But if living a good life cannot be had without loving, Sigmund Freud was also surely right in saying, “We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love.” C. S. Lewis, though a radical critic of Freud, agreed with him about this matter. Lewis wrote,
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. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Not only does loving expose a person to suffering, but suffering for someone can augment love. The “IKEA effect” is the psychological finding that people value their IKEA furniture (which they had to toil to construct) more than furniture that did not require assembly. We love what we have worked for, toiled over, and suffered for. If these insights are correct, suffering and enjoying a good human life are not set in zero-sum opposition. Through their connection in love, to live well and to suffer are not mutually exclusive but mutually implicative.
We can perhaps better see the connection between flourishing and suffering by considering the nature of love. In his book One Body, Alexander Pruss proposed that love involves willing the good of the other person as other, appreciating the good of the one who is loved, and seeking unity with the one who is loved. Love’s first characteristic, then, is to will the good of other persons as other, to desire the good for them for their own sake. Thus love of enemies is a paradigm case of authentic love, for in loving one’s enemies there is no reasonable expectation that they will give us something back in return.
The second characteristic of love, according to Pruss, is appreciation. Willing the good of the other as other is not sufficient for the fullness of love. Love involves appreciation of the reality of what is good about an individual. If we “do good” for others but hold them in contempt as if they were human garbage, we fail to love them. To love people is to choose an intentional focus in appraising them. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). This focus is compatible with, indeed demands, a responsiveness to reality. I am not really loving my mother if I appreciate her as Prince George of England.
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