The question about purpose in life seems to be written in our DNA, and everyone has a different answer. The skeptic asserts that you cannot be sure that you actually are here, the relativist says you’re here for whatever reason you want to be here, and nihilists say there really is no reason for you to be here. But, it is only in reflection upon the nature of the human person that we may find a definitive purpose in living.
Many philosophers have come to the conclusion that man is merely a high-functioning animal. Others say that man is a bundle of experiences connected by psychological continuity. Still others insist that man is a rational being with a will capable of choosing. Dietrich von Hildebrand insists that a person is much more. In his book, The Heart, Hildebrand writes: "it is the heart which is the most intimate part of the person, the core, the real self, rather than the will or the intellect...The heart is here not only the true self because love is essentially a voice of the heart; it is also the true self insofar as love aims at the heart of the beloved in a specific way."(1) According to Hildebrand, the heart is what truly sets humanity apart and is the “true self” of the person. If we accept this view, we may conclude that love is a purpose of ours, as love is the heart’s primary function.
Though this is a lovely thought, it may seem difficult to put into practice. If we consider the heart and love to be central to our lives, then it will manifest itself in different ways, and we will have different ways of growing in love. No two people are made alike, we all have different talents and challenges. As such, no two lives can be lived the same way, even if they share the same values. It is important for each of us to decide not only what we value, but how best to participate in that value.
One author that has written about the different manifestations of love is Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages.(2) In his book, Chapman describes different ways that people show love and desire to receive love. The five categories, called “love languages” are; physical touch, gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, and acts of service. By using these categories, we may come to better understand the ways in which we may grow in love. If you have a family member whose love language is quality time, a good way to show that you care about them would be to set up a time where the two of you can spend time together and have good conversation. A friend who prefers physical touch could be comforted by a hug or even a pat on the back. Identifying the ways in which we participate in our goals can help us grow in them.
For Hildebrand, the heart is essential to man, and love is his highest calling. As such, all people desire to participate in love. As Hildebrand says, “[Love] is a response to a person's being.”(3) In this way, Hildebrand reaffirms the centrality of the heart in the essence of man. One way we can “respond to a person’s being” and treat them with love is to take the time to get to know them and learn about the ways that love is manifested for them. Love languages are a practical way for us to treat people as beings that were made for love and in doing so, fulfill our highest calling.
- Dietrich von Hildebrand, Ethics
- Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages
- Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Art of Living