Word of the Week: Agápe

“To love is to will the good of another.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Not to be confused with the adjective used to describe my husband’s jaw when he sees me in something other than yoga pants, the Greek word agápe means love. (On second thought, maybe it is the same thing.)

In fact, the ancient Greeks had at least four words to define what we in English lump together as loveÉros is the form of love meaning sexual passion. (Nevermind, this one better describes the feeling when I’m wearing real clothes. Maybe we should start calling a dropped jaw éros instead of agape?) Philia is the affectionate love of friends and family. (And this would be the one that describes the feeling when I am wearing yoga pants.) Storge is reserved for the natural love between parents and children.

And agápe? The selfless love of others.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes this love of others over self as the greatest love of all. “[Love] is a state not of feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.” It is a love of inclusion, not discrimination. It is a love of giving, not receiving. It is a love of humans, not personal agenda.

When Christian leaders denounce marriage equality under the guise of love, it is not agápe. When politicians use scare tactics to turn their backs on those in need, it is not agápe. In fact, I could not find a single Greek word that meant “the love used to justify discrimination and idleness.” Mother Teresa described it best when she said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.”

Agápe is Mother Teresa washing the wounds of lepers.

Agápe is New York City firefighters rushing into burning buildings on 9/11.

Agápe is the plight of Martin Luther King, Jr. to free an entire people from the binds of inequality and injustice.

Agápe is not “separate but equal.” Agápe is everything.

Word of the Week: Schadenfreude

“The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” – General George S. Patton

This is quite possibly my favorite word, and I can’t even say “in the English language” because there is no English equivalent… which only heightens its appeal. While the feeling it represents is arguably one of the most detestable experienced by humankind, the word itself has the amazing ability to evoke so much. This one word explains why we are secretly happy when a young, hot celeb gains 70 pounds during pregnancy, why many waste countless hours watching train wreck reality TV, or why I am so easily entertained by Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. As Mel Brooks said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when YOU fall into an open manhole and die.”

Though admittedly hateful, it does seem morally justifiable when an individual or society feels that the suffering party deserved what was coming to him. This conjures up images of Bernie Madoff being led away in handcuffs, the career of Tiger Woods going down the drain after news broke of his “alleged” affairs, or Flanders having to sell off all his possessions in the third season of The Simpsons. One of my all-time favorite songs, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” illustrates this form of Schadenfreude beautifully.

Abhorrent or justifiable, it appears that the feeling of schadenfreude is simply part of being human. It’s widely studied by social and evolutionary psychologists (like my hunky college professor, David Buss) and is a key component of Social Comparison Theory. Simplified, when people around us are suffering (particularly those we tend to envy), we feel better about ourselves. And when we feel better about ourselves, we are happier, more optimistic, and more productive. Given that it literally pays to be optimisticit’s easy to see how the occasional dose of Schadenfreude may serve to benefit everyone.

In the end, it turns out we’re ALL haters.

(For those (nerds) who want to explore this further, I recommend The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature, available aquí.)

Originally posted 7/9/2013 mommyhasapottymouth.tumblr.com, the mouthful that was my former blog.