The feelings, thoughts, and acts of doing good for the one you love are a feature central to the concept of love across many different cultures and historic eras of humankind. According to many studies, the benevolence of love might be a more important feeling and act for various kinds of love than the experience of passion, intimacy, commitment, and attachment.

Love Is Benevolence

Benevolence and altruism are commonly driven by a desire to help others. Most likely, kindness is the highest form of love. It is the desire to do something good for someone else, including the beloved, loved ones, and anyone else who deserves it.

Are Humans Benevolent by Nature?

Humans, according to some philosophers, scientists, and theologians, are an altruistic species by nature.However, they suggest the importance of differentiating the concepts of “benevolence” and “altruism.” They also advise that the meaning of each of these concepts varies depending on the social conditions of living (Jencks, 1990; Nunney, 2000).

Scholars illustrate how the human experiences of benevolence and altruism evolve in certain social and cultural contexts. (e.g., Flescher & Worthen, 2007; Jellal & Wolff, 2002; Nunney, 2000; Sober & Wilson, 1998).

The findings of historical and cultural investigations are generally in accord with this assertion of the nearly universal nature of benevolence and altruism (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019). Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that many cases of the adversity, selfishness, and aggression that people have experienced and exhibited in the past may contradict such a declaration.

Cross-cultural Universality of Benevolent Love

The anthropological and linguistic studies of love have explored the universality of the idea of benevolent love. These studies have revealed that cultural views on and understanding of love can vary significantly in many societies. This evidence makes it challenging to compare the love lexicon across cultures and languages (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019).

For example, some societies do not have the word “love” in their vocabulary. Some researchers in linguistics believe that the word “love” is too abstract to denote the reality of human life. Many researchers may agree with this statement. Love exists in human life in various kinds and types of love, like kinship love, maternal love, romantic love, marital love, and others. Love exists in people’s lives in various feelings, emotions, attitudes, traits, and values. All these varieties of loving ideas, experiences, expressions, and actions have their own words.

According to cultural anthropologists and psycholinguists, the corresponding words have only recently evolved in some languages and societies. For centuries, many other, more specific, words denoted specific aspects of human experiences associated with the modern abstract notion of love. This is why, in various cultural contexts, people have had other words that express particular experiences, expressions, and acts of love. Because there are so many different ways to talk about love, it is hard to find words that mean the same thing in different languages (see Karandashev, 2017; 2019; 2022a). 

A Simple and Universal Linguistic Formula of Love

Nevertheless, some language researchers, like Anna Wierzbicka, have been persistent in their search for basic linguistic universals of love. Anna Wierzbicka has demonstrated that love lexicons substantially vary and can denote different things in different cultures and languages. Nevertheless, all cultures and languages are capable of communicating the ultimate meaning of love. This meaning of love is the same in all cultures, and it can be expressed in a simple formula:

“Person X does good things for person Y.”

(Wierzbicka, 1999).

So, it seems that the key cross-culturally universal meaning of love is the experience, expression, and action of giving and doing something good for another person. This is why true love is benevolent love.

The Universality of Benevolent Love Across Cultures

Benevolent love has been an enduring cultural concept for centuries.

The ancient Greek word “agape” meant benevolent, altruistic love for everyone, including family members and people you don’t know.

The comparable Latin word of the ancient Romans for this kind of benevolent love for all was “caritas.”

Christian teachings elevated benevolent love as “agape,” defining it as universal, selfless, and all-giving love to others. Agape love is completely selfless and gives without expecting anything in return.

The ancient Chinese word “ren” meant benevolent love for others. The word conveys the same benevolent meaning even though it has a specific meaning inspired by Confucian teachings that originated in ancient Chinese civilizations of past centuries.

The cross-cultural concept of benevolent love for all and everyone is present far beyond Western and Eastern cultures, far beyond Christian and Confucian religious traditions. This type of benevolent love has its own lexicon in many languages (Lomas, 2008). Here are some examples.

The Indian Sanskrit word “maitrī“means benevolence and loving-kindness.

The word “metta” is a culturally traditional Buddhist concept for lovingkindness.

The Yiddish word “gemilut hasadim”  describes the concept of loving kindness in Jewish culture.

In the Inuit language of indigenous peoples of the Arctic regions, the word “pittiarniq” expresses the meaning of benevolent love.

The Nguni Bantu word “ubuntu” of many African cultures also bears the meaning of benevolent love for all others, for humanity overall.

The Pashto language of Persian origins has the word “melmastyā́,” which essentially conveys the meaning of welcoming love for others, whether they are members of one’s own tribe or strangers. I could provide many other cultural and linguistic examples that show the benevolent nature of love (Karandashev, 2022a).

Victor Karandashev

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