What’s your take on platonic love vs. romantic love?

A student asked:

What’s your take platonic love vs. romantic love? To you, how are they different?

The modern sense of Platonic love is very different from how Plato intended it in his writings. Plato talks about Vulgar Eros, or an attraction to physical beauty. And he says that it is an important stepping stone to transcending the Vulgar Eros in order to attain Divine Eros (what we think of as Platonic love), which is an attraction to the conceptual form of beauty as beauty. This may not make sense to the modern reader. So let me put it simply as this: You know how sometimes we can be so amazed or intrigued by an idea that we feel a great attraction to it, or an excitement to learn more about it? That’s sorta like the experience of Divine Eros.

There is some fuzziness to our modern understanding of what Platonic love is. We can all agree it means that two people are very close but they don’t want to be in each other’s pants. Some people like think of Platonic love as the love between siblings. But I have a problem with this because it erases the subtle nuance between close-like-siblings and close-like-partners-who-don’t-want-to-shag, and conflate the two as if they are one and the same. Furthermore, the Greeks already have a word for such sibling-to-sibling love (even for friends who are close like siblings). It’s called “philia.”

Eros on the other hand is a very passionate kind of love. There is attraction, and there is desire for union. If I were to go with the spirit of Plato’s idea of Divine Eros, I would say that for our modern understanding of Platonic love, it probably has to be an attraction of minds. Just as how physical Vulgar Eros draws us to desire physical union with another; this transcended Divine Eros of Platonic Love is a love that draws us to want intellectual intimacy with another person. It is an attraction to a person’s beautiful mind, or the ideas that the person has to share. It is an attraction that compels you to seek a special kind of union – a union of minds through the intellectual intercourse of dialogue.

I believe this kind of union is very intimate because if you do believe that our minds and our souls are one and the same, then the intercourse of ideas is not just a union of minds, but a union of souls that gives birth to a new concept, a new idea. And ideas are eternal.

Sadly, this intimacy is rare. It’s not something we can just do with anyone. Most of the time, if you’re the brainy kind, it’s very one-sided. You’re just talking away, and the other person is just pretending to listen, going, “Uh-huh…”

So yeah… True Platonic love – in the sense I described above – is hard to find.

Thanks for the question. I had a lot of fun reading up to figure out what my thoughts on the matter are. :)

I don’t have any friends in my major. Is it good for me to stay this way or should I change and try to befriend people?

A student wrote to me, asking:

Is it okay to spend the rest of my school days lonely, studying, and taking classes alone? I saw your previous answer on loneliness, and yes, I see why you will be more or less “lonely” because you’re taking on various challenges and more of them are research work/publishing books.

However, for me, I’m still a student in NUS. And I still have a few more years to go. Yet, I don’t have any friends in my major. (I do have friends in FASS, just none in my major) I really don’t have anyone to go to when I need help (I go to profs instead) is it good for me to stay this way or should I change and try to befriend people?

Here’s my reply:

Hello, I think it’s not healthy to spend the rest of your school days lonely and taking classes alone. It’s not good for your mental/emotional health.

It’s very important to recognise that learning is a social activity. A lot of learning takes place when you’re talking to your friends about the stuff you’re learning outside the classroom (and that is the whole point of university – to give you all that time and space to do that).

I’m usually the quiet kid who sits at the corner all the way at the back in class. I didn’t make friends until my second year when I finally decided to just say hello to the people sitting on my left and right at lectures. Was it awkward? Yeah! It was so freaking awkward! But you know what? We had lots of fun, and we started hanging out a lot more. Many of us are still in contact with each other after graduation.

It’s important to remember that everyone around you wants to make friends but are just as shy to do it. If you read the stuff that’s on Reddit/NUSWhispers, you’d realise how many people are in your shoes, lonely and have no friends. So be the brave one and say hi. They’d appreciate this kind gesture.

The friendship you make in university will last for a long time, and many of these friendships will prove useful when you go out to work.

