In spiritual communities it’s popular to reference the triumphant power of Love. We meditate on its significance, we call on it to transmutate negative experiences, and its ability to conquer all is central to our way of being. We trust it the way we know Reese Witherspoon always gets the guy at the end of the romantic comedy. What happens, though, when that belief must be applied to something truly despicable?
The power of Love to heal is more than a throwaway comment over $15 green juices after a yoga session, or an uplifting WordSwag graphic posted on Instagram. It has to hold up in the ugliest, darkest aspects of being on the planet—when it’s the absolute hardest to be of service to your fellow humans.
How do we use our Love as a tool for change? We nurture each other.
In a recent essay that went viral and accumulated more than 500,000 views, college professor and cultural theorist Nora Samaran went deep on these subjects. (Clearly she succeeded at breaking things down; it is a long article that many people found worth the read and the comments section is quite lively.) Her central thesis is concerned with reflecting on the role of nurturance in relationships, and she discusses it in the context of healing rape culture in our society. The way we are socialized to express our emotions and develop attachment bonds with others, Samaran argues, is an area where we could focus our energies so that Love can win.
Consider Samaran’s example. In a world of perpetrators and victims, a cycle of injury and violence repeats itself—wounding everyone in the circle to varying degrees. Perhaps some have greater license to claim the role of victim than others, but beyond an individual’s right to justice and healing we encounter the problem of sexual assault more broadly. The widespread violation of physical bodies deemed weaker and subjected to invasive actions is a threat to all lovers and will require a great deal of collective Love to heal.
What sociological factors lead to soaring sexual assault statistics, including those that go unreported? How do we stop them? Is sexual assault just one extreme outcome among many challenges people of all identities and orientations struggle with in a society that faces severe imbalances with respect to gender? Samaran makes the case that creating a “nurturance culture” might be the antidote.
“Nurturance” is often ascribed female characteristics, and can be a source of vast judgment for women as well as a stigma for men.
“‘To completely transform this culture of misogyny, then, men must do more than ‘not assault,’” Samaran writes. “‘We must call on masculinity to become whole and nurturing of self and others, to recognize that attachment needs are healthy and normal and not ‘female,’ and thus to expect of men to heal themselves and others the same way we expect women to ‘be nurturers.’ It is time men recognize and nurture their own healing gifts.”
While cis men are not the only perpetrators of rape nor the only demographic in need of emotional maturity, Samaran points out the lack of opportunities there are for them to connect with each other and discuss these concepts.
“‘The men I know who are exceptionally nurturing lovers, fathers, coworkers, close friends to their friends, who know how to make people feel safe, have almost no outlets through which to learn or share this hard won skill with other men,’” she writes. “These are two sides of the same system, and must be understood together, because in a culture that does not expect men to show up for their own emotions, women get blamed for unaddressed male shame.’”
Would a groundswell of men and women who nurture each other really prevent sexual violence and engender a world of emotional and physical safety? At worst, it’s a beautifully naive idea. At best, however, it’s the seed of a long-term growth journey we can each plant in the service of Love.