Love’s Opposite

All week the question, “What’s the opposite of love?”

A former worker at a nearby landfill was given a four-year sentence after his attack on a fellow worker left the co-worker permanently handicapped. The victim was trying to get the other person to get out of an unsafe place. It was stated that that accused had that thing we euphemistically refer to as “anger issues,” but one is left wondering what sort of person inflicts that sort of violence on another when, after all, they were only acting out of an understood need to observe safety regulations?

All week stories related to a local murder trial have been making headlines. He killed her then hid her body and belongings. He lied about the whole affair until solid police work made the truth abundantly clear to all. The crown still has to make as clear and as detailed a case as possible as it does appear as if he still seems to want the best deal—for him—as possible. When he eventually takes the stand, if the crown has not done an excellent job of showing just how effective a liar he can be, the jury may still be swayed with pity for him, instead of seeking justice for what we all know is a universal wrong. You know what he’s thinking: two years have passed, maybe people are accustomed to this now and are tired of hearing the details so they will let him off easy to be done with it. He clearly feels he has his reasons and that they should supersede hers.

On Tuesday night a nearby city was essentially on self-imposed lockdown. Two people were gunned down at a physio clinic. Was the drug trade reaping its harvest again? After all a lot of people seem to have a money to burn and time to do it and, besides, the distribution network is getting increasingly better organized; more violent. But, no, the first victims were a man and a woman—a red flag for the other type of violence since most of the visible violence is between males. The next day the third point of the triangle was located. The shooter took his own life in the cemetery located in the woods, just walking distance from my own house. His relationship with the female victim had ended—at least in everyone else’s eyes—years earlier. What circumstances could have led him to this place? How did he end up justifying the fact that the end purpose of his life was simply the taking of his and others?

And then the story so horrific I cannot even relate it but just wonder how someone could ruin, forever,  the life of one so vulnerable; so trusting.

Visible violence gets the attention for obvious reasons. It’s nothing, though, in comparison to what takes place, out of sight, in private dwellings, in offices, in hidey holes at schools and elsewhere. The visible stuff is sporadic, loud. The majority is ongoing, quiet; the horror never ends.

What do you do with things like that: condemn the actors as evil or deviant and then seek revenge, perhaps? That’s the first thing that comes to mind. Those people need to get theirs.

Or you could move on and act as if it does not exist. We all have problems of our own—health, finances, relationships, for example—and they are hard enough to deal with. These headlines, sure they do raise the ire but after a few night’s sleep it all seems to be that much less important; yesterday’s news. Besides, what’s the point since it’s unlikely there’s anything any of us can do will make any difference anyway?

Back to the question: What, exactly, is the opposite of love? Your first thought is likely “hate.” It certainly makes sense. Most people would define love of another as a disposition towards doing things that you feel are in that person’s best interests. If you love someone you will provide for them and protect them, even at personal expense. It follows then that the opposite of this—and you call it hatred—means having a disposition toward doing things which harm that person. The opposite of love, seen in this light, means that you will actively seek to harm that person, whether it be financially, physically or emotionally.

But is that really the case anymore?

Look at and listen to others. Notice the great focus on personal gain. Look at all those selfies on instagram, all those “about me” posts on Facebook, twitter and the like. Even in the increasingly rare live conversations (and if you take umbrage with this, please look closely at the next gathering of “talkers” and notice the simple fact that most of the group is much more focused on their cellphones than they are on the people who surround them) notice how, when someone says something profoundly correct the response is not, “YOU are correct.” But instead, “I know!!!”Even when it should be about someone else, it’s still about the self! It’s hardly ever about the other anymore, is it?

So doesn’t it make sense then, that the opposite of love is not about the other, the supposed object who is either the recipient of love or of its opposite?

In these self-absorbed times, perhaps it’s wise to reconsider just what it is that we now see as the opposite of love. Maybe it’s just the absence of love. Think about it for a minute.

  • Suppose you did not love the elderly person who had just wandered out in traffic, wouldn’t you just keep walking?
  • Suppose you did not love the child or the wife you suspected was being abused at home, wouldn’t you just turn a deaf ear and a blind eye?
  • Suppose you did not love your community, wouldn’t you just focus, instead, on your own property?
  • Suppose you did not love your job, wouldn’t you just make a half-assed effort and use up whatever sick time you could, regardless?

It’s not really all about hatred any more, is it? Apathy seems to be the big one now.