My recommendation is to make friends with people of all ages, and not just people in your age group. Make sure you have at least one friend in each age group. The multiple perspectives will help you easily identify the bullshit that circulates within our own age group. (E.g. if you don’t do X, you will not me employable, etc…) To quote a friend: “Humans are vessels of experience.” That’s her reason for wanting to befriend everyone.

For some strange reason, I have a number of people I regard as friends from age 70-100. It’s very fun talking to them, learning the kinds of insights that they have, and of course, having them as important role models. Somehow, our generation doesn’t give these bunch of people enough credence. There is so much to learn from their stories, from their successes, to their failures, to their (mis)adventures in life.

Have you ever kissed your best friend?

A student asked me (because it’s an anonymous Q&A platform):

Have you ever kissed your best friend?

Here’s what I wrote in response to this question:

No. The fact that this question is even conceivable is revealing of two major problems with our culture today:

(1) Almost everything is hyper sexualised and romanticised. It’s very revealing in our culture, e.g. close friendships between men are now characterised as “bromance.” I really hate that nowadays, there’s even a term to refer to colleagues of the opposite sex who work closely together – “work spouse.”

And, (2) many people don’t know how to develop intimate non-sexualised friendships these days (regardless of the gender of the friend). So many of us don’t question what it means to be a friend, or how to be a friend. Maybe it’s shyness or social awkwardness; maybe it’s because of past hurts due to bad friendships; maybe social media is screwing up the way we relate to others. Nonetheless, what’s scary is that more and more people these days are reporting that they find it difficult to have a heart-to-heart talk with someone.

And because many people have not had the opportunity to experience close friendships, of the intimacy of deep heart-to-heart exchanges, that it becomes so easy to confuse that experience of an intimate bond as sexual attraction.

(1) really gets in the way of (2): This hyper-romanticisation and hyper-sexualisation of things around us really gets in the way of us forming intimate friendships, or even just friendships for that matter. I find it very worrying that in today’s world, you can be nice to someone out of the goodness of your heart, and that person can misinterpret your actions as flirting.

However, I wouldn’t attribute (1) as the cause of (2). I think that the inability to form intimate non-sexualised friendships is due to a lack of exemplary role models. I don’t know when it happened but many parents have stopped being role models and educators to their children. They outsourced it to teachers in schools. But few teachers actually bother enough to be role models to their students (because to them, it’s just a job, not a calling).

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. Thanks for asking! :)

Do you trust someone easily?

A student wrote to me, asking:

Tell me, do you trust someone easily?

Here’s my answer:

Yes I do. I believe that it’s better to start off trusting someone (even a stranger), unless there are red flags that indicate that I shouldn’t trust the person. And only if the person violates that trust do I then reduce my trust in that person.

A lot of people confuse trust with revealing your most vulnerable self to another. The process of revealing your vulnerable self to another is a process for establishing intimate friendships (includes romantic relationships too).

Yes, trust is a necessary prerequisite for intimate relationships. If you cannot trust someone, you won’t want to open yourself up to reveal your most vulnerable true self, with all your worries, insecurities, etc. BUT, it’s very important to recognise that trust and revealing your vulnerable self to another person – these are two very distinct things.

So, you can trust people – and I do mean trust in a very deep sense – without necessarily having to make yourself vulnerable. Trust, after all, is the fabric of society, and it is the invisible connection that allows us to work with people and do all kinds of things. You don’t need to reveal your vulnerable self to others to establish good professional working relations with them.

Of course, this probably isn’t your primary concern with the question you’re asking (I’ll address it soon enough). But the reason why I made the distinction between trust and vulnerability is that people who have difficulties being vulnerable to others conflate that with the notion of trust, and they thus have difficulties trusting people even in a professional working relationship. And this becomes a huge problem for them. The inability to trust others fuels their insecurity, and this actually leads them to act in very toxic ways without being aware of it.

