Lazy Luddite Log

14.2.12

Fewer Words More Talk

This blog entry had its genesis at both a party and while sitting on public transport. A party conversation some months ago provided the subject matter and my reminiscing on that conversation while sitting on the train recently produced what I think is a novel response to the problem of that conversation.

The topic was the old chestnut that we have too few words in English for "love". An acquaintance I was chatting with declared this as a matter of regular frustration. There are many feelings and dispositions and decisions that are thrown into the cover-all term of love. This produces all sorts of confusions and - on matters personal - can result in much consternation and even conflict. I agreed that it would be nice if we had the however-many ancient Greek words for different kinds of love but I also suggested that there was another solution - defining our terms every time we need to.

It may take time and effort but conversations can be had in which all involved say "this is what my definition is in this case". If something is as important as we say human relations are then we will invest in those conversations rather than allow confusion to develop. In fact I think this would be necessary even with more words.

Imagine we had fifteen words for love. Imagine a map of these loves arrayed in space. Now imagine that something you are feeling falls annoyingly into a space in the constellation of loves between three of the named coordinates. You have to talk anyway! Will this happen or do we suppose that fifteen words will cover every kind of positive-attachment-motivating scenario that everyone will experience ever? I suspect that talk is useful however many words we may devise.

And we do try and devise new words or re-use old ones. Consider the invention by a psychologist in the 1970s of the term "limerence". Personally I think "infatuation" will do but one could argue that. Still we can and do have lots of words we can use alone or in combination - admiration... affection... attraction... (a lot of them seem to be alliterative)

This I was pondering on the train and I admit I was nodding off as it had been a long working week and the slanting sunlight of a late summer afternoon was playing with me. I think what follows is a pretty cool concept but you may think otherwise. If discussion ensues then my half-baked notion may get fully cooked.

It can be good to have just one word for love because what all the loves have in common is the thing that is most worth focusing on. That one thing is that anyone we feel love for matters to us. The quality of our interactions with them become important to us. And we will care for what happens to them. Love provokes compassion. In saying this I am revisiting my Mammalian Morality concept.

If the bottom-line of close connection is caring for what impact we have on others then communication in everyday language will facilitate that. There is a practical problem however - talk can be difficult. We are conditioned to hold back. Saying things can be scary and we cannot be sure that the response we provoke from autonomous persons will be what we hoped for.

I do think that saying stuff gets better with experience. Mind you - every time I jump into a pool I still get a momentary thrill but by the time I am over the water I cannot do anything but fall in. Opening your mouth and saying something can be a very similar experience.

Cross-posted here.

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