In Ghanaian Culture, Love Is Helping and Caring for Others

Many studies have shown that despite cross-cultural similarities, cultural conceptions of love vary across societies (see, for review, Karandashev, 2019; 2022). Culture influences how individuals experience and express love, as well as social norms prevalent among communities (Fiske & Taylor, 2013; Kaufmann, 2011).

For instance, individualistic cultures tend to value experience and expression of passionate love more, while collective cultures tend to value the experience and expression of companionate love more (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). Passionate love focuses on how love makes one feel, while companionate love focuses on feelings for and caring for others.

Love in the Cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa

In the collectivist societies of Sub-Saharan Africa, cultural norms associate love with experiences and expressions of affect towards others, social relationships, and material provisioning (Coe, 2011; Cornwall, 2002).

Love entails a commitment to sharing and reciprocity in social relationships, as well as the supply and allocation of material resources (Keefe, 2016). These qualities of love expression were referred to by researchers as “real love” (van Eerdewijk, 2006) and “materiality of care” (Coe, 2011).

Interdependent Life and Love in Ghanaian Communities

Ghana, a country in West Africa, presents an example of this conceptualization of love in its culture. A Ghanaian understanding of love entails meeting the needs of close others.

What are the origins of these cultural beliefs?

The majority of Ghanaians express their sense of identity through duty-based interpersonal interactions. Individuals are born into close-knit families that place a strong emphasis on socially required interpersonal responsibilities. Ghanaians care about preserving their interdependence in relationships and regard themselves as interdependent (Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

The allocation of resources is the fundamental basis of our daily existence. The extended family structure has historically provided support and care for both young people and the elderly. People must reciprocate obligations, duties, and responsibilities toward family members for this system of care to function effectively. Ghanaians show this facet of love through diverse social actions and interactions. Material expressions of love are valued in Ghana, sometimes, above emotional expressions of love (Coe, 2011).

The Impact of Christian Beliefs on Ghanaians’ Understanding of Love

Religious beliefs influence the notion of love among people of faith. They express their best human qualities based on the universal ethos of honesty, care, and brotherhood (Prince, Denis, & van Dijk, 2009).

Christianity is a major part of Ghana’s culture and has an impact on many people’s daily lives. How do Christian beliefs influence Ghanaian cultural understandings of love?

Christians make a distinction between eros love and agape love. A desire for something or someone drives eros love, whereas respect for and concern for others drives agape love. The eros type of love is self-oriented, focusing on benefits to the self, while the agape type of love is other-oriented, emphasizing benefits to the other person. Ghanaian Christian churches influence Ghanaian society’s conceptions of love by promoting love in relationships and family life.

What Did a Recent Study on Love in Ghana Show?

Researchers looked into how Christian Ghanaians view love in relation to family in a recent study on love in the West African nation of Ghana. Let’s look at some of the main themes that 61 participants—men and women aged 20 to 70—reported when anthropologists interviewed them (Osei-Tutu et al., 2018).

In a previous blog post on this site, I explained how Ghanaians express and fulfill their love by attending to the needs of those close to them.

Helping Others Who Are in Need

Among those others, informants mentioned friends, strangers, and elderly people. Many participants (70%) regarded love as providing help to individuals in need, including the elderly, friends, and even complete strangers. For example, participants stated:

… if you go out and you see an elderly person who is not even from your own family, if there is anything to assist them with, you help them. If you have the means to support them, you do as much as you can.

(51-year-old female)

Supposing a friend is having a problem, losing a loved one or in need of some money, you take care of it or give her something.

(37-year-old male)

If you think somebody needs your help and you have the means, either you know the person or don’t know the person, you should show the person love… either in kind, in physical terms.

(34-year-old male)

As one can see, the Ghanaian Christian participants expressed their beliefs about agape love in their responses. They considered acts of love, such as fulfilling familial and neighborly responsibilities, to be the most important expressions of love. This aligns with Christian principles that prioritize compassion and the well-being of both one’s own family and others.

Love Is Care

Many Christian Ghanaian respondents (48%) in the study viewed love primarily as caring actions towards others, such as “showing concern.” Participants shared the following examples and provided comments:

…in school I’ve made a lot of friends… sometimes when you’re not well, they call…. When you’re on holidays, this long vac [vacation], they’ll be calling and checking on… So that’s love.

