Love connection

I was recently asked to give a speech at a wedding. I had several requests for a copy of that speech. I provide that here. The speech is written so that those getting married remain anonymous, I will refer to them as A and B. It is also my best effort to reconstruct it, as it was not written down. It likely varies slightly from the original except for the quotes. The speech started with some personal comments and a joke or two and then it transitioned into this:

Families can be complicated. As the Dalai Lama pointed out:

If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.

Families aside, we live in a world that sometimes feels cruel, cold and in conflict. That’s why it is so powerful when two people come together and build something. A and B are building something. A sanctuary. A place where they can be safe, where they can express their true feelings, where they can expose their true selves.

What am I saying?…. I’m saying A and B are in love!

Now I don’t actually know what that is, but Dr. Seuss described it once as:

You know you are in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.

In another book that I admit I haven’t read much of, but is quite popular, we have John telling us that,

God is love.

The point, I think, is that love is not just a state of being. It is a choice, it is an action, it is a power that exists as a synergy. Something greater than the sum of the people who make up its parts. But at a basic level, love is commitment. Commitment is a choice. A choice to honor the idea of love.

Because a relationship will not always be pink fluffy dinosaurs, rainbows and moonbeams. Its like a river. Sometimes surging after rain fall, other times flowing mildly and still other times dried up in drought. Therefore, true love is the commitment to work through the drought. To admit that those loving feelings are not there, but to honor and cherish the partner anyways. To have faith that it will return.

Its maybe like one of my favorite authors, bell hooks, describes it:

Love is an act of will, both an intention and an action…the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.

Therefore, it seems like what A and B have experienced in their 8 years together, and what I’ve experienced in my 13 years with my wonderful partner, is the transformative power of love – as in the commitment to nurture love through thick and thin.

Eleanor Roosevelt said:

It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know

A and B sit here with confidence because they have experienced this purifying fire, and are ready to experience it again and again. I see and honor their commitment tonight.

I see them create what is described by the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

For life to have personal meaning there must be people who matter to us, and for whom we matter, unconditionally and non-substitutably.

And their efforts are not just for them. This act of commitment to love is also a commitment to contribute something to the world that is good. That makes it just that much better for the rest of us. That nurtures humanity. As the Rabbi Amanda Greene pointed out:

We must build this world from love.

All of that! All through a commitment to love. All through love as a commitment. A commitment to love unconditionally, to fall short of this perfect ideal over and over, and to keep trying.

For this beautiful act I salute you and I love you both.

Love is in the error term

A major segment of social science uses formal models and quantitative methods to explain social phenomena. That means they use mathematical symbols to define how they think the world works, and then find data and test it. For example, researchers want to explain social outcomes, like committing a crime, changing jobs, moving or having children. Why do some people do these things and not others? Researchers then speculate that other things cause these outcomes like getting married, having a job or losing a job, how much money a person makes, how old they are and all kinds of other stuff.

Next, researchers change their theoretical ideas into a formal model. This means an equation. Before you stop reading, maybe pause to consider that an equation is just a theory expressed with symbols instead of standard language. For example,

Y = X

and this might represent moving homes (“Y“) is caused by getting married (“X“). Another way of saying this is, Y depends on X or moving depends on getting married.

But seriously, getting married does not always cause moving. Sometimes it does. The correct claim is that moving is a function of getting married. Function means that marriage probably increases the likelihood of moving by some amount. Therefore, researchers add a modifier to X, like the letter b, so if b was 0.3 getting married would increase the likelihood of moving by 30%. People also move when they don’t get married, so researchers add a constant a to account for the likelihood of a person moving for any other reason. So if a was 0.3 then the average person would have a 30% chance of moving at any point.

Y = a + bX

Now if a and bX could be used to perfectly predict whether a person moves or not. The researcher would have made a monumental achievement here. Instead what happens is the researcher goes and observes moving and marriage behaviors. Tries to do this with a random sample of the population of a society. Then applies the above equation to the sample data. Does the equation fit perfectly to the data? No. Never. Researchers must admit that their theories come with uncertainty. Maybe moving depends on the type of home the person always lives in, maybe it depends on whether a couple can afford to move or if it is even a couple or a single parent. There are nearly unlimited things that could cause moving. Also, getting a perfectly random sample, mistakes when observing or coding data, etc. leads to uncertainty in the results. This means the formal equation has to have e, an error term.

Y = a + bX + e

Researchers spend their time trying to reduce what is in the error term. So they are basically tasked with the job of reducing uncertainty. If scientists wants to fly a spaceship to mars they have to reduce all possible forms of uncertainty in the take off, flight path, landing, electronics and so forth. But a social scientist who wants to predict how many people will move, where they will move or which people will move, cannot reduce uncertainty that much. Sure, they can explain moving with job changes, family members getting sick, weather, hobbies, wars, and so many observable things. But they will never fully explain moving. What I’m really saying here is that social scientists will never be able to perfectly explain human behaviors. Its like this:

An Enlightened Physicist describes Sociology

Why is it so hard? If we could just measure all the things that people are doing and thinking we could predict precisely what humans will do next, right? Maybe so, maybe not; but irrelevant because we cannot measure everything about humans. Even if we could measure the precise actions of the network of neurons in one human brain numbering greater than all the stars in the universe, we probably couldn’t measure love. But something that we might refer to as love seems to be a major force in guiding human actions. Both the effect of love:

“Love affects more than our thinking and our behavior toward those we love. It transforms our entire life”

– Thomas Merton

And the lack of love:

“Intense spiritual and emotional lack in our lives is the perfect breeding ground for material greed and overconsumption.”

– bell hooks

(both quotes from hooks 2000, pp. 187 & 105)

These suggest love is a prime mover of human decisions and behaviors. But we don’t know what it is exactly and we have made no attempts, that I am aware of, in any large population surveys to measure it. So,

When we add love as an X variable to our formal model we cannot test anything, because we have not developed instruments to measure it. So it remains in the void of all that variance in Y that we simply cannot explain. Maybe we should start focus some of our effort on that.

hooks, bell. 2000. All About Love: New Visions. William Morrow and Company, New York, NY. ISBN 0-688-16844-2.

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