Our Need for Love

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Our Need for Love

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A landmark 1945 study by René Spitz established that love is so vital to infants that those deprived of it may perish for want of it.

The study looked at "a hospital where a group of children—all under three years of age—were fed and clothed adequately but, because of too few nurses, given very little personal attention. No one talked to them, carried them around, or cuddled them. The human results were devastating: within two years fully a third of the children had died and the rest were mentally retarded . . . The conclusion seemed to be clear: loving attention is as essential as food for the human infant" (James McKee, Sociology: The Study Of Society, 1981, p. 79).

That people need love is considered a basic truth by many scientists. In "Can't Do Without Love," U.S. News and World Report reported that biologists "know that love is central to human existence . . . The capacity for loving emotions is . . . written into our biochemistry, essential if children are to grow and thrive" (Feb. 17, 1997, p. 58).

Recent research has shown that even intelligence in children—and hence the ability to excel at many tasks—depends to some degree on loving attention and communication.

"According to recent findings, the neuron links that are the keys to creativity and intelligence in later life are mainly laid down by the age of 3 . . . the main factor in establishing these connections . . . [is] interactions with an attentive adult. The sight, sound, touch, smell, and, especially, the intense involvement, through language and eye contact, of parent and child affect the number and sophistication of links within the brain . . . This word play is so important that those left behind at age 2 may never catch up" (U.S. News and World Report, Aug. 18, 1997, p. 92).

What does this mean? Love and loving communication are essential not only for the emotional, but also for the intellectual development of a child. "When babies are cared for by caring adults, they become much better learners and are much more confident to take over the world" (ibid.).

If children do not receive loving attention, they will not be well equipped to function in society. They need the love of their parents to succeed. "Dependency assures that parents are the source of everything important to infants: food, comfort, love, models of success and maturity" (Betty Hart and Todd Risely, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, 1995, pp. 181-182).

It isn't only children who depend on love for their well-being. Although generally less vulnerable than children, adults also suffer when deprived of love. "Love's absence can be devastating: The loss of a spouse often hastens death in older people" (U.S. News and World Report, Feb. 17, 1997, p. 58).

"A pattern of susceptibility to disease is apparent in those with disrupted or weakened social ties. People who are single, separated, divorced or widowed are two or three times more likely to die than their married peers. They also wind up in the hospital for mental disorders five to ten times as frequently" (Robert Ornstein and David Sobel, The Healing Brain, 1987, p. 119).

Life's challenges are more easily managed when we have the support that loving relationships provide. The Bible confirmed this truth more than 3,000 years ago: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). It also tells us, "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27:17).

The wisdom of the Bible and many assenting human voices tell us that people who lack affectionate ties with others find it difficult to make life work. The mutual giving and receiving that flow from personal relationships increase life's worth. God created us with the need to be connected to other people. These ties give significance and satisfaction to life.