Hello, I’m John Seigenthaler once again. Welcome to a word-on-words. My guest is bell hooks. Welcome, bell hooks. The word on words this book is called all about love new visions.
It is sure as I count 18th book that is a high achievement to be an author. With 18 books and this one about love approaches the subject from a fascinating perspective; you say at the outset, maybe in the preface or the introduction, you say that you knew love and then somehow was taken from you as a small child.
You lost it, and in trying to rediscover it, you found it was difficult to do and that when you would talk to people later on and I’m moving ahead now when you would talk to people later on about your search for love, people would say you know you need to see a therapist.
But talk about it because you write about it so eloquently talked about the need of children for love if they’re going to have it throughout their lives.
I start this book by saying that I felt as a child what it was like to be loved and recognized, and then I felt that love moved away. Talking about my relationship with my father, I think that lots of people feel that our intimate connections with our mothers remain forever. Still, many many adults have talked with me now about their since as children, they held their father’s regard in love at a particular moment and then lost them. I’ve been amazed at the number of people who have come up to me after reading the preface and said that’s exactly how I felt as a child. Still, I couldn’t tell anyone because we’re not allowed to talk about not being in our culture we’re made to feel that everybody knows love.
I mean III talk in the book about all of these people who’ll say you know my dad beat me your mom did this, but she loved me, and a key chapter in the book is the chapter on children where I’m saying that no in fact if we are being abused in any way we are not being loved.
That love is antithetical to abuse and domination, and that a great moment and for me in the book, when I’m talking about what we teach our children about love and the miss we give them. Part of the miseducation we give them is that you can violate someone and then say you love them. As we pondered why we are raising a nation of violent children, we must ponder that miss education about the nature of love.
You recite a cliche of a Papa with the strap on the switch saying, you know this is going to hurt you more than it’s going to hurt me, or I’m doing this for your good, and then you sort of attack that that thesis why if that’s the case is that happening it is it is an act of violence not an act of love and to put another coat on it covers up the myth rather than exposing it which doesn’t mean to say that we.
I’m not saying that discipline is essential because discipline is crucial to any true love with boundaries that we set boundaries. So that I think part of what’s happened to us as a nation is we have confused discipline with a kind of blind obedience to Authority Arianism, whether it’s children to parents or us to a government or a nation that is acting in a way that is is is autocratic and wrong.
So that the book doesn’t just try to look at our relationship to love but what’s happening to us as a nation as we move away from the kind of ethic of love that many of us felt undergirded all the great social movements for social justice in our society you say that we really as a nation and as a society has forgotten what it is to love to find true love and that it’s evident in our music.
We used to sort of let’s croon about the moon in June in tune, and now we come up with lyrics from Tina Turner and others what’s love got to make what’s love got to do with it.
That’s right and that and that the culture itself has hardened, and especially the youth culture. I mean, one of the things that’s so disturbing about gangster rap, and let me say that I’m not attacking all hip-hop. There are many forms of hip-hop, but in its most brutal forms, it’s anti-erotic, it’s anti-female, its entire life, it’s a cult of death. One of the passages that I often quote in this book is a passage from the Bible from the book of John that says anyone who does not know love it’s still in death.
And we’re at risk of being a culture that cultivates this sort of worship of death. It is fascinating to me that when I think about the defining movement for social justice that we had in our culture that rocked the world, it was a civil rights movement. the fact is there could be no end to apartheid in South Africa today had there not been a civil rights movement in the United States whether we’re talking about Aborigines in Australia or so many people around the world that looked to the civil rights and freedom struggle here in the United States is emblematic of justice. But the heart of that movement was the ethics of love. When I began writing this book, I went back to Martin Luther King’s strength to love, which was such a marvelous book, and he was one of the first leaders in our society to talk about love, not as a sentimental emotion.
You know many of my readers, my bell hooks readers who are used to the hard-hitting you know a social human is exactly have said to me well why I love. You know I I people something we hope we’re not going to lose that you know that biting intervention. I said to talk about love and the relationship between love and ending domination, whether we’re talking about racism, homophobia, class elitism.
