Life Changing Quotes from Bell Hook's "All About Love"
Updated: Sep 16
By Naomi Arroyo for Tech | Hustle | Culture
What are the books that radically changed your life?
For me it's Assata's autobiography, Gloria Naylor's Mama Day, Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, and now, All About Love by Bell Hooks.
I distinctly remember being overwhelmed by the feeling of love in toxic relationships and asking myself what tf is this? I believed love was about riding out pain, compromising for the sake of our "greater good" and sacrificing in the name of lifelong union, even if my efforts were one sided.
Bell Hooks weaves together her own lived experiences and perspectives with the works of other researchers of love in what has become my bible for understanding how to fully love myself and others. She breaks down where we fail at understanding love's function in our lives and redefines how we can relate to the true meaning of love. What follows are 20 quotes (the original list was closer to 50) that hit me the hardest and transformed my life when it comes to love.
The book dives right in with a call to watch what we call "love."
In All About Love, love is defined as "the will to extend one's self for the the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." She emphasizes that love is action, not a feeling.
As young people, we intuitively understand this but we learn lessons that turn this healthy expression of love on its head.
"Such children learn early on to question the meaning of love, to yearn for love even as they doubt it exists."
In order to fully express love as care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment, and trust we need a healthy relationship with the truth. This too can be damaged in our childhood.
"Usually they begin to lie to avoid punishment or to avoid disappointing or hurting an adult. How many of us can vividly recall where we courageously practiced the honesty we had been taught to value by our parents, only to find that they did not really mean for us to tell the truth all the time. In far too many cases children are punished in circumstances where they respond with honesty to a question posed by an adult authority figure. It is impressed on their consciousness early on, then, that truth-telling will cause pain. And so they learn that lying is a way to avoid being hurt and hurting others."
This severs our connection to our true selves and sustains violent patriarchal values that hurt us all.
"...the masculine identity offered men as an ideal in patriarchal culture is one that requires all males to invent and invest in a false self. From the moment little boys are taught they should not cry or express hurt feelings of loneliness or pain, that they must be tough, they are learning how to mask true feelings. In the worst-case scenarios they are learning how not to feel anything, ever."
The path to unlearning requires that we make space for truth telling in our lives.
"The wounded child inside many males is a boy who, when he first spoke his truths was silenced by paternal sadism, by a patriarchal world that did not want him to claim his true feelings. The wounded child inside many females is a girl who was taught from early childhood on that she must become something other than herself, deny her true feelings, in order to attract and please others. When men and women punish each other for truth telling we reinforce the notion that lies are better. To be loving we willingly hear each other's truth and, most important, we affirm the value of truth-telling."
In order to move from lovelessness into loving states, we have to cultivate a connection to the divine, which strengthens the foundations of our self-esteem.
"Despite overwhelming pressures to conform to the culture of lovelessness, we still seek to know love."
This is for all my folks who feel they love too hard, or love too much, or are foolish / weak to aspire to know love: Our journey to and through love deepens our spiritual lives, which provides the strength to navigate suffering and pain in this often chaotic world.
It is not foolish to seek love. It is part of our journey back to the divine. In order to awaken to love and deepen our spiritual lives, Hooks outlines how we must embrace a love ethic.
"While careers and making money remain important agendas, they never take precedence over valuing and nurturing human life and well-being."
Living by a love ethic not only protects against lovelessness but it is also the foundation of communal living.
In this way, we share resources and live according to indigenous principles of communal prosperity. Hooks emphasizes that to live in this way, that is, in order to live according to the principles of a love ethic, we need to have courage.
"Learning how to face our fears is one way we embrace love."
"Those of us who have already chosen to embrace the love ethic, allowing it to govern and inform how we think and act, know that when we let our light shine, we draw to us and are drawn to other bearers of light. We are not alone."
So why does life feel so lonely at times? Hooks calls out capitalism as the root of much suffering. Consumerism and greed become traps that call us to engage in behaviors of escapism. We are fed narratives that promote "hard work" and grind culture, by people who do not want us to know the truth about wealth.
"Inherited wealth and or substantial material resources are rarely talked about in the mass media because those who receive it do not wish to validate the idea that money received that is not a reward for hard work is beneficial. Their acceptance and use of this money to strengthen their economic self-sufficiency exposes the reality that working hard is rarely the means by which enough of us can gain enough access to material resources to become wealthy."
They don't want us to know that they don't work hard for the wealth at all. If they do expend energy in the pursuit of wealth, it is out of greed. Greed, she reasons, pushes us to abandon ourselves and put ourselves in life threatening situations. If we are too busy working hard chasing unattainable happiness then we don't have the bandwidth to invest in ourselves and our communities. The antidote? Hooks declares that:
As a society, she explains, we have moved away from communal family structures to the nuclear family, which makes the sharing of resources impossible and the threatens the safety of all involved:
"It gave absolute rule to the father, and secondary rule over children to the mother. By encouraging the segregation of nuclear families from the extended family, women were forced to become more dependent on an individual man, and children more dependent on an individual woman. It is this dependency that became, and is, the breeding ground for abuses of power."
If the family unit offers little by way of safety and love for so many, it is through friendships that we find solace from the pain of isolation.
"Many of us learn as children that friendship should never be seen as just as important as family ties. However, friendship is the place in which a great majority of us have our first glimpse of redemptive love and caring community."
Given that we often experience deep love in our friendships, Hooks goes on to declare that there is no special love reserved for our romantic relationships.
This was the revelation that hit the hardest.
"When we see love as the will to nurture one's own, or another's spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same. There is no special love exclusively reserved for romantic partners."
Unfortunately, we are fed lies about what romantic love is. Lies that paint love as a struggle for domination, power, and control, which ultimately leads to abuses that harm us all.
"...abuse irreparably undermines bonds. All too often women believe it is a sign of commitment, and expression of love, to endure unkindness or cruelty to forgive and forget. In actuality, when we love rightly we know that the healthy, loving response to cruelty and abuse is putting ourselves out of harm's way."
Now if that didn't feel like a read of my 23 year old self! Phewwww.
She doesn't stop there. She goes on to share that it is often so hard to take ourselves out of harm's way because abuse and affection are often wedded.
"This is precisely why it is so difficult for women and some men, to leave relationships, where the central dynamic is a struggle for power. The fact that this sadomasochistic power dynamic can and usually does coexist with affection, care, tenderness, and loyalty makes it easy for power-driven individuals to deny their agendas, even to themselves. These positive actions give hope that love will prevail."
We often stay in these situations because we conflate sexual chemistry with love.
"I have had great sex with men who were intimate terrorists, men who seduce and attract by giving you just what you feel your heart needs then gradually or abruptly withholding it once they have gained your trust."
By this part of the book I screamed. Did she say intimate terrorists?! The way in which I felt seen and affirmed when I read through this chapter of the book!
Hooks isn't quite finished taking our lives and turning them inside out. She continues...
It was at this point that I threw the book on the ground. I stopped reading All About Love for several weeks because my mind would not accept that true love is not guaranteed to be available to me for a lifetime. There is no happily ever after. I was 32 years old when I learned that ...
It requires us to surrender our will for control and seek healing of shame and guilt. It requires that we listen even when it hurts. It requires that we continue to know love through action and commit to this action (not person) for life.