The Loving Struggle


Instead of musing about my experiment, I thought I would share a short excerpt from my master’s thesis on love as one of my favorite philosophers, Karl Jaspers, describes it.

The Thinker, Anthropological Museum of Luanda, Angola

The Thinker, Anthropological Museum of Luanda, Angola

What a man is, is a light in the eyes of the one who loves him; for true love is clear sighted and not blind. ~Karl Jaspers

The loving struggle is a non-violent, non-coercive form of relation with another person. Each must approach the other with an authentic attitude, solidarity, and support. Only once trust is established can two people engage in mutual critique necessary for growth.

Love is ‘not a simple pact of pleasant coexistence between two individuals; rather it is the radical experience, perhaps to the outermost point, of the existence of the Other’ ~Byung-Chul Han, The Agony of Eros

To engage in true communication, one must already have a sense of himself, so as not to be absorbed by the other, but one must also not perceive himself as finished, for then the contact will be just the association of two solipsistic creatures. When two complete beings meet, there is no potential for true communication and no consequence to self-being. One must be both self-possessed and open to the other making an impression in order to potentially develop. If one is too rigid, no impression can be made, and no growth can occur. These qualities of suppleness, open-mindedness, and variability are enabled by love. Fear on the other hand makes us rigid. Observe how a person’s body stiffens with fear. While love calms and softens us; it is driving at creating

‘space for the human nobility that takes solidarity to grow in, not an outward measuring but an inner unification in joint claims to equality of level, to candor, clarity, and readiness for self-restraint and service’ (Jaspers, Philosophy II, 336-337).

Human nobility needs space and support in order to develop. Only once one has matured, does one have the prosocial proclivities, such as self-restraint and desire for service, which are the foundation of society.

Cesar and Cat Stevens, my two loving roommates

Cesar and Cat Stevens, my two loving roommates

Love is the bedrock and wellspring that makes honest communication possible, because it creates a consonance of belonging. It lays the foundation of unconditionality which is requisite for the loving struggle. Jaspers does not go into how to support or nourish the wellspring of love, however, it seems that love and communication form a sort of feedback loop. Love, according to Jaspers, is not a steady eternal flame, which burns without sustenance and care. Duality and the friction created by two unique beings navigating the mundane keep love in motion.

‘Without mundane contents, existential communication has no phenomenal medium; without communication such contents are senseless and void’ (Jaspers, Philosophy II, 62-63).

Communication, the result of the loving struggle, brings meaning to the mundane phenomenal world. The centrality of the mundane is important in Jaspers’ conceptualization of love and communication, because it is those dull elements that are usually left out of the more romantic depictions. Love is not flights of idealization as portrayed in Hollywood’s latest chick-flick or gushes of public affection, but situated squarely in the realm of everyday life and takes place through discussions and disagreements about values like punctuality and attitudes toward money.

Love is fierce and bold and challenging and delicious. Take your loving relationships seriously. Foster that beautiful trust with those who love you. Love them. Love yourself. Love the little animals who love you unconditionally!


A Month of Philosophy: Seeking out the Good Life


“Change, Thoreau reminds us, begins when we finally choose to critically examine and then recalibrate the ill-serving codes and conventions handed down to us, often unquestioned, by the past and its power structures. It is essentially an act of the imagination first.” ~Maria Popova, brain pickings

Bronze sculpture "Denkpartner" by Hans-Jörg Limbach, 1980, in front of the Friedrichsbau Varieté in Stuttgart, Germany

Bronze sculpture "Denkpartner" by Hans-Jörg Limbach, 1980, in front of the Friedrichsbau Varieté in Stuttgart, Germany

This experiment will continue in the vein of the first two as a re-embracing of former passions.  I consider myself a philosopher and a lover of wisdom. Last year I submitted an almost-one-hundred-page master’s thesis on philosophy, and very much burned myself out in the process. Far from what some of my peers wanted to do - diving straight into a PhD - I knew I needed a break. And now one year later, I find myself finally dusting off some of these big old books.

This month will be about reading and writing again. At some point I want to condense my thesis into something geared toward a general audience, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I’d like for this month to simply consist of an effort toward getting back into shape. Much like with yoga, music, or any other practice, philosophical contemplation takes an incredible amount of concentration and focus. And when I come home from work - having stared into a computer all day - my mind wants to skip, hop, and meander rather than staying on yet another task. But this specific task is one of my loves. And I know that only with a bit of discipline can I explore becoming through becoming.

Last month’s experiment, I realize now, was not necessarily bound by SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

With that in mind, my goal for this month will be very smart: I intend to read and write about a philosophical idea or work, for at least an hour, 3 days/week.  In my experience it takes at least an hour to melt into contemplation. The process is especially slow because I often have to read passages over and over again in order to begin to glean their depth. I do not yet know what role philosophy will play in my life, but through this work I have come to understand some of the fundamental principles and values by which I live. And I’m so excited to share some of these bits of wisdom with you all throughout the month!