Because a lot of the book talks about greed and how does read has made us less loving as a nation. I mean, why do we think welfare is wrong? We should be triumphing as a nation that we have the resources at our disposal to provide for people in love. You say there that we now embrace the reform of welfare not because there was needed compassion. We use welfare abuse as the excuse to cover up the fact we’ve lost our compassion for those who have nots exactly.
I mean, I have been so disturbed by seeing so many people of my generation who came out of radical thinking into thinking that says we can’t give to others people only appreciate what they work for there’s a lack of compassion, a hardening of the heart.
Marianne Williamson began to talk about that in her book the healing of American I mean it’s this sense that the kind of love epic and I think people have to hear those two words in combination love ethic which means that it’s the values I mean we talk about family values in this nation. Still, we don’t talk about the values that underlie a love ethic and respect.
I mean, I say to people well, what love has to do with respect when we look at children, particularly the violence of children against children in our nation right now part of what we’re seeing is a lack of erring a lack of respect a lack of understanding we’re seeing.
Envy is a crucial emotion connected to greed. You want to destroy what you Envy when you have a ten-year-old kid wanting to destroy another kid because that kid is more popular or something deep and profound that is a deep and profound lovelessness. We can’t just talk about what parents are doing. We have to talk about it in terms of what we have been saying as a nation what matters to us as a nation.
You know I knew that you had written previously to both feminists and themes and racial themes. So it didn’t surprise me to find in all about love that you say gender has and that concept that men look at love one way that has sort of inhibited our ability to meaningfully meaning bring the search for love to an end as a society.
I talk a bit about that concept of the role gender plays. Just recently, I was talking about love in it at the LA Public Library, and a man in the audience said that you know, growing up, I wanted to be loving, but I had gotten the message that you could not be a man and be loving. So he wanted me to talk to him about how did how to do men in our culture move into space where they can have that healthy masculinity that that is not the dominating patriarchal masculinity but one that allows them to claim the space of their hearts and their own need for love.
And one of the significant studies I think that feminism has brought forth is our emotional neglect of adolescent males. You know the idea that somehow when a boy starts turning 12 or 13, we suddenly decide he doesn’t need effect anymore if he wants to be aloof and not speak.
I mean one of the stories that I tell in the book and that I remember from my childhood I have five sisters and one brother. As my brother was getting, I guess his patriarchal masculinity is happening. He comes home from school one day, and we’re all sitting around in the living room. He raises him because he’s going to go out and be with his buddies, and he races past all of us, and he goes to his room. He raises back out, and mom stops him just as he’s going to go out the door, and she says, we need to start this over when you come into this house, and your sisters are here, and I’m here you greet us you acknowledge us, and you go back, and you do.
That over and it was for me an incident that stayed in my mind that instead of allowing him to assert that kind of harmful masculinity that says connection doesn’t matter intimacy doesn’t matter, all that matters is my kind of homosocial bonding with my male buddies.
I felt that she showed us both of her daughters’ respect that we should want to have in our relations with a male, including our brother, our father, and she enabled my brother to see that this connection is essential to you.
and I think that many men have been falsely led into thinking that love is not vital and essential to them
early on in the book, I talked about the fact that even though we live in a culture where we believe love is a woman’s issue, most of the books on the love that have become, you know, are archival texts.
The one I talked about and praised so much is Erich Fromm’s art of loving that as a teenager. When I wanted to know what love is, I went to that book, and um, it’s still a crucial book, but in general, we don’t look to books by women right romanticize oak in the book that if a woman had written The Bridges of Madison County.
Women would have said this is ridiculous, right.
This woman is taking the initiative to take a photograph and then initiative. You also give us a preface, just a glimpse you know you that’s what you.
You tell about the story of your brother and your sisters and your family. It would be impossible to tell this story without personalizing it in some ways, and still, much of your writing seems to lean away from personalizing it.
But you talk about the end of a 15-year relationship and how devastating it was and how it set you on your search to reevaluate your own life in light of the love you sought.
You also write later on about romantic love and a relationship with a younger man very briefly again, just enough to whet the appetite and make the point. Then at another point, you talk after quoting st—Teresa of ávila about spiritual love in a beautiful way.