Look what apathy has managed to do, besides permitting ongoing domestic abuse and bullying. White-collar criminals rob from the public purse, getting richer at the expense of others. Workers’ pensions and benefits are being taken away. Public officials quietly restructure or co-opt our many institutions to effect personal gain at society’s expense. Protesters trying to save the environment for all are violently stopped by sanctioned para-military outfits.

And the public—that’s us—just lets it all happen.

It is a natural human response to rationalize our actions (or non-action). Whenever we do something wrong it is a normal response to find a way to deal with the inevitable guilt. SOME will say they were just doing their job, convince themselves that, “the other person  started it.”, or, worst of all, alter their memories by either omitting facts or inventing new ones so that it appears that they just did what they had to do; that they were not the offending party. It’s always someone else’s fault. That’s just plain sick and sad, isn’t it? Safe to say that many, perhaps the majority, of those who inflict acts of violence on others fall into this category. They will keep doing it, and find ways of justifying their actions so they can live with it all.

What about the rest of us, the objects of the acts of violence and the witnesses to it?

You can try to make sense of it all by looking for patterns. Unfortunately, when it comes to this, our minds are woefully flawed. We tend to see things that do not exist. Our biases lead us astray and we just consider evidence that confirms them, oblivious to evidence to the contrary. We frequently seek the simplest, easiest answer, even though most things are complex, having many causes.

In the end, do we find ourselves authors of our own stories and cowering away in our own little hovels, afraid of monsters of our own design?

So, then, what sense can be made of all of this, assuming we decide that apathy is not the correct course of action? As for the awful news from this week, perhaps we are left with three things:

Care for those left behind. She had a child. They had friends and family. All of th
eir lives are rent asunder now. At the individual level there’s not a whole lot that those of us outside the circle can do. As a society there’s still lots that can be done. We can speak up to advocate for programs that help the victims, object when some try and end  those programs and, above all, ensure that would-be public officials understand clearly that if they expect a vote from us they had better put more than just their own interests forward.

Find Justice. The courts always need witnesses with the courage to come forward and speak out to defend the weak. Those selected for jury duty should not feign illness or justify that they are invaluable at work just so they can duck their responsibility. Finally, we all need to see past the anger; the so-called obvious causes and solutions and, instead commit to that far more elusive cause of justice, not retaliation.

Build a better society. For every act of violence that gets reported, how many do not? I don’t have evidence but strongly suspect that what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Domestic abuse, violence in the workplace and in our schools, white-color crime—these things are the real scourge and they only continue because we let them happen. Perhaps it’s time we started to see things as they really are: lacking in real love, lacking in what causes us to act when we do not have to.

Take a hard look: Apathy, not hatred, is the real obstacle.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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32 Responses to Love’s Opposite

  1. You are correct, and this is an excellent thought provoking post. Hatred is still there, blind, in some cases, but apathy is so wide-spread. Not caring, not engaging but instead hiding in one’s own castle, pretending nothing is going on and/or nothing can be done to change things. Also, the media is not helping. They are still focused on all the negatives instead of reporting on the good things that, despite all, are happening in silence. That adds to the apathy, I feel. I agree that we need to take a hard look and do our best to change the course…in the little ways we all can master.

    • Thank you. You also raise another excellent point: we do tend to dwell on the negatives and, so, that’s what the media focuses on. There’s much less market for good news than there is for the bad stuff. Once again, I suppose, we have ourselves to blame there too. While there’s no doubt that the media does play on our fears as they search for better ratings we should also note that they only have that power over us because we let them have it.

  2. Martin says:

    Couldn’t agree more Maurice. One only has to look at election times and voter apathy. We can all work on being more pro-active in life, not letting the seemingly trivial mistakes, negative acts we see slip by without us doing something. I for one am inspired by what you have written. Thanks.

    • Thanks! In some cases voters do have reason to be apathetic. In more than one election voters probably noticed that none of the candidates were suitable and stayed away. More often, though, suitable candidates do present themselves but the voters just seem not to care anyway. That leads to more than just a poor choice of candidates. A low voter turn out is also a clear signal to the successful candidate that they have wide latitude. An apathetic pool of voters is not likely to question things that should be scrutinized.

  3. Lucille Gambin says:

    Great, thought provoking article! Thanks Maurice.

    • Not exactly a pleasant post for a rainy fall day, I suppose. But then again it’s been something of a gloomy week. Everything has its time, though. Perhaps next week will even it out with some good news. It’s always there too; whether we choose to see it is for us to decide. Next week I plan to look more in that direction 🙂

  4. Jen Payne says:

    Amen!

