The Terrifying Power of Love

There is no good or evil, there is only power -- and those too weak to seek it.

Professor Quirrell, in "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone"

When I first read this sentence years ago, I thought, of course the bad guy would say this. This is the only way to rationalize his actions. Since he loses, he must be wrong. To my kid brain, the fact that the author wrote in the villian's demise played into my belief into the simple, black-and-white world part of us all yearn for: that there is a good side and a bad side, with good people winning and bad people losing. Of course this is the way it is. Of course this is the way it should be.

Everyone knows this isn't the case. You see your heroes become villians, your villians complete heroic tasks, and the black and white separation diffuse into many shades of gray, with the barrier between the two disappearing underneath. If you aren't ready for this change, like me, you may wonder why if hatred has not disappeared, whether there is a place -- maybe even a useful place -- in it in our world and for ourselves. Not a renunciation of good or good acts, but an equitable balance in our hearts between the two.

There is not. Not even close. Not even in the sense that hatred corrupts and can never be part of a balance, but that love beats hate up, down, and sideways for Sunday brunch. Since it isn't, we should merely content ourselves with understanding hatred (where it comes from, how it manifests, and how to stop it), and otherwise purge it from our hearts.

I had a number of rough drafts around this topic, but I don't think I had a convincing way to express the difference -- and the gulf -- between love and hate before I read Viktor Frankl's autobiography. He makes the argument in a much more succinct manner than I imagined.

Frankl was sent to Auschwitz with his friend, with him going one way and his friend (quite) another:

I inquired from prisoners who had been there for some time where my colleague and friend P--- had been sent.

"Was he sent to the left side?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Then you can see him there," I was told.

"Where?" A hand pointed to the chimney a few hundred yards off, which was sending a column of flame up into the grey sky of Poland. It dissolved into a sinister cloud of smoke.

"That's where your friend is, floating up to Heaven," was the answer. But I still did not understand until the truth was explained to me in plain words.

I don't think there are any better understood and accepted examples in this world of hatred than the Holocaust. In a world where hatred is cheap and love is expensive , where dying is easy and living is hard, Frankl clung to life by clinging to love:

I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out...but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying.

Love is terrifyingly powerful because it exists even in the greatest darkness. Where hatred is motivated by greed, rebellion, sadism, or any other external factor, to love another is its own reward. No power on earth can compel love to behave a certain way, to think a certain way, or to grow or ebb in its strength. As love extinguishes hatred, hatred can only quench and temper love. To love is to live, and to live is the purpose of humanity.