I think that it is clear that this book, despite your efforts to d personalize at times, is a very personal reflection of what you’re about. I thought it was a combination of trying to share the personal and trying to say our attitudes about love are tied to our culture’s politics to what our nation tells us is essential.
I mean that chapter on greed where I’m talking about the fact that one of the beautiful aspects of love is giving and that as we give to others, we grow in our capacity to connect.
I mean, the first significant chapter in the book says, how do we define love? How can we know love in a culture where most of us don’t have a sense of what it is? The book is dedicated to my ex-boyfriend, the younger man you just evoked because we had these continual fights and still have them after eight years.
We broke up five years ago where we kept talking about well what love is. It was clear that he often felt that he didn’t know what I was talking about. Then I talked to other women who say the same thing about the partners in their lives men who say, well, I don’t know what love is, so I try to sort of echoes that idea that gender does make a difference in the way women look at love and men look at love.
Well, I think what most men feel they’re not looking at love at all. So part of what the book tried to say is perhaps if we had standard definitions if we started from a particular common point, I mean, what would it mean for us as a nation to start off feeling that love is essential for males as much as it is for females because deeply embedded in our national psyche is an assumption that love can’t be necessary to me in.
How will men go and fight wars if they are dedicated to loving and until we begin to recognize that love has to be essential to men if we’re going to end sexism if men are going to reclaim the spaces where they can be connected to their feelings to their fathers to their mothers in different kinds of ways.
But partially, the book says romantic love has been the myth that has as the only love that matters. It challenges that notion that’s one of the new visions that it says all the foundation of all our love, like the house’s foundation. Certain principles will make you have a sturdy house, and those principles are the same irrespective of the kind of house you’re building. The same is true of love, and we have been a culture that has over valorized romantic love that no matter how horrible and miserable your life has been as a kid or as a teenager’s someday you’re going to find this love. It’s going to come into your life, and it’s going to change all of that.
And many of us found that that was not so, and I think a lot of men felt that one day they’d grow up and they’ll be humanized by a woman or a partner giving them love rather than thinking about what will it mean what will it take for me to become a loving person.
I mean, I define I use a kind of M Scott pick whose I love him several times I know it probably offends a lot of people that this intellectual is a quoting in Scott Peck, but I felt that his books I love mass literature.
I love that we can have books like the road less traveled, like Thomas More’s care of the soul, that reaches out with broad intellectual concepts to a wide audience. I mainly take his definition of love as the will to nurture one’s own and another spiritual growth and Link it to Erich from saying love is a combination of care, knowledge, responsibility, commitment, and trust because one of the things that have happened in our culture is we equate love primarily with care and that’s why we can say parents who brutally beat their kids but who still love them.
Because I look at my childhood, and I say in the book repeatedly, my parents cared for me deeply, but they also wounded me in ways that were violating wounded my Spirit. And I think that I would be a different person today had they not given me care because I’ve met lots of adults who didn’t get care, but I did not feel loved.
You talked about how your family reacted to how your mother reacted again, just a glimpse when you began to publicly discuss your own dysfunctional family. It was as if she didn’t know what you were talking about. Well, John, I told you when we talked right before the show began that I see myself as a southern writer. I see my sensibility as a southern sensibility. We know one of the hearts of the southern sensibility is that if anything is going wrong in your family life, you don’t talk about it.
You know, talk about it within the family, and you don’t talk it out about it outside the family so that part of what has been for me a radicalization of my being is trying to to to innocence claim a new sense of a southern sensibility because I think that you know I was going home from Nashville the other day to visit my folks in Kentucky.
I saw a sign that said something about the new South, and I kept thinking that part of this a new south hit because I think the South has a unique Sensibility for me informs my work the courtesy, the kind of things.
I evoke the community that I write about it right linked about the community and how you can’t have love unless it goes beyond yourself and reaches out to a community at large.
And I write again and again that these were the lessons about love that I learned here in the South. In the southern black Baptist Church, that sense of what it is to care for the stranger to be to move beyond yourself. All of those things, but I think it’s a big challenge when it means us telling the stories that we’ve been told to keep secret, I mean.