(21-year-old female)

…when you are sick they [people] visit you in the house, when you are promoted they show appreciation they congratulate you; it’s a way of showing love.

(40-year-old female)

Other Expressions of Love Among Ghanaians

Several participants (10%) mentioned kissing (children), hugging (children and husband), and touching (husband). Furthermore, a small percentage (7%) claimed that love entails openness, transparency, and not keeping secrets. Only a few participants mentioned these, so the authors did not assign them to a specific theme.

Love as Agape in Ghanaian Christian Culture

It is worth noting that these Ghanaian Christian participants made few references to eros (a type of passionate love) and instead emphasized agape (kind and caring actions toward others). They described love from a Judeo-Christian perspective, as illustrated by biblical examples. These definitions of love go beyond close relationships and intersect with the definition of what a good Christian or person should be.

The Indian Myth of Kamadeva, the Hindu God of Love

Many modern Western symbols of love date back to the early Greeks and Romans. Eros was the Greek god of love, while Cupid was the Roman god of love and desire.

The image of a chubby Cupid aiming love arrows at unwary people’s hearts appears to be a typical Western symbol of love. Americans and Western Europeans can widely see him on greeting cards and chocolate boxes on Valentine’s Day.

What about Eastern cultures, such as Hinduism? Does Cupid trick them too? Or do they have their own “Cupid”? People from all over the world, especially Indo-European cultures, have sacred stories that are a lot like Hindu stories about gods.

Who Is Kamadeva, the Hindu God of Love?

In Indic traditions, Kamadeva represents the Hindu equivalent of Cupid and Eros. Kamadeva is known as the Indian or Vedic Cupid. He is the Hindu god of love, desire, and infatuation.

Jeffery D. Long, Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, USA, explored the old Indian scriptures about Kamadeva.

Kamadeva is the god of desire and love. The word Kama comes from Sanskrit, meaning “sensual desire.“ He is accompanied by his wife, Rati, a goddess of love and sexual passion.

Different from Cupid, however, Kamadeva is depicted not as a plumpy cherub but rather as a handsome young man who rides on a majestic green parrot named Suka. He is riding a parrot’s back with a sugarcane bow, a honeybee bowstring, and flower arrow points. Kamadeva, the Hindu Cupid, also shoots his love darts into people’s hearts.

This is how the Rigveda, the most ancient of Hindu scriptures dating back at least 3,000 years, describes Kamadeva.

Each of these elements of his description represents the inherent sweetness of love. Additionally, they elicit the spirit of the spring season, when new life arises in the world. Suka, the parrot of Kamadeva, symbolizes both the spring season and the notion of love, as parrots frequently live in pairs.

The Tensions of Hindu Love

The stories of love in Hindu culture illustrate the tension between the most deeply held Hindu values. Love is a highly valued belief, especially in the context of families.

The highest ideal of life, however, is liberation from the cycle of rebirth. To reach this goal, spiritual people must give up worldly attachments, including love relationships. They should seek meditative solitude instead.

Shiva, a highly esteemed Hindu deity, embodies this tension by combining the qualities of a devoted yogi with a loving husband and father.

What Happens When Kamadeva Intervenes Life with His Love Arrows?

One time, during a period of intense meditation, Kamadeva was going to pierce his heart with an arrow. Then Shiva, angered by the interruption of his meditation, blasted the unfortunate god of love with a powerful beam of energy emanating from his renowned third eye.

Actually, Kamadeva’s intention was good. It was not meant to whimsically pierce Lord Shiva’s heart. According to the Indian story, a dangerous demon, known as Taraka, endangered the world. None of the gods could defeat this terrifying demon.

Only Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva, and his wife, the Mother Goddess Parvati, could defeat this demon, according to a prophecy. However, Kartikeya had not yet been conceived. Shiva was the patron deity and embodiment of yoga, so he unlikely could do this anytime soon given his dedication to meditation. So, the Hindu gods sent Kamadeva to do just that: to make Shiva fall in love with Parvati and wake him up from his meditation so he could have the child who would save the world.

Shiva demonstrates mercy despite his proneness to anger. Heartbroken over the death of her beloved, Rati begged Shiva to bring Kamadeva back to life, which he did. Following this, Shiva and Parvati had a son named Kartikeya, who later killed the demon.

What Was the Message of This Story?

