Our Need for Love
Life without love is ultimately life without meaning. Love is a primary element of a human life. A landmark 1945 study by René Spitz established that love is so vital to infants that those deprived of it may perish for want of it.
The study occurred in "a hospital where a group of children—all under three years of age—were fed and clothed adequately but, because of too few nurses, given very little personal attention. No one talked to them, carried them around, or cuddled them. The human results were devastating: within two years fully a third of the children had died and the rest were mentally retarded . . . The conclusion seemed to be clear: loving attention is as essential as food for the human infant" (James B. McKee, Sociology: The Study Of Society, 1981, p. 79).
That people need love is considered a basic truth by many scientists. In "Can't Do Without Love," U.S. News & World Report reported that biologists "know that love is central to human existence . . . The capacity for loving emotions is . . . written into our biochemistry, essential if children are to grow and thrive" (Feb. 17, 1997, p. 58).
Recent research has shown that even intelligence in children—and hence the ability to excel at many tasks—depends to some degree on loving attention and communication.
"According to recent findings, the neuron links that are the keys to creativity and intelligence in later life are mainly laid down by the age of 3 . . . the main factor in establishing these connections . . . [is] interactions with an attentive adult. The sight, sound, touch, smell, and, especially, the intense involvement, through language and eye contact, of parent and child affect the number and sophistication of links within the brain . . . This word play is so important that those left behind at age 2 may never catch up" (U.S. News & World Report, Aug. 18, 1997, p. 92).
What does this mean? Love and loving communication are essential not only for the emotional, but also for the intellectual development of a child. "When babies are cared for by caring adults, they become much better learners and are much more confident to take over the world" (ibid.).
If children do not receive loving attention, they will not be well equipped to function in society. They need the love of their parents to succeed. Dependencyassures that parents are the source of everything important to infants: food, comfort, love, models of success and maturity" (Betty Hart and Todd R. Risely, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, 1995, pp. 181-182).
It isn't only children who depend on love for their well-being. Although generally less vulnerable than children, adults also suffer when deprived of love. ". . . Love's absence can be devastating: The loss of a spouse often hastens death in older people" (U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 17, 1997, p. 58).
"A pattern of susceptibility to disease is apparent in those with disrupted or weakened social ties. People who are single, separated, divorced or widowed are two or three times more likely to die than their married peers. They also wind up in the hospital for mental disorders five to ten times as frequently" (Robert Ornstein and David Sobel, The Healing Brain, 1987, p. 119).
Pioneer French sociologist Émile Durkheim concluded, in a milestone 1897 study of suicide, "that the critical factor in determining suicide was the degree of social cohesion" (ibid, p. 121).
The ability to resist disease is enhanced by social involvement. A nine-year study of 7,000 residents of Alameda County, California, determined that involvement with people provides insulation from sickness and death.
"People were asked whether they were married, the number of close friends and relatives they had, and how often they were in contact with these people . . . Those who were single, widowed, or divorced, those with few close friends or relatives, and those who tended not to join or participate in community organizations died at a rate two to five times greater than those with more extensive ties. These striking differences were true for men as well as women, for old as well as young, for rich as well as poor, and for people of all races and ethnic backgrounds" (ibid., pp. 122-123).
Life's challenges are more easily managed when we have the support that friendship and loving relationships provide. The Bible confirmed this truth more than 3,000 years ago: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). It also tells us, "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27:17).
The wisdom of the Bible and many assenting human voices tell us that people who lack affectionate ties with others find it difficult to make life work. The mutual giving and receiving that flow from personal relationships increase life's worth. God created us with the need to be connected to other people. These ties give significance and satisfaction to life.
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