Let me illustrate with an example: In times past, I used to work with a team of students, and in that team were two students who had major trust issues. They were so awfully toxic, that they almost destroyed the cohesion of the team by spreading false rumours. They just couldn’t trust others. They found it hard to believe that people actually genuinely wanted to help them. So they perceived attempts at helping them as malicious personal attacks on their weaknesses. It baffled me how they couldn’t accept that people just wanted to help.

The point I wish to make here is this: Don’t conflate trust with revealing your vulnerable self. See the difference so that you can learn to trust others. Otherwise that mistrust will be destructive to yourself and to everyone around you. It isn’t pleasant working in an environment where everyone’s suspicious of everyone, and it sucks to be in a situation where you feel that you can’t trust anyone to be on your side. But they didn’t realise that they were responsible for creating that environment for themselves and everyone around.

Now that I’ve covered trust, I can talk about intimacy and revealing our vulnerable selves. I like to think of human relationships in terms of the Hedgehog’s Dilemma. This idea came from the German philosopher, Schopenhauer. In the winter, hedgehogs will come together to stay warm. The problem with hedgehogs is that they are very spiky, so the closer they get to each other, the warmer they felt. BUT, they also began hurting each other with their spikes, and so they keep apart. But the process repeats because they are cold and they need the warmth. So the hedgehogs are in a dilemma: how do I stay warm without getting hurt? The answer is: You just have to learn to get close to others so that you don’t hurt and be hurt.

Humans are like these hedgehogs. We want the warmth of love and friendships, but when we get too close (i.e. when we begin revealing our vulnerable selves to them), we hurt or be hurt. It’s part and parcel of this hedgehog-like existence. So we have to be ready to embrace the hurts along the way. It’s a risk in relationships. But at the same time, we have to learn how to avoid hurting others, and how to handle others so that we don’t get hurt. It’s going to be a very prickly affair, and one of much trial and error. And of course, we can learn a lot from the good practices of others.

Easy to say, difficult to do. For starters, I think we just need to learn to be kinder to ourselves and kinder to the people around us.

Reflections Along the Singapore-Malaysia Railway Tracks

The railway tracks functions very well as a metaphor for a person’s life.

 

Sometimes, we have to walk the journey alone. But that’s ok because we’re surrounded by the beautiful blue sky.

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But sometimes, the journey of life can be very scary – gloomy, even. At times, we have no choice but to walk through these moments of darkness – alone.

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There are times where the darkness of the moment overwhelms us. Sometimes, we can’t help but feel severely burdened by the pain of walking alone.

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Some unfortunately lose their soles because of this.

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Jean-Paul Sartre said that, “Hell is other people.” But when we suffer from such dark moments of loneliness, we become our own hell. There’s no one to get in our way. There’s no one to annoy us. And yet, we feel so trapped, so imprisoned. It is as if our whole wings have been clipped, and our feet chained to the ground. In moments like these, we begin to crave for freedom like never before.

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But what kind of freedom do we really need? Is it the freedom to go off the tracks? Or is it the freedom to touch the sky?

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The darkness can be confusing. We know we want freedom, and yet we often don’t understand what it is that we truly need. And so, off we go chasing after a freedom which may not necessarily be the answer to our darkness.

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But what does it profit a man to gain the world, but to lose his sole?

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The greatest freedom comes when we begin to open our eyes to realise the many people – friends and strangers who are not yet friends – who are and have been walking along-side with us in such moments of darkness.

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In such moments, the darkness doesn’t seem so dark anymore. When we begin to accept their friendship and help, the journey becomes more pleasant. The journey will still be rocky, but at the very least, we’re surrounded by fellow companions who are on the same journey. Soon enough, with their help, we find ourselves reaching the end of the tunnel, back out into the light.

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Successfully perservering through such moments is like crossing over a bridge. It can be scary, but we can rest assured by the fact that we have friends waiting for us at the other end of the bridge.

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At every moment of our lives, there is always at least one friend who accompanies us on our journey – whether we realise it or not.