It says that erotic love is important in all religions, even ones that value asceticism and meditation as ways to reach the ultimate goal of freeing people from the cycle of rebirth and its pain. Not only is Kamadeva a fun thing to look at, but it also does good things in the world.

How Doctors Can Be More Compassionate to Patients

The lack of time, or “time famine,” is the major problem nowadays that deters us from being compassionate to others in our daily encounters. This problem also does not allow doctors to allot sufficient time to interact with patients compassionately in the manner in which they would like to do so. Many doctors regret that they do not have the time to treat patients with compassion, as they would like to.

The problem is specifically intractable in medicine. Healthcare providers in clinics often feel they cannot sufficiently care for their patients the way they would like.

It’s hard to think of something more serious than telling a patient bad medical news. Can medical educators teach physicians how to show real compassion for patients professionally?

How to Show Compassion Professionally

Let’s consider how the researchers from Johns Hopkins University taught cancer doctors the way to support their patient encounters.

Here is a script that doctors can use in their medical practice. Beginning the appointment, the oncologists say:

“I know this is a tough experience to go through and I want you to know that I am here with you. Some of the things that I say to you today may be difficult to understand, so I want you to feel comfortable stopping me if I say something that is confusing or doesn’t make sense. We are here together, and we will go through this together.”

Then, by the end of the appointment, the doctors say:

“I know this is a tough time for you, and I want to emphasize again that we are in this together. I will be with you each step along the way.”

It appeared that when doctors shared these words with their patients, the patients perceived their doctors as warmer, more caring, and more compassionate care providers. These patients experienced less anxiety than other patients.

The study demonstrated not only how compassion matters but how quickly a doctor can display compassion to a patient, even in forty seconds and in 99 words, which eased a patient’s anxiety.

How Much Time Does It Take to Express Compassion?

Other studies have supported this discovery about how little time doctors need to express compassion.

Stephen Trzeciak and his colleagues conducted the study in the Netherlands that showed that it takes only 38 seconds for doctors to express compassion when they deliver bad news to patients to ease the patient’s anxiety.

The study of Rachel Weiss and her colleagues demonstrated that the longer compassionate statements, the better they reduce patient anxiety.

How to Express Compassion in Daily Social Communication

What about other daily situations involving social connections? Can we spare a few seconds to communicate with someone close to us, with our loved one or friend, or with our neighbor, expressing simple words of compassion?

  • Great job today. I know it’s been tough this past week. I see how hard you are working and I’m proud to be working alongside you.
  • I really admire how you are rolling with the punches. I want you to know you’re not in it alone. I’m here, too, and we’ll figure it out together.
How Helping Others Could Make You Feel Less Rushed by Gabriella Kellerman (2023)

Keep in mind that even the brief moments of your time given compassionately to someone else can make a difference in their life as well as in yours.

Give Compassionate Love to Each Other!

We need to rely on each other. We must care about each other. We need compassion for each other to feel good, be good, live well, and do what we are doing well. We need compassionate love for each other to do well in our personal lives.

The modern way of life, with its daily rush and lack of time, presents increasing barriers to personal connections. Nevertheless, we can pursue compassionate social behavior and feel that we have time to spare for it.

When “Small Love” Is Compassionate

Compassionate love is a benevolent emotion that involves giving as a way of loving. The compassionate feelings and actions of small love help another person’s well-being. This form of small love emphasizes the well-being of another person, even in occasional daily situations.

Men and women may exhibit compassionate love or the bystander effect in the daily circumstances they encounter. “Small love” means loving the neighbor or another person we occasionally encounter.

When Are People More Willing to Help in an Occasional Interpersonal Encounter?

Let’s look at the experimental situation that researchers set up to explore this question.

“At 10:00 a.m. on December 14, 1970, a sunny day in Princeton, New Jersey, the first batch of volunteers arrived for a psychology experiment. The participants were seminary students at Princeton Theological, studying religion in preparation for a life of spiritual service.”

When the participants arrived at the study, they were informed that the experiment would look into the career paths of seminarians. Researchers gave each participant reading material to help them prepare a short talk on the topic.

They gave half of the participants a sheet of paper with questions and suggestions for making the most of their seminary education. They gave the other half a copy of the well-known New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan, who stops on the side of the road to assist someone in need.

The volunteers who participated in the experiments were unaware that all of this was just a prelude.

