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Love Ethic: Loving yourself and one another

We constantly hear about the concept of love throughout multiple areas of our lives. This could pertain to family love, platonic love, romantic love, self-love, and more. But what does this all-encompassing notion of love really mean to each of us? While this definition may differ for everyone, the idea of a love ethic can be a grounding and powerful way to anchor how we think about and approach love for ourselves and others.

Woman standing on a mountain in the sun, wearing a orange sweater, closing eyes and embracing herself. There is water and sky in the background.

bell hooks was a profound thinker and writer, as well as a primary contributor to the Black Feminist movement, who explored in depth what she called a love ethic. In her classic book entitled All About Love, she described love being a combination of six core ingredients: care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust. Within this concept of a love ethic, bell hooks considered love to be a verb, not a noun, and encouraged readers to approach love with intention and vulnerability.

If you’re not sure what this might look like in the context of your everyday life, here are some strategies to try to start building a love ethic:

Cultivate a self-compassion practice

When thinking about the six ingredients for love that bell hooks laid out, it’s important to ask how you’ve been giving these qualities to yourself. Are there ways you’ve consistently shown yourself care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust in your everyday life? Consistency doesn’t have to look like placing pressure on yourself to be immersed in these six ingredients for love at every given moment, but rather returning to a foundation of self-compassion for times when we (inevitably) get off course. Kristen Neff offers great resources for integrating self-compassion practices based on self-kindness and self-soothing, rather than self-judgment.  

Engage in community and collective care.

The dominant culture and media in our society tend to prioritize romantic love, or extremely individualistic depictions of self-love. While both are important forms of love, bell hooks offered a love ethic as a different set of values to live by in terms of how we can think about interdependence with one another. When we show the six ingredients for love to other people, we can build collective agreements to take care of other members of communities we belong to in relational ways. Meaningful fights for social justice can be seen as rooted in a love ethic, and these efforts for change cannot be done alone.

Connect with nature.

A love ethic doesn’t just focus on the relationship and interconnectedness between people, but also between people and nature. We’re witnessing firsthand how our society’s lack of respect toward the land we live on and our environment harms us all. By reflecting on what a love ethic means to us, we can make active efforts to connect with nature through activities like camping, going on hikes, planting seeds, and joining community gardens. The reciprocal relationship between enjoying all the good that nature provides for us, and showing that same care and respect back, is a form of love that is crucial not to overlook.

Whether you have goals of growing your self-confidence, meeting new friends who share your values, or more actively getting involved in social movements that you care about, reflecting on your unique version of a love ethic using the three points above could be a helpway to start. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself in the process.


Written by: Anna Feng MSW Intern

A woman, wearing glasses, her hair is up in a top bun with some bangs,standing infront of a wood barn door, smiling to camera

Anna is our student intern completed her masters of social work program at Wilfrid Laurier University. Anna has over eight years of experience supporting BIPOC and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, newcomers, migrant workers with precarious status, and people living with anxiety, depression, trauma, and low self-esteem.

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