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As we continue walking on this journey of life, we’ll eventually meet the love of our life.

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And at that beautiful moment of marriage, two tracks converge into one. But marriage isn’t just a merger of two lives. It brings together many many more! Friends and family from both tracks begin to walk along with us on that single track, chatting with us, annoying us, cheering us, working with us.

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I think it’s important for us to always remember that the journey of life is always rocky. The ground is never gentle and smooth.

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But no matter what, there’s always a beautiful blue sky covering us, watching over us. It’s a beauty that’s always there, but we rarely notice it. The secret of life is to always take a step back from the mad frenzy of life, look up, and contemplate the sky’s subtle beauty.

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On Personal Relationships and the Hedgehog’s Dilemma

Human beings are like hedgehogs. We want to love and be loved. Yet, whenever we get too close to each other, we end up hurting and being hurt by the other. There is perhaps nothing worst than being hurt by the ones you love, or hurting the ones you love.

Sometimes the hurt can be so bad that it seems best not to grow close to people. Yet, we desire to be close to others. But the fear of hurting/being hurt is enough to prevent us from doing anything at all. And so, we often find ourselves living a life of contradiction – of yearning for closeness yet shunning away from it. At the end of the day, we hurt ourselves even more as a result of this internal conflict.

But we think it is alright to live like this. Why? Because we sometimes think like this: It is better to hurt myself than to hurt others or be hurt others. At least the hurt which I inflict towards myself is less painful than the hurt which comes from the ones I love.

We have all been wounded at some point of our life. Nobody has gone through life unscarred. At some point, we have been betrayed, backstabbed, disappointed, ignored, insulted, teased, and even rejected by family and friends. How could they do something like that? They’re supposed to love me, right? They do love me, don’t they?

That is what the hedgehog’s dilemma is about: We meet someone for the first time. Not knowing whether or not we will be accepted or rejected by the other, we try to look good. After being accepted for some time by the other, we begin to feel comfortable and relaxed, slowly and slowly, we begin to remove the mask and show bits of our true self. Yet, like the hedgehog, our true selves are, unfortunately, full of spikes. But the mask functions as a shield covering our spikes so that no one will be hurt. It also covers our vulnerable selves so that we won’t be hurt either. But as we begin to grow closer, we begin to slowly remove that mask to reveal our true selves. We expose our vulnerabilities and expose the sharp spikes which could hurt someone.

And so, there will come a point in time where we get too close to each other and our spikes come into contact, thereby wounding each other in that dangerous embrace of friendship.

A friend of mine commented that the name, “hedgehog’s dilemma”, is quite a misnomer. Hedgehogs don’t get injured when they come close to each other because they know how to withdraw their spikes when coming in contact with their own kind.

If that is the case, can we still consider ourselves analogous to hedgehogs? Oh yes! Definitely! We are very clumsy hedgehogs: Firstly, we don’t realise we have spikes until we have wounded and have been wounded. Secondly, even when we know about our spikes, we have difficulties controlling them. Thirdly, sometimes we can be so absent-minded that we can forget that our spikes are out.

But just like the hedgehogs, we can learn not to hurt and be hurt by learning how to master our spikes. Unfortunately, this learning requires the courage of enduring some hurts from each other until we get the hang of it.

This is why the best and closest of friendships are those where both parties have survived a really terrible conflict. There will always be a point in any relationship where the other begins acting like a retard, annoying the crap out of you, and/or pissing you off as if he/she had been paid to do it (or has an axe to grind). This is the point where the mask has been removed and the spikes have come out. This is the point where we begin to hurt and be hurt by the other.

Unfortunately, sometimes, some of us cannot endure it any longer, and the relationship ends. However, when we begin to accept that he/she has these spikes, and there’s very little we can do about it, that is when we begin to learn how to avoid being hurt by the other, and avoid hurting the other despite the closeness. That period of conflict is the learning stage. Once both have learnt it well, the storm dissipates and both are able to grow closer together.