Then, the administrator of the experiment told each volunteer that, because there wasn’t enough room, they would have to walk to another building to give their talk. They gave the participants a map that showed how to get from one building to the next. The route went through an alley. One by one, the people took off. When participants walked into the alley, each of them encountered a startling sight:

“a pile of a man, slumped and motionless in a dark doorway, moaning in distress.”

How Helping Others Could Make You Feel Less Rushed

The Critical Moment of the Experimental Situation to Show Small Love

Here was the critical moment of the experiment: “Who would stop to help, like the Good Samaritan, and who would pass him by?”

“The groaning man, a disguised member of the research team, noted the reactions of each seminarian. Some hurried past without noticing him. Others looked or nodded but didn’t stop. Some paused briefly to ask if the man was all right. And then there were a few “superhelpers” who guided the suffering man inside, refusing to leave until care had arrived.”

How Helping Others Could Make You Feel Less Rushed

Who slowed down? Who was in a hurry? What made a person decide whether or not to help another person in need?

Researchers John Darley and C. Daniel Batson expected that priming the students’ minds to think about the Good Samaritan would make them more likely to help a person in need. The intention was to demonstrate scripture’s power to inspire moral behavior by showing “small love” to a stranger.

What the Results of the Study Revealed

However, the results of the study did not support the expected effect:

“Students who hadn’t read the parable helped (or neglected to help) in similar numbers to those that had. None of the other variables Darley and Batson tested—such as what type of religious beliefs the participants held—made a difference, either.”

How Helping Others Could Make You Feel Less Rushed

The only factor that affected the willingness to help was the time pressure.

“Students who were told to hurry to their destination were significantly less likely to stop to help a man in pain. Students who were told they had a bit of spare time to make the walk stopped more frequently and offered more substantial forms of help.”

Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. D. (1973). ” From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior

Surprisingly, seminary students who devote their lives to serving others are less likely to help someone in obvious need if they are short on time.

The feeling that we lack time to help others can be deceptive. And, actually, we can extend our time by connecting with others.

Religious Kindness Leads to More Giving

Love is one of the most valuable human attitudes and emotions. It is present in all religious teaching across many religions.

Religious Teachings of Love

God encourages people to love and be kind to others. Here are, for example, some examples of Christian teachings on love:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 12:9-10

Islam teaches people to love each other for the sake of Allah. Allah will ask on the Day of Judgment:

“Where are those who loved each other for the sake of My glory? Today, on a day when there is no shade but Mine, I shall shade them with My shade.”

Abu Hurairah, (Muslim)

Religious Kindness and Love for Others

Do religious people love only others who are of the same faith? Or can they be kind to others of any religion? Do their religious kindness and love cross religious borders?

According to the results of some studies, religious people can be prejudiced, and intergroup bias can decrease prosocial behavior and love for others of different religions.

A recent study, however, has shown that thinking about God encourages prosociality toward religious outgroups. This tendency spreads across cultures.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago investigated

  • whether members of specific religions engage in altruistic behavior that only benefits members of their religion, or
  • whether they are willing to treat members of other religions in the same manner.

It turns out that religious people, regardless of how they practice their faith, are more likely to be kind to others.

As Michael Pasek, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, states:

“Religion is often thought to promote intergroup conflict and fuel hostility between people who hold different beliefs. Quite to the contrary — our findings suggest that belief in God, which is an important aspect of most world religions, may sometimes promote more positive intergroup relations.”

The leading author of the study, Michael Pasek, and his team have conducted field and online studies in which more than 4,700 people participated. They were from different cultural and religious backgrounds: Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Middle Eastern, Fijian, and American Jewish people.

Participants had the opportunity to share money with anonymous people of various religions. The participants played multiple rounds of a real-world economic game. They needed to divide a sum of money among themselves and people from different backgrounds. During the first round, participants had to carefully consider their choices. Then, in the later rounds of this economic game, the researchers asked them to think about God before making a decision.

By the way, we should keep in mind that “Americans unsure about God are a fast-growing force in politics.

Thinking of God Makes People More Generous

Nevertheless, when we think about God, we feel more kind and generous and give more to others.

The results of the study showed that thinking about God has a significant impact on decision-making. In the experimental situation, it resulted in an 11% increase in giving compared to the first rounds of the study.

