Love, or what I call “a passion for compassion,” is the one virtue that is a prerequisite to all heroic acts and visions.
All the world’s religions point to the power of love and our obligation to love our neighbors. The radical Jesus of Nazareth goes further, telling us to love our enemies. And Jewish mystic Ray Kook adds, “It is our right to hate an evil man for his actions, but because his deepest self is the image of God, it is our duty to honor him with love.”
Love forms the hero’s intent, it under girds his or her perseverance when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, and it keeps the hero in a personal space of serenity when encountering opposition to his or her heroic act or vision. Love conquers all. By helping us to see others as sacred beings not to be manipulated and controlled, love transcends the “isms” that divide the human race. It is love that cultivates a spirit of unity while respecting diversity of ideas, visions, and opinions.
There are essentially three kinds of love: Eros, Platonic and Agape.
Eros is romantic love. The second kind of love is platonic. It’s the type of love that grows out of friendship, an intellectual love devoid of physical passion yet strong enough to weather even the fiercest storms of one’s life.
The most enduring love, and perhaps the most valuable kind of love, is agape. Agape is selfless love. It is so powerful that it allows us to go the distance to sacrifice for another human being or for a vision far greater than ourselves--visions like those embraced by Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa.
Agape is a love sustained in the heart and every fiber of one’s being. Despite anger, hurt, disappointment and all the stuff that happens in life, this is a love that leads to works of altruism, and random acts of kindness and courage, as well as providing the fuel for pursuing a heroic vision that the hero may or may not be around to see come to fruition.
From Mother Teresa to John Lennon it is the kind of love you see in so many hero stories.
Poet Theodore Roethke illustrates this beautifully when he discovers this love in the realm of nature and renews his love and enthusiasm for life.
"The Sun! The Sun!
And all we can become!
And the time is ripe for running to the moon!...
My spirit rises with the rising wind;
I'm thick with leaves and tender as a dove...
I recover my tenderness by long looking.
By midnight I love everything alive."
After a day of things going our way, after a good night’s rest, it’s fairly easy to say: “This is going to be a great day! I’m going to be a blessing to anyone who crosses my path and they will be a blessing to me. And those who don’t embrace my vision, well that’s okay too.”
But after a full day of work and stress and disappointment, and the hurtful and hateful things that people say, it takes freedom, extraordinary heroic freedom, to drop the resentments, the bitterness...to be finished with the nightmares, and to be free to say, "By midnight I love everything alive.”—to be back in touch with the love that lives at the center of the universe and in the center of one’s own soul.
To quote Elbert Hubbard, an American collector of sayings: “The love we give away is the only love we keep.” Armed with agape love, every hero has what it takes to inspire others and come closer to realizing the seemingly impossible possibility of his or her own heroic vision.