Can love be ‘taught’?

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

A wise man, who happened to be a church pastor, once asked one of his friends, who happened to be a psychiatrist: ‘How can you teach someone to love?’

That’s a good question, for if people could learn to love we wouldn’t have our senses offended by the sights and sounds of massacre of the beaches of Sousse, nor would there have been the recent grisly beheadings in London and Lyon.

Fusilier Lee Rigby might still be alive and we who populate this beautiful land, the land of saints and scholars, would never have had to endure 30 years of murder and mayhem.

But, back to the wise man and the psychiatrist. He answered the question with another one: ‘Did you ever have a toothache? Of whom were you thinking during the distress caused by the pain?’

The point was well made. When we are in pain we are thinking of ourselves.

And then he went on: ‘It is a pain-filled world in which we live. The pains that reside deep in the human heart are not like toothache. We go to bed with them at night and we wake up with them in the morning.

“And so we live in a pain-filled, loveless world.’

Then he delivered his punch line: ‘Most humans are so turned-in by their own pain that they cannot get out of themselves enough to love to any great extent.’

And he was right. One in five visits to the GP surgery is stress-related.

Almost half-a-million people in the UK reported work-related stress in 2011/12 – and stress is pain.

I was at a conference recently and the speaker was reinforcing this very argument.

She said: ‘When someone is rude to you, or dismissive, or uncaring, there are two ways you can react. You can respond in kind by being at least as rude, or dismissive, or as uncaring. Alternatively, you can look behind the eyes of that person and see their pain, and you can say, if that person had a peaceful mind they would not behave in that way.’

Wouldn’t that make everything different?

People are wicked because they have toothache, we respond in a similar way because we have toothache, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Only now am I beginning to understand what Krishnamurty meant when he taught that you can change the world, because to you and me, the world is the sum of our relationships.

Therefore, he argued, change how we relate to those who make up our world, and we change our world.

Yes we can live peaceful, stress-free lives, lives that are free from the pain that the psychiatrist spoke of, and we would be free to think of others.

Surely that is at the heart of the New Commandment given to us by Jesus: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

It’s such a shame that the religious world does not understand that Jesus was not giving us another commandment. It was one to replace the others, rendering them obsolete.

That’s what the writer of the Book of Hebrews said: ‘When God speaks of a New Testament ,it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date…’ (Hebrews 8:13).