    I wonder sometimes, though – CAN we build a better society? Shouldn’t we know better by now? BY NOW? Shouldn’t we? Perhaps that sense of futility breeds apathy?

    • No doubt. It’s always seemed to me that each time one obstacle is removed another slides right in to replace it. But then I think of the garbage. Each day I pick it up and each new day there’s another bunch to be picked up. What’s the use? But suppose I stopped picking it up. What then? I like to think it’s like that with life. It’s so very hard to get ahead but giving up means not that we stay put and get no better but instead that we back slide. At least that’s what I tell myself.

  5. Hi Maurice–Jenny Pellet sent me over to your blog because visiting Newfoundland has long been a dream of mine and she said you might be going to write about your place on earth.

    About love and apathy–I agree 100%. The opposite of love is its absence. the opposite of love is a lack of empathy, a lack of seeing that the next person’s right to a humane and dignified existence is equal to one’s own right to live well.

    It has been the endless struggle through the ages, for people to realize that love is not an emotion, rather a decision to see the next person’s needs as important.

  6. Well said and a scary look at what our future will and has already become, we are all guilty of it. Sadly there is so much sadness, violence and loss in the world that we have almost conditioned ourselves not to care too deeply about anything. Yet I live in a small village community and when things go bad you do see people come out of the woodwork and lend a helping hand to those in need.

    • Maybe that’s a big part of it–identifying yourself as part of a community. Perhaps the boundaries do not necessarily need to be physical ones but ones set by common interests and values. Who knows? I don’t. I am somewhat reminded of a study that looked at the effect of the audience size and on the likelihood that they would come to someone else’s aid. It looks like there’s a sweet spot that favours smaller numbers. In larger groups everyone just assumes that aid is someone else’s responsibility.

  7. Mary says:

    You are indeed sadly correct- our overall apathy and lack of action particularly in areas of domestic violence, child abuse and bullying is shocking and discouraging – but perhaps as you wrote in a previous post – there is room for Hope – I know I work with some wonderful young people and am optimistic about a future world they will help to create – young people who are passionate about the environment , putting a stop to bullying and who participate deeply in their community – I feel so grateful to them and their parents. This week in Vancouver , many youth attended the “We Day” event and were inspired to see the whole world as their community. Last month I also got to attend with them a day of Reconciliation regarding residential schools and was feeling optimistic about everyone’s – young and old – desiring to try to right a terrible wrong . I am sorry this happened and wish the innocent little child involved a good future in a loving – opposite to what she has known so far – home.

    • Indeed. It is true that we see what we wish to see and, this past week, I have been guilty of exactly that. Besides the darker stories which I chose to dwell upon there was plenty of good news too. That, plus our remarkable ability to withstand just about anything (with help) means there’s always room for hope and, yes, love is doing its work too.

  8. Yes, you are right Maurice … on all counts. Certainly we are not apathetic when it comes to that small circle within which we have direct influence. It is toward that larger sphere where apathy perhaps has its effect. It is too easy to turn inward. And, in any case – when we do so we lead by example – right? I feel guilty when I find myself saying, ‘I cannot change things as they are.’ The number of individual lives I am capable of influencing is few to be sure. If there are others who I am not aware of then I will lead by example by doing the right thing and by ‘paying it forward.’ It’s (literally) the least I can do and what I find I can manage. Your post is a call to greater action though … I will keep it in mind. D

    • Yes it does tend to be toward the greater good. We see this especially on voting day, when so many just decide to sit it out instead of helping with the choice. In fairness to all it is hard to feel as if you are part of a large group when you know that any effect you could have is small. What works for me is knowing which battles to fight. Yes, my contribution toward the whole can be small but in select areas–and those are the ones I go after–it can be appreciable.

  9. jennypellett says:

    As usual, Maurice, a really thought provoking post. Perhaps one of the ways to effect change from this malignant spread of apathy is to practise and promote strong parenting. We are not their friends, we are their guides, motivators and refuge in times of trouble. We should encourage two-way discussion on all issues with them so that the next generation can move forward with hope, because, as you outlined so well in a previous post, without hope there can only be apathy.

