The Classroom of Love

1/31/2017 08:50:00 PM
(Who am I to write this article actually, but this is just how I feel about the situation nowadays, so, enjoy, this is going to be a very long post.)

There was a saying that says the Romanticism ruined the definition of love. This thought happened if we try to compare it with Socrates' speeches in Symposium. 

Our culture has been deeply influenced by the Romantic conception of love; like a quote from Fran├žois de La Rochefoucauld, "There are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard there was such a thing." Then the way we love is dependent on the way our society love, which Alain de Botton said is heavily influenced by the idea from Romanticism. One of the Romanticism characteristics according to Britannica is a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect. It was a movement led by artists from the West Europe that emphasize on emotion and individualism. When we love someone we will feel special feelings and emotions, as if we have found the soulmate of our life. We also feel happy, giddy and not lonely again; almost all good feelings. That idea leads to the belief of 'to love someone is to love them as they are, without any wish to change or alter them'. Simply, because it may change the emotion and the feeling that we both had. According to the Romanticism philosophy, we have to accept another person in all their good and bad sides, particularly the bad sides. At certain moments, it does feel somehow sweet. When they're not embarrassed by your loud horrible laugh at parties because it's maybe a sign of openness and friendliness to others. Then the idea of accepting them in every area, which is actually closer to the definition of worship, came. Because any desire for change will arouse horrible emotion and deep resistance that proof there can't be love and that one should break up.

However, there is another philosophy of love if we trace back to the ancient Greeks. It was written in Plato's Symposium and was said by Socrates. A bit illustration about what Socrates said in Symposium (using his famous method cleverly, by continually asking questions to get us closer to the truth), Socrates started by asking a question to Agathon:

Socrates (S): "And now, said Socrates, I will ask about Love: -Is Love of something or of nothing?"
Agathon (A): "Of something, surely,"
S: "Keep in mind what this is, and tell me what I want to know—whether Love desires that of which love is."
A: "Yes, surely."
S: "And does he possess, or does he not possess, that which he loves and desires?"
A: "Probably not, I should say."

Socrates argued that if it is of something, then it is something that is desired. Therefore something that's desired is something that one doesn't possess. He then retold Agathon about a conversation that he once had with a priestess called Diotima of Mantinea, from whom he learned the art of love. Diotima started with questioning Socrates who used to think that love was all beautiful and good. After the talk with Diotima, he inferred that love was ugly and bad. Diotima disagreed; just because something is not beautiful, it does not automatically make it ugly. A person and love can be neither beautiful nor ugly, but in between.

Diotima also told him that the something that love desires but does not possess consists of extremely beautiful or extremely good, particularly wisdom. Diotima asked him to get his thought into the closer reason on why it has to be good:

Diotima (D): “When a man loves the beautiful, what does he desire?” 
Socrates (S): “That the beautiful may be his.”
D: “Still, the answer suggests a further question: What is given by the possession of beauty?” 
S: “To what you have asked, I have no answer ready.” 
D: “Then, let me put the word ‘good’ in the place of the beautiful, and repeat the question once more: If he who loves, loves the good, what is it then that he loves?” 
S: “The possession of the good,”
D: “And what does he gain who possesses the good?”
S: “Happiness.”

The Greek philosophy also taught us to love is not merely a chemical reaction in our body or butterflies on our stomach that can't be described in words; but an admiration for the perfection of that human being--for the good sides. And what we perceived as perfection is what is lack in us. It also gave the idea of educating each other to be the better person. The Greek noticed that we are all very imperfect so what it means to deepen love is the desire to teach and to be taught in return. A couple should see the relationship as a constant opportunity to improve and be improved. Therefore we shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to change our partners, and we shouldn't resent our partners for simply wanting to change us to be the best version of ourselves. Because the ultimate reason of all of this is what we all seek in life: happiness.

However, under the influence of Romanticism, we end up being terrible teachers and terrible students. Somehow we don't accept that it's legitimate for us to teach and to be taught. In the student role, we might feel attacked or betrayed because our partner criticizes us. Then we close our mind and ear to the instruction from the teacher and react with sarcasm. The fact that they, as the teacher, want to change us could ring a bell that they don't actually 'love' us (Romanticism ideology). On the other hand, the teacher's role, we are unsure whether we have the rights to teach them. We don't even know if we're going to be heard by our partners; or how big our impact is to them. We're frightened because we noticed that we have committed to the pupil who might not even want to learn. In the process, it will ruin not only their lives but ours too. And that is very dangerous indeed because when we're frightened, we can be panic or even very angry. We might teach with shouting or insulting and met with the fury of the student. Yes, in this classroom we can be the worst teachers and students we could ever be. Then from this conclusion; to love does not only encompass feeling, but also a skill. Skill on how to be a patient and wise teacher and to be an overt and keen-witted student at the same time.

Back to the philosophy itself, Socrates' speeches can tell us that we shouldn't be ashamed of the need of instructing or the need for instruction from our partner if it is for the greater good. The only fault is to reject the opportunity for education if it is offered. Because love should be an attempt by two people to reach their full potential, not an endorsement for all one's existing laxity.

However, there are a couple of question and problem that I raised from this conclusion. What is good that was meant. Because good can be perceived differently from the heads of two lovers. Is it good that was projected by society and norms or is it good that the lovers agreed on?
And also, if the classroom fails, then the fault would be on the teacher being a horrible teacher who can't teach or the student who is obstinate enough not to learn the instruction? Or both?


Botton, Alain de. (2006). On Love. US: Grove Press.
Jowett, Benjamin, and Plato. (1948). The Portable Plato. UK: Penguin Books.