Photo by Dương Hữu on Unsplash

It has been said that “Love is our involuntary response to virtue – if we ourselves are virtuous”.

Most people don’t think of love that way. Love is often seen as a blind emotion that ebbs and flows seemingly without reason. It’s viewed as an unquestionable internal force that guides behavior and desire at random. It can’t be controlled; It can only be saddled and ridden to an unknown destination.

I disagree. Love which is unearned is not love. It is something else.

Love, Values, and Virtues

  “As there can be no causeless wealth, so there can be no causeless love or any sort of causeless emotion. An emotion is a response to a face of reality, an estimate dictated by your standards. To love is to value. The man who tells you that it is possible to value without values, to love those whom you appraise as worthless, is the man who tells you that it is possible to grow rich by consuming without producing and that paper money is as valuable as gold.

 

“Observe that he does not expect you to feel a causeless fear. When his kind get into power, they are expert at contriving means of terror, at giving you ample cause to feel the fear by which they desire to rule you. But when it comes to love, the highest of emotions, you permit them to shriek at you accusingly that you are a moral delinquent if you’re incapable of feeling causeless love. When a man feels fear without reason, you call him to the attention of a psychiatrist; you are not so careful to protect the meaning, the nature and the dignity of love.

 

Love is the expression of one’s values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another.

Your morality demands that you divorce your love from values and hand it down to any vagrant, not as response to his worth, but as response to his need, not as reward, but as alms, not as a payment for virtues, but as a blank check on vices. Your morality tells you that the purpose of love is to set you free of the bonds of morality, that love is superior to moral judgment, that true love transcends, forgives and survives every manner of evil in its object, and the greater the love the greater the depravity it permits to the loved. To love a man for his virtues is paltry and human, it tells you; to love him for his flaws is divine. To love those who are worthy of it is self-interest; to love the unworthy is sacrifice. You owe your love to those who don’t deserve it, and the less they deserve it, the more love you owe them—the more loathsome the object, the nobler your love—the more unfastidious your love, the greater the virtue—and if you can bring your soul to the state of a dump heap that welcomes anything on equal terms, if you can cease to value moral values, you have achieved the state of moral perfection.

― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

It is neither moral nor rational to love that which aims for your destruction or lacks that which you value.

It is rational to love that which you value the most.

It is both moral and rational to love and value that which is virtuous. Humans have choice over what they value. Humans do not have choice over what is virtuous – objective reality determines that. Therefore humans are faced with fundamental choices that determines whether or not their love is blind and irrational, or rational and just.

“Do I choose to value virtue, or not?”

“Is virtue towards the top of my hierarchy of values, or not?

If the answer is “no”, we’ll be in trouble. Love will still show up, just in an unwieldy fashion that guides us astray from truth and higher values. Love only serves our higher purpose when consciously tamed.

The degree to which we consciously define our values is the degree to which our love holds meaning. Love as a motive power is strong in those who are self-actualized and self-aware. It is strong in those lacking self-awareness too. But love without guidance from values can lead to irreparable damage because love is vulnerable.

Love and Vulnerability

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Part of the difficulty in consciously choosing love is the vulnerability that entails.

If I am rejected in my pursuit of love with a woman with virtues I deem valuable, it’s not just me getting rejected. It’s my system of values. It’s my framework of perceiving reality. It’s my self-image.

The solution is not to place emotion in the driver’s seat, and let passion masquerading as love guide sexual desire into the first available recipient.

The solution is to embrace vulnerability forthrightly and consciously. We must be aware that in our lifetimes, our hearts will be wounded in the process of experimenting with love. Love is an inherently risky activity that requires discernment and caution. The risks range from a single restless night spent in obsession over a past lover’s Facebook post to years of turmoil and regret over a toxic relationship.

On the positive side, the risk can include letting go of someone you deeply admire, love, respect, and enjoy because you know you’re not right for each other. In my experience, this risk is less painful the more it is reciprocal. When two parties have this mutual understanding, departing from a relationship can be the highest expression of love experienced in the relationship.

Vulnerability requires courage – a virtue.

Embrace your capacity for courage. Be vulnerable, and love unreservedly. The benefits outweigh the risks.