By Dominque Stevenson

This question is not one that we ask ourselves every day, but it arose during a recent session of the Maryland Peace with Justice (MPJ) Program’s Friend of a Friend project in the Maryland Correctional Training Center (MCTC).

The Friend of a Friend group consists of mentors and mentees, with the mentors teaching appropriate behaviors and values to help mentees deal more effectively with conflict. The men work hard on personal development and growth.

During a recent session, group participants were involved in a conversation about what it means to be a “man.” This led to a larger debate about gender roles and masculinity. When MPJ volunteer Bashi Rose offered the opinion that being a man meant showing love, the conversation shifted abruptly.

A young man we will call E asked, “How do you show love.” Participants discussed demonstrations of love from different perspectives, but they never really defined love. The next question led me into serious contemplation well after the session ended. E asked, “What is love?”

Many of us at AFSC invoke the word “love” in our work, but I wonder how often we contemplate what love really means. I feel that I am guided by love every time I go inside a prison, but I admit that anger has sometimes sparked me to become active as well. The language that the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) uses to describe the motivation for our work is quite eloquent, but it does not help me answer the question. So, after the session, I wrote to my colleagues throughout AFSC and asked them: “What is love?” These are some of the responses I received:

“Love is really our expression of human cooperation, not just on a tangible level, but it is our finding a way to cooperate spiritually, physically and emotionally with what we are given and those we encounter.”

“The best definition I’ve ever heard is, ‘an extreme situation of appreciation.’”

“First Corinthians”

“Love is the impulse at the very core of each emotion we feel to help or cherish other beings, our own selves, or our world.”

“Love is a verb and therefore, is an action as much as it is a feeling.” 

“Love is what binds together that which has been torn asunder. It operates in the spiritual realm the way gravity operates in the physical realm.”

“In the end ‘it’ keeps me going.”

I don't often take the time to define love, but I feel it all around me at all times.  I have had good people in my life who have taught me things because they loved me.  My grandmother, Loretta, who was a woman with little financial resources but a lot of intelligence and mother wit, taught me hope at a time when I had very little.  The men I work with at MCTC and other prisons, men who never take their eyes off the prize of freedom, have taught me faith.  Being a parent has taught me about charity, which to me is equivalent to sacrifice. The sum total of these is love, and that is how I live love.

These are the things that I shared with E, and I hope they help him in his quest for personal development and growth.  In his quest to define “love.”