Reflections by Jennifer Geach
Not just to love, but also to be loved
25th June 2018
There is a passage in one of Antony Trollope’s novels, Framley Parsonage, in which Mr. Crawley speaks of the bitterness of the bread of charity for the recipient. It is sweet to give help, he says; but bitter to receive it. Here I think Trollope has hit on an important aspect of our psychology. Ministering to others gratifies our sense of self worth and importance: being generous with our money, our goods and our time provides us with a warm glow, and an interior feeling of satisfaction.
This means that we very often forget the other side of the equation. We are here, in my opinion, to learn how to love; and that is a comparatively easy lesson. I do not mean that it is easy in itself: it is hard to give actual, rather than notional assent to the idea that the person I am talking to is just as important in their world as I am in mine; more, is in reality just as important as I am. However, the attempt to acknowledge this, and the attempt to love them is accompanied by the warmth of feeling altruistic. What I mean by ‘the other side of the equation’ is that we are not here just to love, but also to be loved.
Now this is much harder, especially now when autonomy prized above every other good. For in order to be loved we have to do various things which can be quite tricky. First, we have to think, we have to believe that we are loveable: not useful, talented, clever, rich, pleasant, agreeable: but loveable. And that can be hard for some people to do. For acknowledging that we are loveable also means acknowledging that we need to be loved; means acknowledging that we are not the splendid self sufficient individuals that our more flattering self image would suggest: but pitiable, weak and poverty stricken, needing love as a plant needs water.
Sometimes, this lesson is brought home to us very forcibly, by illness or misfortune. And the reluctance with which we receive, let alone ask for the love we need all the time, not just in sickness or suffering is a measure of our prideful self sufficiency, which will not brook the idea that we do depend on others, and that we do need their love and their help at least as much as they need ours.