The quiet quality that uplifts

A culture buffeted by conflict, controversy, and coarseness can be improved with one simple ingredient: It's known as philia.


Scientists have made a powerful discovery that appears able to improve everyone’s life. Reports indicate it works on individuals, families, communities, economies, and nations. Interestingly, it appears that too little of this substance may explain the coarsening of language and the hardening of hearts so evident in politics and the media. Lack of it also might be responsible for everything from substance abuse to the anxiety many people say they feel despite the unprecedented security, better health, and affluence the world is experiencing. 

And here’s the kicker: It’s free, it’s abundant, and you can’t overdose on it.

The substance is “philia,” which goes by its generic name “brotherly love.” There’s nothing wrong with the other brands of love. In his book “The Four Loves,” C.S. Lewis described those as affection, passionate love, and spiritual love – family love, erotic love, and metaphysical love. Philia is rarer than those. It is responsible for companionability, friendship, and sociability. Lewis described philia as both unnecessary and essential: “It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

Judging by what travels across the media, the world sometimes seems to have lost its appreciation for small acts of benevolence, for gentle goodness, and quiet encouragement of others. These are the opposite of the big, bold statements blustered out by politicians, interest groups, media personalities, and social media mobs aiming to attract followers.

There is no guarantee of high ratings, page views, or retweets when you express empathy, fellow feeling, concern, and compassion. Quiet qualities like those will never lead the evening news or top the Drudge Report. They build, make better, heal. If there is a deficit in human affairs, love is likely to be the missing ingredient. If you want a cause to fight for, this is the one, though the fighting isn’t done with conventional weapons. 

In a Monitor cover story (click here), Stacy Teicher Khadaroo explores an innovative program aimed at improving the lives of infants exposed to opioids before birth. Adding the ingredient of love seems to be proving its utility in this program. More tender care, more cuddling of infants, more helping hands for new mothers struggling to beat addiction – those seem to help break the artificial hold of drugs.

Addiction itself is a deficit of love. What else would make someone think that a liquid or powder could substitute for a smile, the holding of a hand, the quiet confidence that comes from a warm embrace. You can see more evidence of the power of love in this week’s Focus report: Compassion proves decisive in helping people separate themselves from extremist groups. Love is the antidote to hate.

Try it, fellow Democrats and Republicans, Shiites and Sunnis, Coke drinkers and Pepsi drinkers. It improves life for everyone – you, those you care about, those you share the planet with. Side effects may include a general sense of uplift; deeper friendships; a richer, more balanced, more congenial culture. You don’t have to ask a doctor if philia is right for you. It is. Good people have always known that.

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