Of course, periods of conflict will arise time and time again. That is part of the package in being a “hedgehog”. As we grow closer than before, we need to learn how to master our spikes in such new situations of closeness.

Such mastery of our spikes gives us the ability to develop long-lasting relationships with people. We can be comfortable being ourselves with such people. There is no need to wear protective masks, nor do we have difficulties embracing them without hurting/being hurt.

It is interesting to note that traditional Christian marriages never wish couples a “happy marriage”. Instead, the Church wishes them that they may remain as “one flesh”. In Chinese culture, one concept central to the culture is 和 (he), which means unity, harmony, and even happiness. I’m sure other religions and cultures have something similar to say.

Nonetheless, the point is this: since ancient times, people have recognised the problem of the hedgehog’s dilemma. People have known (since ancient times) that a happy relationship free from hurt is not a real relationship – it is either a fantasy or there’s no closeness at all. There is no happy marriage or friendship where no one gets hurt. People will hurt one another. It is an unavoidable thing in life.

The goal in any human relationship is to learn how to be so close as to become like “one flesh”. It is this harmony and unity that is a pre-requisite to happiness. Once we have learnt how to handle hurts are we then able to develop close and happy friendships.

Love is not just about loving the good parts of the other. It is also about loving the person’s spikes. These spikes are part of our being. We too have a deep desire for people to love us and our spikes. It’s easy to love the nice side of people. But a lot of effort is required to love those spikes. That is why we really appreciate the people who can love us despite seeing our ugly side. But it’s not just for the effort alone. We appreciate such love because such love embraces our whole self – not just a part, not just the mask – but a love which embraces the very core of our being.

But we’re all in a deadlock waiting for someone to do that to us. Everybody’s waiting.

So, to put an end to the deadlock, allow me to get the ball rolling by saying: Thank you for being my friend. I may have experienced, or have yet to experience your spikey side. But rest assured, I may initially be shocked, annoyed, and even hurt – but that will not mean an end to the friendship. I accept you and will still love you as my friend regardless. And I apologise for the hurts which my own spikes may have caused. We just need time to learn.

Let us, with courage, strive for deeper, closer friendships!

The Apostolate of Friendship

This is the transcript of a talk that I delivered on 8 Jan 2011 in the National University of Singapore (NUS) to a group of students as part of a workshop in preparation for the new semester. I hope that you will take the time to read and be inspired by this.

Water is the very stuff of our bodies. Without it, we shrivel up and die. The slightest of thirst is usually worse than the greatest hunger pangs that we could possibly experience. When I am thirsty, I cannot concentrate nor sit still. My mouth is not the only part of my body that is affected by thirst. Almost the entire body is afflicted when thirst arises. This is probably something that many of us experience when we become very thirsty and are unable to get a drink. Physical thirst for water is enough to drive us crazy.

Love is like water. Who we are – our essence – are like tea leaves. In an empty cup, there is nothing but tea leaves. Yet, when you add hot water – you get tea. Love is what gives us our existence. A tea lover delights in a particular type of tea, he adds hot water into a pot with that kind of tea leaves and tea comes into existence. In the same way, God thinks about us – our strengths and our weaknesses, our hopes and our failures – and delights in the very idea of who we are. And in that delight, He pours out the warmth of His love and loves us into existence. Love is thus the very stuff of our being:

Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. (Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 10)

There are two reasons why people commit suicide: One of them is the lost of hope where one ceases to see any meaning or potential for happiness anymore. The other is to be unloved. Like tea, to be unloved is to have its water evaporated away. When we do not feel loved in a group, we tend to fade away from that group. When we do not feel loved in life, we tend to fade away from life. And just as how God loved us into existence, some of us are unloved into oblivion. Man cannot live without love. We need love.

Mother Teresa commented that the greatest poverty that the world faces today is not material poverty but loneliness. In the society which we live in, the people who suffer from material poverty is less as compared to the number of people who suffer from loneliness, from the lack of love. Such poverty is so rampant that even now, there is someone near you silently suffering from the lack of love. We may have friends, but how many friends are we really close to (and I don’t just mean the buddies that you hang out with for fun and laughter)?

