bell hooks’ seminal work, All About Love, is a series of essays which explore (or meditate on, to use hooks’ terminology), different aspects of love. It covers social, familial, romantic, and spiritual love, and also examines the power structures within relationships and how the work of love requires questioning the standards of love socialization teaches us and finding authenticity in our own outpouring of the same.
hooks opens her chapter titled “Commitment” about finding self-love by disabusing us of the myth that “If you do not love yourself, you will be unable to love anyone else.” While she does not separate any link between the two concepts, the cause and effect relationship which leaves many who find themselves alone searching for their personal faults proves ineffective, false, and not emerging from a place of love.
To break this bond, she restates that love is not merely a feeling, but is primarily an action. Love is an active verb, like run, work, listen, and play. In fact, she defines love as any work related to the benefit of one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Here, spirit is anything which extends beyond the physical or sensual definitions of love. She writes,
When we see love as a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, knowledge, and responsibility, we can work on developing these qualities or, if they are already a part of who we are, we can learn to extend them to ourselves.”
To breakdown the steps of extending these virtues to ourself, hooks quotes Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self-Esteem and details how the pillars of self-assertiveness, self-acceptance, living purposefully, and practicing personal integrity are not only necessary for the active work of self-love, but are also related. hooks recommends using daily affirmations to build self-acceptance, and to assert one’s true self to build self-esteem. Contending against disseminating to be pleasing, she writes that the “division between a false self intended to please others and a more authentic self need not exist when we cultivate positive self-esteem.”
However, self-love exists not only in truth telling and the quiet moments when we can feel worthy. hooks shows that, with effort, it is possible in the home as well as at work, and that self-love is not selfish, but necessary to give freely of ourselves to others. “Self love is the foundation of our loving practice,” she writes, any practice. She continues,
We can give ourselves the unconditional love that is the grounding for sustained acceptance and affirmation. When we give this precious gift to ourselves, we are able to reach out to others from a place of fulfillment and not from a place of lack.”
Thus she returns to the maxim driving this meditation, showing that while love of others is still possible before self-love, it is always better with self-love. She adds, “Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself.” For love is a gift; and just like any gift, it extends to ourselves, from ourselves, to others, and from others. Love is always possible. She avers, “The light of love is always in us, no matter how cold the flame . . . waiting to be born—waiting to see the light.”
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To read more of bell hooks’ enlightening insights, try All About Love.