I like the chapter in the book on honesty that says when we will face as a nation, which goes back to our president. We cannot be loving and tell lies. When I heard about Clinton in Monica Lewinsky, the first thing I thought about is this man violated not just his codes of some morality but the idea of trust and honesty that should have been essential to the fabric of his familial relationships.
Because his actions didn’t just affect himself and affected his family, they must live with the burden and consequences of those actions.
You know I hadn’t thought of it until this minute when you brought up President Clinton and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, but in a genuine sense, the public the national public’s willingness to tolerate that and to forgive the line just making the certain case that that love is a lost value in a society that will embrace a liar and a cheater.
Especially when it would imagine what would have happened if it just to imagine this scenario in our nation, what if this couple had come together on national TV and said the essence of our marriage is honesty and communication. Whatever month has taken place, it was discussed in the car texts of our marriage.
I mean, that would have rocked the foundation of everyone in our society because it says that we all make mistakes and we all do things and we we don’t. We’re not always faithful.
But the critical question in love did I hear you put the burden on the woman, not at all I meant that as a couple I said they would come together as a couple and talk about the dynamics of their relationship because I still am proud of the Clintons in terms of their relationship as a public couple.
It’s tough to be a public person. You know that I know that it’s hard to be a public couple. Still, I felt let down by the fact that this woman that many of us looked forward to and forward to how she would progress in the White House, who was a powerful voice, was suddenly silent. She wasn’t saying we have a marriage, and we have determined the terms on which we communicate because the heart of love, too, that I talked about in the book, is forgiveness.
So certainly do you say that it is and it’s part of that larger community it’s in that chapter when you talk about more significant community forgiveness is crucial you know talked about our nation’s ending racism.
He talked about forgiveness as crucial to how we as people of color as black people in particular calf to extend to those who have wounded us compassion and forgiveness or always end up in the same violence.
Well, you know that reminds me of what he said to white liberals.
He said those of you who are and aren’t able to say so, in the end, we will liberate you, which was another act of love. Not just to those who hated me but those who supported him.
But I couldn’t tell them in the few minutes that are left. Let’s focus on that chapter that deals with spiritual love absolutely because I think that our nation, after all, we’ve said.
John, I want to say that our nation is yearning for love and community that people want to know how we can live more profound and more meaningful lives and the focus on the Dalai Lama.
The focus on a Buddhist monk took not Han, who might quote a lot in the book because we have been looking for those spiritual teachers in our lives.
Today who can help us return to love and community? And part of what is interesting about us as a country is that the vast majority of people in this country still say they’re Christians when we know one of the heartbeats of Christianity is the idea that God is love.
That we are realized more fully as spiritual beings through love, so the question becomes if we think this if this is at the core of our beliefs, why are we not living it out in our actions and that’s the political and spiritual question because I feel like we have to attend to the needs of the Spirit. One of the things that I would say about the American left is that the American left has never been interested in talking to the Spirit’s needs.
Its rhetoric is not loving exactly, and that’s part of why the conservative right-wing always reach out more to masses of people.
Because it acknowledges emotional needs, it acknowledges the family needs. Now listen to you, and you’re losing your reputation as a radical.
I’m talking about trying to make radicalism faithful to the Spirit of itself, which is if you are thinking wrongly, you have to be willing to change that thinking. I think the left has to begin to talk about loving me .think was there any more radical movement in our country than civil rights in the sense that it means feminism is radical, but men and women have always lived together.
The civil rights movement the end of a certain kind of white supremacist apartheid that was about love and changed us, and it changed us as a nation for the better, so I don’t think that. I’m, you know, breaking with that tradition. I’m trying to revoke it because by losing it, we are losing the kind of radical love of justice that has the potential to make this nation great always and not be a nation that’s false to its values.
fall to that notion of really believing in freedom and Justice one of the things I say in the book is that there can be no love without justice you know there’s a line in George Bernard Shaw and I’ll conclude this says must another Christ die in every generation to save those who have no imagination .as you talk a lot of you have excellent imagination bell hooks