Christmas and the New Year are the two days in the year where many gather with their friends and family to celebrate. Yet, those two days are the two days with the highest suicide rates because the loneliness of people who do not have anyone becomes accentuated so greatly that they are unloved to the point of oblivion.

Though we may be surrounded by people in our lives, many of us may still be unloved, unnoticed. It is like being in a crowd. We pass by so many people, yet we notice no one, nor are we noticed. We celebrate with people, but we are not really celebrating it with anyone in particular. Close friendships seem hard to find these days, and true friends are rarer still. Even the family is not spared from this. One may feel like a stranger who does not belong to the home, having been neglected by the ones who should truly love and care for us.

But how did this come about?

We are living in a culture which believes that the pursuit of one’s self-interest will resolve all human matters, and most importantly, matters of the economy. With the rise of technological advancements, our thinking has been shaped by our use of technology, and so we think of things in terms of efficiency and value. The rise of utilitarianism in our culture shapes our outlook of life to value only the things that give rise to utility, to some form of benefit.

And with the lost of God in our culture, love makes no sense. Love is absurd without God. Why should I love you? Do you have anything of value to offer me? If you do, then I may love you. But that really isn’t love. In reality, it is not you that I love: what I love is the benefit that you give. To love someone for who he is, is an absurd idea! Why should I bother loving you if you have nothing to offer me? It makes no sense. It is even crazier to love someone who is unlovable, who instead of providing any utility, burdens us as a liability. Such a love seems senseless.

Shaped by these cultural factors, we end up working very hard to make ourselves loved. If I do not have the looks, or the credentials, or the right people in my social network, I am a nobody, unfit to be loved. If I do not have lots of money, or if I am unable to make myself useful, or if I am unable to stand out as a fun or unique person, I am a nobody, unfit to be loved. We are so in need of love that we become insecure (and sometimes even obsessed) about being loved by others.

And so we determine how loved we are by the number of friends on Facebook, the number of followers on Tumblr, the number of Twitter followers, and maybe, even the kind of friends and the amount of time spent with them. Sometimes, this insecurity compels us to find a partner, somebody whom we can call our boyfriend or girlfriend. How much we love each other is secondary. What is more important is that I have this person to guarantee and make me feel the security of being loved.

But it is important for us to stop in the midst of this mad search for love, so as to ask what love is really about. If I truly care for myself and want the best for myself, shouldn’t I go after true love and true friendships, and not settle for second best as a way of putting my insecurities at ease?

Many of us desire to be loved. We may not be bothered about why someone loves us, and has offered us friendship: but what if one day, you discover that the person is a friend to you only because of what you can do, and not because of who you are? What if you discover that your friends only enjoy hanging out with you only because you crack the best jokes, but apart from that, they do not really like the person that you are? What if you discover that this good friend only loves you for your status and is making use of your status for personal gain?

I don’t mean to make you feel paranoid, but in asking these questions, I hope to demonstrate one thing: We do not like to be used. Deep within ourselves, what we really want is somebody who loves us for who we are, and does not love us only for what we do. What we really want is someone who can love us even when we are unlovable.

This is what love really is. Perhaps the best definition of love is this: to love is to delight in the existence of the other. No reason is needed in order to delight in something or someone. I love you, I delight in you, simply because you are you. I love you for who you are and not for what you do, and even when you are unlovable, I still delight in you because it is you.

If I love you because of the benefits you bring to me, then I am not delighting in you, but rather, I am taking delight in your benefits. When those benefits disappear, I have nothing to delight in, and the friendship ceases. Or, if you become an annoyance that greatly outweighs my delight in your benefits, the friendship ceases too. More often than not, a friendship of this kind reduces the dignity of the person to that of a mere object, into a tool or a toy, since that person is valued based on the benefits.