As Jeremy Ginges, professor of psychology at The New School of Social Research, explains,

“Belief in gods may encourage cooperative norms that help us trade goods and ideas across group boundaries, which is essential to human flourishing. Of course, we are also a parochial species. Our team is now investigating how moral and supernatural beliefs help people balance their parochialism with their need for intergroup cooperation.”

Ginges then adds that there is a trend indicating that religion may prompt people to lend a helping hand more frequently. However, this is not always the case. Some members of a religion may believe that their faith requires them to support their own group more frequently than others.

Anyway, the results of this study demonstrate that religious faith is not responsible for as much intergroup violence, suffering, and distress. Contrary to this, religious faith actually helps strengthen interfaith connections.

The Religious Bias of Love and Prejudice

Many religious teachings emphasize love, kindness, and generosity as the primary cultural values. Whether or not you are religious, you have probably heard of the “Golden Rule.” It states that you should treat others as you would like to be treated. A version of this rule exists in all major world religions. Why does religious prejudice still exist?

Does religion increase moral behavior? Or, why do religious cultures explicitly or implicitly teach prejudice?

Religions encourage prosocial behavior and teach us to love each other. Religious teachings suggest people treat others with kindness, generosity, and positivity. Based on the review of many studies on religion and prosocial behavior, researchers have concluded that religious people’s faith tends to increase their prosocial behavior.

Why then don’t we always practice what we preach?

The Paradox of Religious Love

The question arises: why does religion also influence actions and viewpoints that seem to conflict with these religious principles?

Throughout history, religions have been a force behind atrocities like wars and massacres committed against people of other faiths. We know about the stories of religious crusades. We remember the French Wars of Religion in 1572 and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.

Why Religious People Can Be Prejudiced

While religion teaches prosocial behavior, research shows that when people identify themselves closely with one’s religion, this can lead to their racism and homophobia. The social psychological effect of intergroup bias can explain how religion can produce prejudiced attitudes and behaviors.

How Intergroup Bias Decreases Prosocial Behavior and Love

The intergroup bias is the human propensity to think favorably about the groups we are a part of — an “ingroup”.” Yet we think more negatively about the groups you are not a part of—”an outgroup.” While we think that outgroups violate our ingroup values, we perceive them as dangerous to our ingroup.

In light of this social psychological effect, we can understand why religious beliefs can produce both prosocial behavior and prejudice. On the one hand, people direct their prosocial behavior primarily at members of their own ingroup. On the other hand, people focus their prejudice on members of other groups, particularly those they view as threatening.

However, it is unclear whether religion boosts prejudice or if there is another factor at play. Annetta Snell and her colleagues thoroughly reviewed the findings of psychological research, which used priming techniques to explore whether religion might increase prejudice.

What the Priming Studies Are

Priming is the method of subtly encouraging someone to think about a thought or concept in such a way that they are barely conscious of this subtle influence. Researchers employ the strategy of priming to influence people’s opinions when they don’t want to be too explicit in their influence. The purpose of such priming is to increase a concept’s awareness in the brain of a person in order to detect differences in subsequent behaviors and attitudes.

In one type of priming technique, for example, people unscrambled short sentences with religious words. That was implicit religious priming. Then these participants responded to the questions that assessed their prejudice toward various religious groups.

Researchers compared the responses of these participants with those of other people, whom they primed with unreligious (neutral) words. The higher level of prejudice in the group primed with religious words than in the group primed with neutral words should provide evidence that religion causes prejudice.

What the Priming Studies of Religious Beliefs Show

Annetta Snell and her colleagues have reviewed 44 studies estimating how much this kind of priming increases prejudice. They concluded that the priming of religious thoughts increases prejudice across all target groups, such as Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. However, researchers found that this effect of religious priming is relatively small.

However, researchers found that priming religion increases prejudice toward members of sexual and gender minorities as well as towards atheists. These findings indicate that religious people tend to perceive members of sexual and gender minorities, as well as atheists, as especially threatening to their religious views. It is likely they perceive those as violating their religious values.

Thus, priming religious thoughts increases prejudice due to intergroup bias and perceptions of threat. However, it would be inadequate to excessively generalize these findings. When primed with religious thoughts, not all people show prejudice towards other groups. And religious leaders and community members can mitigate the negative social effects of religious prejudice if they explicitly oppose prejudice towards other cultural groups.