All About Love: New Visions Summary

All About Love: New Visions is a 2000 work of nonfiction by bell hooks that explores the concept of love in the modern United States.

  • hooks addresses the simultaneous distrust of and longing for love that pervades modern American society and points out that there is no established definition of love.
  • Love, hooks argues, cannot thrive where sexism, racism, materialism, greed, addiction, abuse, judgment, cynicism, and fear of death run rampant.
  • Instead, love must be based on trust, communication, honesty, self-acceptance, equality, forgiveness, celebration of life, and the choice to nurture another person’s growth.

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Last Updated on April 21, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1397

hooks opens her discussion of love by reflecting on her youth and her confusion about what it means to be loved. Although her parents claimed to love her, their harsh words and punishment appeared to be at odds with their message. As an adult, she longed to recover the love...

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hooks opens her discussion of love by reflecting on her youth and her confusion about what it means to be loved. Although her parents claimed to love her, their harsh words and punishment appeared to be at odds with their message. As an adult, she longed to recover the love she thought she enjoyed in her early childhood. It was then that she began to reflect on the process of finding love and to learn the meaning of love.

She soon discovered that she was far from being the only person who felt forlorn about lovelessness in the 1980s and 90s. In fact, hit songs such as Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” seemed to express a profound sense of skepticism about love, if not outright dismissal, no less than the admissions of rapper Lil’ Kim and best-selling writer Elizabeth Wurtzel. Similarly bewildering to hooks were the widely divergent approaches to love in self-help books and philosophical treatises. In short, despite the seeming malaise, everyone seemed relentlessly desperate to know what it means to love and be loved.

hooks asserts that the first glaring issue is that there is no essential definition of love. Many simply regard it as an emotion that is aroused in a romantic partnership. Moreover, love is also misunderstood as effortless chemistry rather than a thoughtful choice to nurture a loved one’s spiritual growth through commitment, respect, and trust. She proceeds to explain that since nurturing is such an important ingredient, abuse should never be understood as a manifestation of love, regardless of how any parent rationalizes harsh words and corporal punishment to a child. Childhood abuse can only lead to either the toleration of abuse or the perpetuation of it later in one’s life. Instead, parents must teach their children to love by training them to take responsibility for their actions and inculcating self-discipline while exacting milder punishments when needed (e.g., time-outs and the denial of privileges).

No less problematic in the understanding of love is the sexism that is normalized by self-help books on love: for instance, writers that teach that men and women have different innate abilities and strategies when it comes to feeling and expressing love. She criticizes the prevalence of lying which is fostered by a patriarchal mindset that teaches men to prize dominance and control, as well as women who are socialized to patriarchal views of femininity by feigning weakness and manipulating men. Falsehoods, hooks warns, are always antithetical to any loving relationship, as love requires honest communication.

A start to finding love begins with the self. hooks emphasizes that self-love, in the form of self-acceptance and self-esteem, provides an essential foundation for finding love. She recommends daily affirmations, a determination to do one’s best even in work one abhors, and search for work that offers a loving environment. Drawing attention to the spiritual hunger in the nation whereby the various churches have absorbed the values of a cold capitalist culture, hooks urges readers to obtain a sacred connection to life by meditation, prayer, or visiting a temple, church, or mosque and creating a quiet sanctuary.

An awakening to love can only take place when the desire for power and domination is vanquished. hooks proposes the active challenging of racist and patriarchal ideas, blaming the conservative status quo for destroying individual morality and public ethics in America. When people are indoctrinated by a culture of domination to believe that safety lies in sameness, then difference, of any kind, will necessarily appear fearful. On the other hand, choosing to love means choosing to connect and identify with the other while avoiding alienation and separation.

Equally unfortunate is the heightened turn toward materialism and acquisition as well as a tolerance for corruption which emerged during the 1970s and 80s, when imperialistic wars were waged across the globe and public services were sacrificed as a result. This new fixation on acquisition, according to hooks, led many to expend less energy on love, especially with the accompanying problem of addiction in both poor and affluent communities. In short, greed destroys the spirit of connectedness that is necessary for human survival, replacing it with dangerous narcissism. hooks proposes that public policy be designed for the collective good of society, with efforts devoted to alleviating homelessness and addiction.

Shifting her focus back to individual families, hooks questions the efficacy of nuclear families.  When handing absolute rule to the adult parents, the abuse of power can lead families to become even more alienating and dysfunctional. By contrast, parenting works best for children when realized within the context of community and extended family networks. hooks observes that friendship among peers and the presence of enlightened witnesses—sympathetic adults—can also prove helpful in teaching children about the values of community.

Indeed, the love found among friends and family is as important as any other love, even though individuals have been socialized to privilege romantic relationships. hooks recalls that when she left an abusive romantic relationship, she realized that it was more fulfilling to live within “a circle of love,” which meant maintaining satisfying relationships with friends sustained through compassion and forgiveness.

Turning her attention to romantic relationships, hooks claims that when men long for power and women for emotional attachment in a Mars-and-Venus-gendered universe, few individuals learn to love. For centuries, sexist logic has taught people to accept the male inability to express feelings and female ability for nurturing as innate differences. To know love, then, gender stereotypes that form part and parcel of patriarchal paradigms must be rejected. Men should learn that there is more to love than erotic attraction and that the intensity of sexual intimacy does not serve as an adequate foundation for a loving relationship.

If partners strive to see each other as equals, the decision to abide by honesty is the first step in the process of love, followed by communication. The generous sharing of resources is another step, followed by a forgiveness which steers energy away from blame while fostering a sense of agency that ensures one can give and find love. Not least, hooks urges women to break their commitment when male partners refuse to awaken. 

From here, hooks reflects on the fear of death that is so prevalent. The more the public is exposed to spectacles of random violence and cruelty, the more fearful it grows in its daily obsession with safety. In actuality, it is the fear of threat rather than a real threat that is the catalyst for this raging anxiety. To live fully, hooks asserts, the fear of dying needs to be replaced by the love of living. Loving makes it possible for one to proceed from worshiping death to celebrating life. The loss of intimate loved ones and friends becomes less arduous with the realization that one has given their all. Here, too, hooks emphasizes the need to grieve fully rather than suppressing one’s grief.

She then outlines steps to the recovery of love. Accepting responsibility for one’s well-being, acknowledging brokenness, and welcoming salvation all serve to open the heart to healing. She reminds readers that while independence is important, it is equally crucial to seek communion with others, either by means of companionship with kindred souls or prayer and confession. Serving others can also offer a fruitful path to the heart as the ego is emptied and the needs of others are recognized and fulfilled. At the same time, she warns against judging others, which triggers personal alienation, keeping one immersed in shame. Cynicism and fear, being rooted in doubt and despair, are hardly less destructive by raising barriers to love.

Finally, hooks addresses woundedness. Experiencing an anguish of spirit as does Jacob when he wrestles with an angel, one faces the possibility of conversion and a change of heart. Dealing with woundedness is not about blaming others, even as it permits individuals who have been hurt to demand accountability and responsibility both from themselves and from those who hurt them, as well as from those who bore witness. Being loving helps one face betrayal without losing heart, thereby reviving the spirit so as to renew the capacity to love again. If the blessing the angel gives to Jacob comes in the form of a wound, the nation needs to gather its collective courage and acknowledge its lovelessness as a wound.

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