapped in cloth to which they could cling, and seemingly find some nurture in, did much better.
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Reply Wed 9 Apr, 2003 10:26 pm
My $0.02 -- Love is learned, but it is a state of Being not a behavior.

"To know him is to love him". To know anything really well is to be fascinated, amazed, enraptured, fully appreciating and "in love" with it. It's just as easy to love a family member, a pet, a place, a job, a system of things, a vision, anything that fully engages your sense of wonder.

No proof is required. No particular behavior must be performed. No outside evidence is needed. No sacrifice is needed. No dependence, neediness or pain is associated. Love is an open state of wonder and curiosity, wanting to know and celebrate whatever there is.

But it does take
1) perception -- to see what exists outside yourself.
2) intellect -- to understand and learn more about it.
3) curiosity -- to always keep learning more.
4) appreciation -- to smile, be gratified just in the knowing.

Not everyone enjoys thinking about things, exercising their brain (work!), understanding, or empathizing with their heart. Some people just prefer to take a nap, and not be bothered.

Are self-centered, shut-down, or numb people able to Love? In a smaller capacity, yes. But an open inquisitive mind, freely following it's intuition and natural interest ... Wow! The love of life and all things then is HUGE!

A free and open mind like this requires a capable, competent person, who can easily take care of their own needs and have lots of free attention left over. Good living skills take education, practice and training, so the ability to pay attention (to Love) is acquired.
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 06:56 am
What thought provoking responses.

Thank you Diane, dlowan and CodeBorg for joining the conversation.

I'm trying to collect my scattered thoughts into some kind of cohernt response in light of your posts and find the more I try to narrow down the idea the bigger and messier it gets so please bear with me.

Three months ago I'm sure I thought about this question very differently but through a unique set of circumstances and opportunities I find my beliefs drifting.

I've begun to view love and empathy and compassion as less an innate abiltiy and more of..... for lack of a better word... a capacity.

Maybe we're born with this container that needs to be filled with something. Like any container there is an endless variety of things that can fill it - you can use it as a flowerpot or a fishbowl or flip it over and use it as a step stool, you can use it as a cereal bowl or a helmet - anything - or a combination of things.

Then, maybe, our self-container can be filled with suspicion and distrust, with meloncholy and hopelessness, with love and empathy, with curiosity, with ambition, with sarcasm - anything - or a combination of things.

And then, maybe, how we fill our container is based on what we witness in our lives, not just filled with how we are treated.

I'm thinking of your comments - dowlan's "mechanical care", and CodeBorg's "lack of wonder", Sofia's talk of distinguishing between friends and acquaintences (a very important distinction in my book), Diane's idea of "allowing" ourselves to love and little k's "recognition".

Obviously, I have more thinking to do but I hope I'm making sense.
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 08:46 am
we'd better include "Passion"
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 09:00 am
Yes, husker, passion.

I think that's what CodeBorg was talking about - the awe and wonder of life.

One of my favorite films is a documentary called "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control". It examines the life and careers of a lion tamer, a topiary gardener, a roboticist and an expert on the naked mole rat. But what the movie is ABOUT is passion.
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 10:40 am
voting for innate ability.

back later i hope.
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 10:41 am
Love is an innate ability, but we can learn inhibitions and behaviors that suppress it.
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 10:59 am
I'm not sure of the answer. I did not vote.
I believe some difference must be put between motherly love, the innate feeling parents, and specially mothers, have towards their offspring, which is key to their capacity to survive and to reproduce, and Western passionate love, the one that bonds grown couples and gives the elating feeling.
I wrote "Western", see? I think that passionate love is a deeply rooted part of our cultural heritage. A beautiful, sometimes painful, learned ability.
At the same time, mankind is unseparable from culture. We are not only organic biochemical beings, a product of natural evolution; we are cultural beings, a product of societal evolution.
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 11:01 am
I voted for innate ability, but so much more has been brought to this question than I anticipated while voting, that I'm going to think more before I write all my thoughts down.

I think the capacity for awe and wonder is innate, and is like the gift for music, writing poetry, or creating works of art. The ability to love is like that, too, or at least that's what my experience with people has shown me.

People blighted by lack of love during childhood may become very loving people quite on their own, or with the help of a therapist. It's the drive to have that in your life that serems to be innate. Bur more thoughts latrer. Lunch is over, back to work
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 11:43 am

OK, I think the term "love" is so difficult to pin down that it is difficult to have one answer for this.

If the question was, "Is the ability to have a successful love relationship innate or learned?", I would say "learned", in the same way that being a good soccer player or a good accountant is learned. There are certain innate factors that make it easier or harder to learn that skill, with a greater or lesser level of success, but you have to learn it to be able to do it.

If the question was, "Do most people have the innate ability to love?" I would say "yes", in the same way that most everyone has the ability to play soccer or become an accountant. This is not to comment on how WELL they will be able to do it, but most people CAN, to some extent.

The innate ability and the learned behaviors are all intertwined, so that one reinforces the other (someone with an innate ability to be in a successful love relationship finds a love relationship, learns specific behaviors that make for a more successful love relationship, etc.)

dlowan already touched on this, but I think that parental "love relationships" are not insignificant. There was some study that showed that girls who were hugged by their fathers every night were much more likely to have "good" relationships later on. There are a lot of basic building blocks that are learned in the family relationship -- communication, personal boundaries, etc., etc. I think someone with a bad family situation will have a harder time with a love relationship later on, but that it is not insurmountable. Same as if a future soccer star grows up among klutzes in a football town, but finds a wonderful teacher/ mentor.

All intertwined.

Edit: girls who hugged their fathers were much MORE likely..., not less. I started to write less likely to engage in risky behaviors, or something, but I forgot the specifics of the study. The upshot was that the hugging led to better, healthier romantic relationships.
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 02:16 pm
Here's a deep discussion indeed. A little to my astonishment, Dlowan's more 'behavioristic' explanation appeals to me most, it must be because of my own experiences. (If I speak out of my own perspective, it's because 'I know nothing' and introspection has been my main source of knowledge for long years even if I studied psychology, sociology, language, life, etc.)

I've come to recognize myself as a damaged child, although I've always resisted that recognition. I have a strong ability to love (either for beauty, or a person, a community, humour, animals, or children) but something always goes wrong with it. It's either too much, or misplaced, mis-expressed, or it's too much to bear so I cope. In the end, as Boomerang says, the container gets filled with mistrust and sadness, or frustration, but that's a result, not a beginning.

Love is innate, but if it isn't nourished it can't flourish.

My family was known as a model family, my parents did everything they could - and yet, all three of us (I have two younger sisters) are damaged.
Now I can say, that my father is a very traumatized war veteran and my mother never knew her father, that's what made them what they were - as a result, we got a lot and we missed a lot.

Whatever happens later on in life, either adds to the damage of youth or compensates for it, - or both, of course. In my case, it looks as if I have to learn life anew, knowing nothing - what I have done is there, as a trophy in a dusty cupboard.

But my heart can be filled, my blood stirred, my emotions thrilled. Love can be trained, but it can't be learned, I think.
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Reply Thu 10 Apr, 2003 02:24 pm
Both - why do I have to be difficult?
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