There are several Greek words for love, one of which is storgē. I should probably start, however, with the fact that I don’t believe anything is love but the unconditional and universal kind the Greek word agapē describes. I have this view because all others are of a completely different nature to agapē — them being conditional and relative, whereas agapē is unconditional and absolute (universal).
Phileō describes fondness. Eros describes sexual attraction. Storgē comes close to agapē in how it manifests but is conditional. It relates to the love one has for family — love like that which a parent has for their child. The issue I’ve had with storgē as love is its obligatory nature. It is hard to describe the flaw in the argument that presents storgē as love but I think at the core, the issue is it conflates responsibility with obligation.
We have a responsibility to each other. The mere fact that other exists ought to evoke a sense of responsibility to see to their wellbeing. With life comes responsibility. We are responsible for every aspect of our own lives including those we’ve outsourced to others by way of the systems we’ve socially constructed. No job is outside our field of responsibility. All responsibilities are shared and more so than narrow job descriptions outline. This responsibility — conditioned on nothing but one’s existence and the existence of other — means that nothing is left out of our field of responsibility, as this field is defined in agapē love. The trouble with storgē versus agapē is the former is a (convenient) pseudo subset of the latter.
Who gets (some semblance of) unconditional love in storgē is “family”. But what is family? Aren’t we all related however remotely? If love given in storgē were to observe this truth, it would — even with its current definition) manifest more so as agapē because all would rightly meet the condition of family. This is why the idea of storgē as love is so difficult to challenge. It is too close to what love ought to be, for the flaws to be revealed easily.
How have we gone about defining the conditions that qualify individuals to have this (storgē) “love”? The answer is arbitrarily. Family as we define it, is the genealogical linkage we can identify. But why would we elect to claim some but not all our brothers and sisters, if we know we are all related? If we were to distill this thinking into the base values that inform it, we would get a mixture of arbitrary, self-serving, obligatory, reciprocity-necessitating ideologies that manifest in a love-like manner (yes, they can do that). Consider the contents of that mixture and note that none of those elements are founded in love.
Both self-interest and reciprocity-necessitation are exact opposite features of the characteristics of agapē love. Referencing the Holy Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:5, if I may, it charges that love is not self-seeking (i.e. self-serving, as we’d note is one among the mix listed above). Obligatory reciprocity too is self-serving and as verse 4 (1 Corinthians 13:4) speaks to kindness as a feature of agapē love, one must query what is “kind” about service rendered with reciprocity in mind.
Kindness is of a nature that speaks to the reason for one’s actions, not the action itself. To do for other with self in mind, is not kindness (it is not demonstrative of love). Doing for the reward of a fulfilled need is love. This distinction is a question of purpose/reason/why?. And why is the matter that separates agapē from storgē; it’s the matter that separates love from its opposite; and the matter that separates responsibility from obligation.
The word duty comes to mind when I think of the obligation a parent feels for a child or family feels for family in general. But what separates those duty-bound by job description and motivation of pay, and the duty as of lungs to the body, the reward of fulfilled work being work done, life sustained? The lungs — responsible as they are to the rest of the body — work in their purpose and in doing so see to the wellbeing of the whole (self with it). So do other organs and we are to the collective as organs are to the body.
Deeply ingrained and seeming universal though the dogma about family may be, it is the condition — the job description if you will, that informs “love” in storgē. One’s duty as defined in his job description are things he is obligated to. The titles that define relationships among family members are job titles too. What we permit and what we do — specifically on their account — is what falls within our job description (or terms and conditions of engagement). But a more significant obligatory arrangement underpins all I’ve said and that is the fact we do not choose family and therefore are obligated by birth to these roles.
It is one thing to serve willingly in a role one would choose for himself but was obligated to by inheritance for example. This is not a person acting on obligation; it is the love for what he does that fuels him. It is quite another thing to be fueled by a sense of responsibility (duty) having bought into the dogma about family. The individual who the former describes is rewarded by serving in the role (simply carrying out his work as do lungs to the body) and would therefore be rewarded independent of the title, its description as is socially constructed (a job) and pay. The fact that we do not extend our way of being to those not qualified by a linkage we can identify and the fact we are only impressed to serve those the dogma dictates we should, is the mirror of those who work for the reward of pay, those to whom what they do is a job — obligatory (duty-bound by title), reciprocity-necessitating (rendering service for the reward of pay) and self-serving (as reciprocity demonstrates).
Further may be said about the self-serving nature of “love” in storgē where childbearing and child-care, child-dependence and connectedness, etc. are all things meant to serve the parent’s needs (though we do not recognize this about ourselves). With things of an intrinsic nature — as is love — questions like why have to be explored to reveal their true nature, their presence and their absence. Ask why, for instance, are some but not all our kin considered as such? What would happen if we really loved our brothers and sisters? If we redrew the parameters of our sincere care, what else would come into question through this new lens?
Would we perhaps ask why with regard to our brothers and sisters withering in prison? Maybe we’d ask why re: the hoards of our young siblings hanging by a thread in hospitals from organ failure and other conditions. We may question why so many are lost prematurely from avoidable circumstance.
We show our capacity to care when those who need it meet the right conditions. What if there were no conditions? What if we really loved?
- See Four Greek Words for Love. (n.d.). McLeanbible.org.
- See Welsh, Ervin. (2017). Understanding Us & Them (at pg 59, last paragraph).
Author: Ervin Welsh
Date Written: December 04, 2017
Published: December 06, 2017
Last Updated: December 07, 2017
Location: #9 King Street, Basseterre, St. Kitts, West Indies, Caribbean.
Tel: 1 (869) 762-4650
- Four Greek Words for Love. (n.d.). McLeanbible.org. Retrieved From https://www.mcleanbible.org/sites/default/files/Multiply-Resources/Chap3/GreekWordsforLoveWS_Chapter3.pdf
- Welsh, Ervin. (2017). Understanding Us & Them (at pg 59, last paragraph). Retrieved from http://decodingdeviance.beyondtimeless.com