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Gerry ChidiacLife is filled with challenges and we’re always looking for answers. The Beatles told us, “All you need is love, love, love is all you need.”

The difficulty with this credo is that love has many meanings and interpretations. It can be directed at one person or at all of humanity. Love can be selfless and it can be selfish.

With all the problems in the world, can love really be all we need?

Perhaps to find the answer, we need to look at some of the people who had the most positive impact on recent history. Was love really their driving force?

Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to caring for the poorest of the poor, said: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

It’s clear that these people possessed a deep love for all humanity. This was an enduring love that lasted through hardship, frustration and even oppression.

It’s interesting to note, however, that these were also very spiritual people with a sense of being loved by a higher power, what the Greeks referred to as ‘agape.’ This is the polar opposite of narcissistic self-love, which puts you above others and is driven by feelings of inadequacy. When you truly feel agape love, you can’t help but share this love  with others.

This is the type of love that can bring you to forgive, for you see those who hurt others as individuals who suffer themselves. It’s important to note, however, that forgiveness is not forgetting. In the case of many great spiritual leaders, there’s also a deep sense of moral justice that must be advanced and upheld for the good of all humanity.

One also notices among these great leaders the time they took for their spiritual practice. They normally spent part of every day in some form of contemplation. This is what Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, refers to as “sharpening the saw.” We waste a great deal of energy trying to cut down a tree with a dull saw blade and we end up making ourselves ineffective if we don’t care for ourselves.

What does this mean for all of us who are trying to make sense of our existence? Can we really make a difference by simply loving?

The answer is yes. But it needs to be a love that cherishes every other person, especially those with whom we have regular contact. In order to know what this love is, we need to experience it. I’ll never forget how the trajectory of my life changed from that of a mischievous teen to that of a man of purpose when I allowed the words of a friend to resonate in my spirit: “God loves you.”

Regardless of our spiritual beliefs, it’s essential to take the time to sharpen the saw, to further explore this innate aspect of our humanity, to feel agape love. It could mean practising a religion, but it could also entail walking in nature, writing in a journal, practising yoga, participating in a sweat lodge ceremony or hundreds of other meaningful activities.

The media often tells us we need to surround ourselves with things and to keep those things safe. While it’s nice to have possessions, we know in the depth of our being that “three things will last forever – faith hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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