This allows us to make a distinction between an authentic friendship which delights in the person himself, from a non-authentic friendship which delights in the benefits.

Nonetheless, the beauty of true friendship is this: that a friend is regarded as another self (cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book IX). When I love you as a friend, I do not just regard you as a separate being, but as a part of my own being. And so, when I love you, I love you just as how I love myself. This is why the love of one’s self is important, for without it, we will not know how to love others well.

Perhaps one thing that we tend to take for granted in our friendships is this: Just as how I love myself and wish the best for myself so that I may flourish to be the best person possible, I desire you, who are a part of me, to flourish as best as you can, just like me.

Yet the sad part is this: since I have regarded you to be a part of me, a part of my life, a part of my heart, losing you (either because of an unfortunate breakup or through death) becomes a painful experience. It feels as if I have lost a huge part of myself. The heart that was once made whole now experiences a hole within itself.

Such a love of a friend draws us so closely together that our hearts seem to become one. This experience is called communion, where heart speaks to heart. This is where two parties feel as if they have really understood each other, and the friendship ascends to a deeper level. This is perhaps why people say that the best of friends tend to become like each other. And if a misunderstanding were to occur, such that an argument (or even a fight) erupts, we yearn for forgiveness because I consider you to be a part of me that I cannot bare to lose you. I want to be reunited with you once again.

Such is the beauty of an authentic friendship. And yet, God allows us to elevate our friendships to a supernatural level. If we allow God to do it, He will infuse our friendships with divine grace, like infusing jasmine into green tea. The jasmine does not destroy the tea. The tea is still present, but the infusion of the jasmine flowers enhances the tea on every level – its taste, fragrance, and the overall experience of drinking the tea. What God’s grace does to our friendships is that He enables us to love the other as He loves us, transforming the whole experience of friendship to a supernatural level, enabling us to love as God the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, through the Holy Spirit, and to love as He himself loves us. To experience such supernatural friendships, such supernatural love is to taste the friendship of God, and to savour the sweetness of His love.

God knows that the two most essential elements in a relationship are communion and forgiveness. And so He imparts to us the Sacrament of Communion so that we may first experience God’s communion with us: His heart speaking to our hearts and growing closer to become one of heart; and the Sacrament of Penance to experience His mercy and forgiveness: His loving embrace, and His giving us a fresh new start. In experiencing these human experiences in a divine manner, God imparts to us the graces to love as He loves, to communicate as He communicates, and to forgive as He forgives.

In turn, when we pass this on to our friends by loving them as God loves, they too come to experience the love of God, not by analogy (i.e. it feels like), but actually (i.e. it really is). Through the aid of divine grace, we participate in God’s divine act of loving whenever we love. When I love you, it is not just I who am loving you, God too is loving you. When I communicate with you, it is God too who communicates. When I forgive, it is God too who forgives.

This is precisely the kind of love that each and every single human person seeks deep within himself. We have experienced this kind of divine love when God loved us into existence and put us into the womb of our mothers. When you have tasted the best of the best, everything else will not suffice to satisfy you. Indeed, each of us seek to be loved, but deep in our hearts, we seek to be loved as God has been loving us from the beginning of our existence. This is the reason for our restlessness. Yet, as we are ignorant on how to satisfy this thirst for love, we settle for second best.

Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

It is when we begin to recognise the humanity in the people around us that we cease to treat them as objects. We begin to recognise that these people belong to a family. They have their own dreams and aspirations; their joys and hopes; their sorrows and anxieties. It is then that we begin to recognise that these people are loved by those close to them, but most importantly, they are loved and cherished as God’s little ones. When we begin to recognise this humanity within them, we begin to see how lovable they are, and how they are often unloved and treated daily as objects that live to fulfil a useful function in society.

