Born For Love: Reflections On Loving, by Leo Buscaglia
It is easy to see why someone who was in a rush to purchase books for a voracious reader would see this book and think it a likely one for me to enjoy. When I was reading it in the break room this afternoon at work, I was asked if I was reading a romance novel, and I had to demur, since this is most definitely not a romance novel. Yet my coworker was onto something, in that this book is about romantic love, as well as love in other, more vague and general senses, and the person who bought this book for me would have likely not purchased it had she read it more than a little before buying it in a rush. The reason for that is indicated quite plainly by the author himself, a former professor of a “love class” at the University of Southern California  where I attended my undergraduate studies, which coincidentally enough did not include this particular course, when he says: “Our goal, after all, is humanness, not godliness (154).” My criticisms of this book, and they are many, do not detract from the fact that the author is right that we are born for love, and they are distinct from the fact that the author concedes he was viewed as a nut for setting up a college course as a tenured professor at USC in the study and practice of love. He was entirely right to undertake the task, albeit entirely wrongheaded in his approach, as he was aiming at the wrong goal. The goal is godliness after all.
The contents of this book read almost like a parody of New Age ruminations on love and the sort of quotes that appear on fortune cookies or page a day motivational calendars. Most of the book consists of short reflections by the author, often containing a family story or some sort of reference to Eastern religious thought and practice or Western philosophy, with a related quote by a famous person on the bottom of the page. Some pages are filled with what the author believes to be encouraging quotes on lavender paper, like “Giving in as an important kind of giving when people love each other (173).” Many of the thoughts are repetitive, and the author’s insistence that love has been viewed rather vaguely because of the cynicism of people (likely people like me are in view here) and because love has been dealt with by amateurs instead of college professors like him strikes one a bit hollow when the book itself is very vague. The Greeks famously had four words for love–storge for familial affection, eros for romantic love, phileo for friendship, and agape for self-sacrificial love, but the author’s use of love is very vague, and mostly focuses on romantic love along with some comments about friendship and family . The fact that the author nearly entirely ignores the Bible but quotes Lakota wisdom and a lot of references to Buddhism as well as a few to Taoism also suggests that this author is himself an amateur when dealing with love, since there are no references to 1 Corinthians 13 and only one very brief and superficial reference to the Golden Rule. This level of ignorance and imprecision about love does not speak highly as to one’s competence in dealing with the serious subject of love.
Perhaps just as serious is the fact that the author is so wildly inconsistent and even paradoxical in his advice and counsel. He cannot decide, for example, if fear is responsible for people saying no or if no is what gives definition to a yes. He cannot decide if self-esteem is the foundation of our ability to love others or if our natural egoism is too much of a barrier to loving and losing ourselves in others, but yet remaining two people growing independently as well as together. He cannot decide if the focus on continual improvement and self-education is of pivotal importance or if love is so simple that it is viewed as cliche by others. Indeed, it is likely that this book is to be viewed as cliche by many of its readers, although I cannot imagine there being many readers for this particular book, except among those who appreciate new age positive psychology, and those who are reading about its humanistic views on love from the point of view of the opening wedge of Buddhist thought in academia and public culture. The book even makes a subtle appeal to views on reincarnation, a view that has gotten much less subtle in other recent efforts . In the end, this book is contradictory and shallow, and represents the sort of amateur and slapdash approach to love that its author deplores in others. Nevertheless, even saying all this, the advice given here would be an improvement upon the way that many people approach the matter of love. It is little wonder, therefore, that so many of our lives are a mess when it comes to this painful and unpleasant subject matter.
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