Anne Truitt on Love and Defining People

“Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves. This indifference can be, in its extreme, a form of murder and seems to me a rather common phenomenon. We claim autonomy for ourselves and forget that in so doing we can fall into the tyranny of defining other people as we would like them to be. By focusing on what we choose to acknowledge in them, we impose an insidious control on them. I notice that I have to pay careful attention in order to listen to others with an openness that allows them to be as they are, or as they think themselves to be. The shutters of my mind habitually flip open and click shut, and these little snaps form into patterns I arrange for myself. The opposite of this inattention is love, is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.”

Anne Truitt

I confess to having days when I am annoyed with the English language for it’s apparent lack of an adequate vocabulary for the many things meant by the word “love”.  I have never counted all the meanings the word has, but it seems clear English needs a few new words for the different kinds of love.

It’s not there’s anything wrong with a word having more than one meaning.  It’s there is something wrong with a word having contradictory meanings.  And the word “love” has a few contradictory meanings.  Can you imagine how difficult things would get if the word “go” not only meant “go” in some circumstances but also meant “stop” in other circumstances?  At the very least, the usefullness of the word would be considerably reduced.  Yet, the word “love” has contradictory meanings of just that sort.

For instance, “love” often refers to a condition that can be summed up by the famous saying, “Love is blind”.  Yet, the very same word — “love” — sometimes refers to a very different condition that is extraordinarily insightful.  When Anne Truitt speaks of love towards the end of the passage quoted above, she is speaking of that second kind of love — that extraordinarily insightful love — that is anything but blind.  Those two kinds of love are oil and water.  They don’t even mix, but we use the same word to refer to both.

Actually, I think if we dig a little deeper into what Truitt is saying in the passage, we see she comes very close to discussing both those kinds of love.  She doesn’t name the first kind — the love is blind kind of love — but she nevertheless does a fairly good job dissecting how it works.  Not a complete job, but a fairly good job.

When she says, “Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves”, she might for all practical purposes be describing both the blindness and the selfishness or self-centerednes of that kind of love people are sometimes referring to when they say, “Love is blind”.

Likewise, when Truitt says, “The opposite of this inattention is love…”, she is very clearly not referring to any kind of love that is blind to the person loved. Unless we understand at least that much about the passage, it is likely to be difficult for us to understand Truitt at all.

5 thoughts on “Anne Truitt on Love and Defining People

  1. Hi,

    ” It’s there is something wrong with a word having contradictory meanings. And the word “love” has a few contradictory meanings.”

    What do you think of the idea that love is supposed to have contradictory meanings?
    Gibran said “For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning”
    Maybe love is meant to include building us up and knocking us down, meant to make us blind and make us insightful, to make us generous and make us selfish?
    Maybe love is supposed to be that way to bring us to the centre?
    And, of course, maybe I’m missing the point completely.

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  2. I am reminded of the Greek words for our English “love:” eros, philia, and agape. Eros is the root of erotic, self-pleasing love. We have Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly” love from the root, philia. Love of family, love of familiar. Agape is very elusive. Basically, it is love beyond oneself. Very rare, indeed. That’s what Anne Truitt is trying to elucidate. Boddhisattva Never Disparaging tried to live that kind of love by respecting everyone he met and revering the individual and his inherent enlightend state. A book I am reading, “The Lost Art of Listening,” by Michael P. Nichols, spends 251 pages trying to elucidate that kind of love. Anne has done a great job of condensing the concept.

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  3. I don’t think unconditional love can be a reality – unless you get a good dog, they’ll love ya.

    I think we can come close., but miss the mark mostly.

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  4. That one paragraph from Ms. Truitt convinces me she is not worth reading further. For the life of me, I have no idea what she’s trying to say. From “we doom each other” to “indifference” as a “form of murder” and beyond, she engages in that form of “psychobabble” I’ve come to despise.

    As for the inadequacy of the English language, I disagree that it is inadequate to express any well-formed idea.

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