I picked up a copy of this on a whim at my neighborhood bookstore, Black Bird. One of the employees highlighted it as a highly impactful read. My ADHD makes it difficult to finish a book; I often bring books on my trips and return home with the bookmark still peeping out from the same page. I couldn’t put All About Love down! bell hooks masterfully deconstructs a topic that popular culture could never tackle with authenticity. Her book comprises 13 short, eloquently written chapters examining the different aspects of love.
My key takeaways:
- love & abuse cannot coexist
- people typically choose power over love
- love is a verb; taking responsibility to nurture ones own & another’s spiritual + emotional growth
- our society normalizes dysfunction especially when it comes to children
- the cultural acceptance of lying is a reason that many people will never know love
- most will die never knowing love because of a fear of the vulnerability that unconditional love requires
Here are some of my reflections on this delightful read.
Give Love Words
“Most psychologically and/or physically abused children have been taught by parenting adults that love can coexist with abuse. This faulty thinking often shapes our adult perceptions of love…we try to rationalize being hurt by other adults that they love us. Initially, I did not want to accept a definition of love that would also compel me to face the possibility that I had not known love in the relationships that were most primary to me. Years of therapy and critical reflection enabled me to accept that there is no stigma attached to acknowledging a lack of love in one’s primary relationships.”
I am still on the path of healing, and unfortunately I still feel a stigma when I openly admit that I don’t believe my parents love me. The simple fact that love and abuse cannot coexist was liberating to read for this reason. I am often told that I should accept whatever form of love I get from my family, because that’s all they know. Yet I have quite literally fought tooth and nail to survive my childhood and redefine love so that I do not cause my loved ones the same pain that I grew up with. The notion that love is just a feeling up to individual interpretation, is extremely toxic. We know that feelings come and go, and that actions speak louder. Most people can’t control their feelings and many men aren’t even in touch with their feelings because of the values that our patriarchal society has instilled in them.
Love is a verb. Love is learning how to control your emotions so you don’t say something spiteful when you are angry. Love is trying your best to stay still when your cat/dog/partner falls asleep on you. Love is directly addressing conflicts as they arise and resolving to work through them together. Love is something that we wake up every day capable of doing. Like everything else worth experiencing, love requires constant effort.
Childhood Love Lessons
“Every day thousands of children are verbally and physically abused, starved, tortured, and murdered. They are true victims of intimate terrorism in that they have no collective voice and no rights. They remain the property of parenting adults to do with as they will. At a fun party, mostly of educated, well-paid professionals, a multiracial, multigenerational evening, the subject of disciplining kids by hitting was raised. Almost all guests over the age of thirty spoke about the necessity of using physical punishment.”
No wonder our nation is suffering from a mental health crisis! I still remember when my sister told me about the cycle of abuse at the end of a rough day for both of us. “Dads father hit him, now dad hits you,” is the way she explained it to 5 year old me. She vowed that we would break the cycle. It sounded easy, but over time I learned that to do so requires extreme mental fortitude, access to a trauma-informed therapist, supportive friends, and so much time to practice not falling into the same old patterns…I always tell my partner that I’m grateful we got together when we did because I was not a good person for the majority of my life. During my first session with my therapist, she joked that statistically I should be a drug addicted felon based on what I’ve been through. Sadly my sister was the one who found refuge behind prison bars. Children who experience abuse are predisposed to violence, and consequently are more likely to live a loveless and unfulfilling life. The Body Keeps the Score is an excellent read about that explores the neuroscience behind the challenges trauma survivors face in piecing their lives back together.
Anyway, my most valuable takeaway regarding parenthood is to treat children similar to how you treat adults (with reason). So if you don’t think it’s OK to hit other adults, don’t hit your children. Setting boundaries for their behavior and teaching them to take responsibility for their actions will be much more beneficial and rewarding than taking to the belt. You’ll also save them thousands of dollars in therapy fees down the line 😉
“Ironically, the worship of death as a strategy for coping with our underlying fear of death’s power…is deeply anxiety producing. We cannot embrace the stranger with love for we fear the stranger. Even though we are more likely to be hurt by someone we know than a stranger, our fear is directed toward the unknown and the unfamiliar. Americans spend more than thirty billion dollars a year on security.”
This bit resonates so deeply with me as someone who got to explore so much of the world via Couchsurfing. Strangers were kind enough to open up their homes and social lives to a foreigner they’d never met, all because of a mutual love of traveling. I didn’t tell my family nor most of the people in my social circle about it because I don’t need to hear that I’m crazy any more than I already do!
We are told from youth to not talk to strangers and consequently we live a life permeated by fear. Yet the man who raped me during my teenage years was someone close to my family, and in contrast, the strangers I connected with abroad know more about me than most of the people I’ve lived with. I’m not the minority here either; in 8 out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knows the perpetrator. My heart fell the first time I noticed a parent give Mark a dirty look for waving at their toddler because he’s a happy go lucky guy. He has unfortunately been conditioned to keep to himself because of the lack of trust and community in Western ideology. Why do we deprive ourselves of joy, of connection? Aren’t we social creatures?
bell hooks chose to live in small towns specifically because they revolve around community. In this day and age I think it’s easier to build a community anywhere but I do agree that it is the main factor to consider when choosing a place to reside. Is there a park nearby so I can host meditation meetups? Are there any boxing or jiujitsu gyms in the neighborhood? Venues for live music? I moved back to San Mateo after college just so I could keep going to my “hive”, B Street Boxing. The community there got me through my most challenging years and I honestly don’t think I’d be alive otherwise. Basing my choices around activities that I love has enriched my life considerably.
Open Your Heart
All About Love gave me so much food for thought. I enjoyed reflecting on my own journey from a self-loathing, jaded girl to the loving soul I am today. Ever since I let go of fear based thinking, I have been able to open my heart to new experiences and people every day. There is no greater power than surrendering to love. I hope you consider giving this one a read and would love to connect on what resonates for you 🙂