It is fascinating to read Roman history, to unearth the origins of Valentine’s Day. Thankfully, the 14th of February has come and gone, but we still must keep asking: what is true love?

Whatever the relationship, it is not important if this “love” is actually for God, your family, your community, or even your workmates and company, your child, mother, father, lover, husband or wife, or for that matter, your political constituency as HH kept repeating during the Kabwata by-elections “I love you” – how do we know that this “love” is true?

Is love a deep feeling of liking someone? Is it the desire to want to possess, own someone, because they look “lovable”? Is it lust – a craving for sexual union with someone? Is it economic, social and psychological dependence for someone we cannot live without because we “fall apart” if they are not there for us?

As for those who are married, is love the one for whom you are willing to put up with everything short of being strangled yourself, because, for whatever reasons, you cannot give them up, you cannot separate from them, you cannot let them go? Is love jealous; fear of losing a person to another?

Can we be commanded to love our neighbours as we love ourselves and actually follow the command, do it; that is, actually “love” our neighbours because the Bible says so? Can we “love” simply because we are commanded by our faith and beliefs to do so?

The situation becomes even more complicated and harder when, if you are a follower of any faith, are monogamous and respect the teachings of your faith on love, sex and marriage: how exactly do you decide that this particular individual is the one you “love”, the sex will be good for ever, and therefore you are ready to live with them for the rest of your life in holy matrimony?

You will obviously not have slept with them before marriage because that is a sin, for you. Do you take a risk and hope the sex will be good and sustain your marriage? Is sex essential and necessary for marriage? If you do not want to take a risk, how many people must you have sex with before deciding on the right one? What is the value and place of sex in marriage? Is sex “love”?

From my lived experience, learning from others, reading and reflecting upon this extremely important and crucialmatter of “love”, I have learnt that while it is futile to attempt to define “love”, we can all easily see evidence of love, wherever it is. Four things, happening together, solidly stand out for me, where love is present. First is knowledge. This is not just physical appearance and some history and sexual and social cv, ending with likes, hobbies and interests, important though this must be. This is the learned ability to recognise that the other person is a separate, complete living human being with a history, a present and a possible future and therefore “knowing them” is a constant activity requiring maximum communication at the logical, emotional, intuitive, spiritual and deep soul levels. Thestarting point is of course ourselves, and how willing we are be “known” on all these levels. There are fears of course, in a world driven by competition and the desire to loot the other person, that if we expose ourselves, we may end up in tears. This can be progressively managed, with time. With time, we learn more, respect more and acquire a greater or lesser desire to love what we are learning.

In a world in which we package ourselves as “marketable personalities” for exchange in the commercial, social and love markets, it is clearly impossible to truly know ourselves (we lie and over-rate ourselves all the time, and think the world revolves around us; it doesn’t) and therefore we cannot develop the ability to know others! And so, we must struggle to know who we are first, and learn about others, if we must “love”.

With growing knowledge, respect comes along! We recognise and appreciate the uniqueness of the other, be it God, an individual, a family, a community, political constituency, country or any group of people or organisation, or indeed the world itself. This “respect” cannot be expressed for what we do not know, or are not learning about! Genuine respect is a commitment to grow to know, a deep desire to learn, that which we want to “love”. Without an ever-expanding knowledge of the other in their ever-changing state, there is no respect.

In a world of “marketing personalities” it is hard to truly respect ourselves and others; we are all too aware of how fake our constructed false images of ourselves are!

Knowledge and respect lead to responsibility. To be “responsible” is to be duty bound to act, to own up, and to get things done, to secure movement, to secure progress, always, when we know and respect. It is to commit to be accountable for our part in a relationship. When we “love” we become responsible to grow and sustain “love”. Love, then, is knowledge upon which genuine respect is built. Without our taking responsibility to love, we too, actually, cannot be loved, for strangers are just that: unknown, and neither respect nor responsibility exist!

More directly, we must take responsibility for the things happening in our “love.” This kind of “responsibility” is placing ourselves to be duty bound to respond to the happiness, sadness, laughter, cries, needs and generosity of the other or others. “Baby I love you so much but you know it is to hot today and I can’t see you” is a typical attitude of a person whose needs are met in a relationship but ignores the desire for companionship of the other person. True lovers jump and run when the other or others say “come, I want to see you.”

Even in our private greed driven society, it is impossible to ignore what we know and respect. The more we grow to know, the more we may respect and learn to take responsibility.

We prove that we are responsible because we care! Simply put, to care is to look after and provide for the needs of the cared for. This means we take responsibility for the life of the cared for. We care because we pay attention to the ever changing and evolving state of being of the cared for. Because we care, we provide for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of the cared for. In a truly “loving relationship” all this is done because the person doing this has developed their capacity to know, respect, take responsibility and care;not because they are “loved back”, or expect to be rewarded in any way, especially and certainly not because they want sex! They do it because “to love”is aninherent human quality which comes alive with knowing, respecting, taking responsibility and caring. The opposite also is true. Ignorance, disrespect, irresponsibility and lack of care are all forms of hatred, the sources of all our problems!

We live in a world in which “me, I, and myself” are the most important person, and to care is to lose. Ignorance, disrespect, irresponsibility and lack of care mean we live in a world pregnant with hatred, wars, poverty and mass suffering on a scale unprecedented in human history. We humans have the nuclear capabilities to blow our Earth into oblivion; we hate each other this much!

And so, next timewhen you say “I love you”, you better mean it because it means you know and are all the time working at learning,respecting, taking responsibility and caring for what you say you love! Otherwise, you are lying! You actually hate them.

All mental illnesses and suffering human beings experience are caused by the absence of this kind of “loving person” I have described above. We can defeat ignorance and grow knowledge, in place of disrespect we must cultivate respect, where there is irresponsibility, we must sow responsibility and where care has vanished, we must return it. To achieve all this, we must destroy the current barriers to love, inside us.

(Send your comments to: munalulaagnesmusonda2016@gmail.com)