    • I believe you are right. Those unused to strong and positive interactions with mentors and parents can hardy be expected to participate when their turn comes. If we expect our young people to contribute then we must get them used to it by setting it so that they do get to have a voice and do get to make a meaningful difference. A good start is to take them away from the TV and from the other electronics and pt them in positions where their actions get to count. Get them to participate and volunteer…

  10. elkement says:

    Great piece – as usual!! It is interesting that you mention selfies on Facebook as an indication of increasting selfishness – as I have stumbled on many recent articles titled ‘Facebook causes narcissism’ or similar. I can recall I have read an article some months ago (but didn’t bookmark) on psychological research that seemed to prove that children only interacting with their environments via computer screens start loosing their sense of empathy.
    I would be interested in what is cause and what is effect here. I agree with you – often simple causal relations are too simplistic, such as: electronic gadget cripple empathy (or violent computer games cause violence). Probably we use more electronic gadgets, in particular those that allow for self-promotion, because we became more selfish and less empathic before (?)

    • Elke, I believe that, to a large extent, you are right. There is a flawed mode of thinking that is often referred to “The Error of the Swimmer’s Body.” It goes like this: champion swimmers have amazing physiques; the closest one can likely come to the ‘perfect body.” Many people say, therefore, “I will take up swimming so I can get a body like that!” After months and months of practice, however, while they are certainly in MUCH better physical condition they discover, to their chagrin that they still do not really resemble that championship swimmer. Of course you know why–much of the causation is in the reverse direction. Yes, swimming does develop the body in very positive (and physically pleasing) ways BUT it’s also more likely that people naturally disposed–they are lucky enough to have the right genes–to have that ‘perfect’ body tend to be better at it than everyone else.
      I noticed the same thing about the apparent correlation between math achievement and musical ability. Everywhere, it seems, I heard people saying, “That’s part of the reason why music education is important–it helps make you better at math!” Of course, that’s just the same error–mixing correlation with correlation. It’s just that many of the traits that make you a good musician ALSO are associated with mathematical ability. No more.
      And yes, that is the case with Facebook and such. No doubt narcissists are drawn to social media as it gives them a great big megaphone to SHOUT how great they are to the whole world. It also, though, may encourage that type of behavior from those who may not otherwise engage in it. I think we’ll see research on that soon. Interesting to see the findings 🙂

  11. johnlmalone says:

    it’s a tough topic, Maurice and I won’t pretend I know the answer except to say at the church I occasionally attend the minister quite openly preaches that same love is wrong though, of course, he is careful to say, we must love those who commit such wrong acts.This seems to me quite wrong. I think acceptance is part of the answer

  12. seeker says:

    When I was in Spain walking the Camino, someone told me to stop being kind. My question to the person was, do you know how to say thank you when someone is kind to you? That is a problem when people do not know how to accept kindness, apathy starts to quietly sneak in.

    I have heard so many times “I don’t care, It’s not my fault or It’s not my job.” These comments were said in the work area. Unfortunately, it is very common in the government area than private sector.

    I remember that was a joke going on at the old job and the saying was “Before I don’t care, now I am apathetic.” This is just pathetic.

    In short, you are right, Maurice.

  13. Mjollnir says:

    To me an expression of love is the outward display of caring for others. In today’s goldfish-memory, soundbite and ephemera-driven world it seems most people are taught by ‘the media’ and especially the ‘(anti-) social media’ that love is something which should be reserved for the self. We seem to be losing the ability to express any form of fellow-feeling which has driven our species from Olduvai Gorge to outer space and society is suffering because of it.

  14. Dr. J says:

    Very nice dissertation!

    The opposite of love is fear!

  15. I started reading this and my first thought was the opposite of love is apathy. Not hate, or whatever else. It’s the lack of feeling, the absence of an emotion. And then you said it, so I couldn’t come out with my earth-shattering conclusion at all.

    Has your alleged murderer pleaded guilty? Otherwise you would be on dodgy ground saying he had done it etc etc

    On apathy and interfering – because there is a fine line there – we actually did interfere when there was a huge row going on in the flat above us, and a load of banging noises. After a not very long discussion, we called the police who came immediately. Apparently just an argument between two sisters. Hmm. Didn’t sound like that. And we’d decided we couldn’t live with resulting injuries – or worse. Or there is the tale of my partner telling two Spanish blokes to clear off when they thought it would be fun to kick a dying horse.

    There is less and less sense of community amongst people and I wonder if it is dying out due to changing lifestyles, or whether it is something that young people don’t even have time or understanding for. And, it is never easy to stand out, speak out, and draw attention to yourself.

    • It turned out that the alleged was found guilty of second degree murder. In his statement he said she died, “as a result of an altercation they’d had,” but the jury wasn’t buying that line and didn’t need much time to reach the verdict.
      Funny how great minds think alike, eh? But then again, my mother would always add, “and fools seldom differ!”

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