When we begin to treat them with the dignity of a human person, and love them as human persons, it is at that very moment that their lives begin to change. The scales from their eyes are shed and they begin to see light. They begin to see the humanity that is properly theirs – a humanity long forgotten because they have never been loved in such a way in a very long time or never before. They begin to recognise that they are someone and not something. Once they have received our love for them as a human person, they begin to understand that their humanity is something lovable, something that one and all can take delight in. They begin to embrace this humanity with arms wide open, for they recognised that part of being human is to be loved for who they are – a human person – and not just for what they do. The meaning of life begins to unveil itself to them.

It is at this very moment when they have received our love that they experience the love of God, a love as refreshing as the morning dew that revitalises and quenches. That love, which is a participation in God’s divine love, is the living water which we have been thirsting for in every waking moment of our lives.
When we offer this divine love through the gift of friendship to others, people will begin to experience the love of God. This supernatural love is a love which the world cannot give. This is the love which non-Christians exclaimed when they witnessed the love which the early Christians shared with one another: “See how they love!” (Tertullian, Apology, 39)

This is the love that many of us Christians are trying to emulate. Often, in our Churches or in our ministries, we hear this being said: “We must try to love like the early Christians.” However, the problem is that we often do this without even trying to first deepen our own spiritual lives, doing our best to grow closer to God. Instead, we often try to do the divine without God. This is something we must keep in mind:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

This is the apostolate of friendship, the apostolate which makes Christ known by our love. We tend to cringe when we hear the words, “apostolate” or “evangelisation”. But we cringe only because we dread the thought of having to go about telling people about God only to receive difficult questions, insults, and even rejection.

But we do not have to purposely go about talking about God. Mother Teresa herself said: “Always preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words.” As the famous saying goes, “Action speaks louder than words.”

As lay people, the mission of the apostolate is not as difficult as we may have imagined. All we have to do is to offer the gift of an authentic friendship and love as divinely as we can. To do this, we must first develop our friendship with God, receiving the sacraments regularly and doing our best to draw closer to Christ.

It is important for us to keep in mind that no amount of argument will ever convert anyone. You can argue until Kingdom comes, but the person will not move. Only love moves the heart. When people see how loving we are, when they see something divine in the way we live, work, act and love, curiosity will develop within them, and they will want to know what it is that makes us tick. They do not yet realise it, but what they see is Christ in us whenever and wherever we act and love in that divine manner. Like the woman at the well who thirsts for Living Water (see John 4), they will taste that Living Water whenever they come into contact with us, they will eventually ask us for more of that Living Water and how they can get it.

This is what it means to be Christian. Perhaps this is why we call ourselves Roman Catholics – because we are called to do our best to be as Romantic as we can, loving passionately, deeply, and truly, as God loves.

This is what the world needs today – the experience of true authentic love, the experience of authentic friendships. Today, families are breaking apart, relationships are form and too easily and quickly dismantled. An increasing number of people are not privileged with the blessings of a true friendship, and having picked up the utilitarian values of today’s culture, not knowing what it really means to love, not knowing how to love. Many of us do not even know how to love ourselves!

We are living in a world that is fast losing its faith and hope in love. Few will dare to open themselves up to love in such a way, fearful of being used, fearful of losing out in the race of maximising utility, getting the most pleasure and benefit from as many people as quickly as possible. Instead, many despair and give up their hopes on love and replace it with lust and greed, seeking pleasure and material goods to fill that deep and empty void within their hearts. Deep down, they are still searching for true love, but they ignore it because they believe it is an impossible wish. But still their hearts are restless, and they are plagued by a loneliness which is the cry of their soul’s thirst for love. Just as physical thirst afflicts the entire body, spiritual thirst afflicts our entire being, both body and soul, driving us insane – sometimes insane enough to harm ourselves or to indulge more deeply in self-gratification in an attempt to forget about that thirst.

All of us are searching for true love – true divine love – thirsting every moment of our lives for it till we taste that Living Water.

As Christians, we have been blessed with the Living Water. And so, let us heed the call of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to quench the thirst of the masses and to make Him known: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est. Where love is true, there is God. (Hymn: Ubi Caritas)