We spent the whole of last term talking about love and the many different ways it strikes us. Coming from the East, I was introduced to a whole different set of values associated with love and its manifestations. A very basic observation is that in Eastern cultures when people fall in love, they avoid public displays of affection whereas in the West these displays are a norm which strengthens the bond between two people. My close study of love in the Western tradition made me see the differences between the West and the Orient in the political, social and economic sphere.
C.S. Lewis talks about four different kinds of love in his book The Four Loves. By closely reading the text along with Plato’s Symposium, one understands that in the Western tradition love is not only a source for sexual mating between two lovers but it is also a tool used for transcendent thought. A very big misconception which rests in the Eastern tradition about Western cultures is that relationships in Western cultures have lost their value because of the presence of pornographic media. But one is pleasantly surprised to read about the sacred concept of love present in Western literature.
Love, as described by C. S. Lewis, can exist between friends, acquaintances, and lovers. It can also exist in the form of ‘agape’. Agape, or Charity, is practiced by human beings for the love that people have for God. The ultimate message of Christianity is to love and serve your life by helping each other.
The question which a Saracen or a non-Westerner asks while living in present day modern society is, where do you see or feel this kind of love that is being advocated in the Bible and some ancient texts. Do people actually look for transcendence when they fall in love? What effect does this kind of love have on the modern day Western liberal democracies? The answer to these questions can be a long and hard one but on some investigation I was able to craft a response, which satisfied me and hopefully will do some justice for my readers as well.
The contribution of Western societies in the field of knowledge has been very significant; one of the most distinguishing contributions has been the methodology of research, which was unknown to the world. Although the ancients contributed a lot in various fields, their ways of conducting research were not very well refined. Research techniques were something which mankind still had to discover and establish.
Research as a practice, requires the subject to study the object in such great detail that he has to be immersed in it to find out in great depth what that object is and what value it holds in the modern world. This practice then gives birth to new ideas emerging from the old one established. It is in the same way that Copernicus was able to refine the then known information existing in the world.
The point that I made at the very beginning of this article was that love and research are very closely connected. The concept of love asks you to honestly and sincerely dwell on something, to get married to it and devote your life to it. This kind of devotion not only promises transcendence, which students and professors together experience in universities and learning centres in the West, but also plays a huge role in the development of the society.
An important factor to note here is that although Western civilization has achieved remarkable success in the area of knowledge, they paid a very big cost for it — the cost of family life. The life of a Westerner is so fast-paced that it is impossible at times for him or her to acquire a normal balanced family life.
Often times, my Westerner friends would even laugh at the concept of me planning my marriage, while I should be only focused on my career and academics. I admit that my marriage or family responsibilities change the dynamics of life, but the important question to ask is, how happy will I be with all the important qualifications and career moves? Is it not important to have human beings as your prime motivation for success in your life? This is something that Eastern societies do not miss: Family.
The Eastern lifestyle promises a lot of comfort and genuine love, which families and communities enjoy within them. The concept of love in the Eastern tradition does not consist only of what comes from the Islamic tradition. Chinese and Indian traditions have also played a huge role in shaping that concept. It goes beyond the scope of this article to discuss the details of love as a metaphysical or social concept within each of these traditions.
But one thing that Eastern societies have achieved is a great place for human relationships and bonding. Something that is considered a waste of time in the West, would be considered mere selfishness in the East. My friend Oumaima Gannouni would be witness to this dichotomy. In the East, everyone has time for everyone. Neighbors, family members, parents, and siblings – all are overflowing with love and support. This network of support and love actually plays a very big role in shaping healthy minds and bodies.
Stable marriages breed stable souls. It is a divine comedy that although you find these minds in Eastern societies, the lack of opportunities and infrastructure does not give them an opportunity to outshine. Part of the reason why there are fewer opportunities in the East is because people lack a sense of proportion when it comes to emotional ties, which then leads to easy going behaviors and less efficiency. Moderately governed emotional ties actually breed very useful minds, which then are transported to the West in the form of a brain drain.
The two different forms of love that govern the world, contribute in different ways. It is now important for social psychologists and philosophers from both worlds to sit down and think about various ways to cut down the cost which development has brought in the Western world. The world would be a Utopia the day that both elements could co-exist simultaneously in the East and the West.