Agapó • (a-gha-pō) • verb
Definition: To love unconditionally
Origin: Greek (spelling: αγαπώ)
For as long as I can remember, I have always been frustrated at how American society oversimplifies the meaning of love. Love is always depicted as this grand, emotive, and romanticized feeling when there are so many different types of love that exist. Love is both a noun and a verb, but the English present tense spelling of it is still “love,” which makes it harder to conceptualize the distinction between love as an action or love as a feeling. By having only one word for something so complex and nuanced, it can limit our capacity to extend love in various other ways.
The Greeks, however, do not have this problem.
Agapó and Other Words for Love
The Greeks have multiple words for love, with “eros” and “philia” being the most well known in English. We have numerous words that use “philia,” such as “philosophy”, “philanthropy”, and “Philadelphia,” and it represents a familial love amongst friends and equals. We also use the word “eros” occasionally, which is a love that speaks to a more intimate or sexual type of connection. The definitions of “eros” and “philia” play importantly distinct roles in our lives because they are completely different forms of love. Having two separate words to express the different types of love you have for the various types of relationships in your life, makes it easier to express your emotions and strengthen your connection with that person without having to worry that it'll be confused with romantic love.
Agapó is the verb and agape is the noun of a third kind of love, which is oddly most commonly associated with Christianity. In Greek translations of the Bible, agape is used to describe God’s love of man and man’s love of God. God and man do not have an “eros” type of love, and since they are not considered equals, they do not have a “philia” type of love either. Agape spoke to the unconditional love between God and mankind, but it is unfortunate that we only think about this type of love within the realm of Christianity. The unconditional love of agape/agapó sounds like the all-encompassing love that every human being yearns for, yet tragically we struggle to find ways to comprehend it in contexts beyond Christianity. This can change.
Love as a Verb
Throughout our lives, we will not be able to form a philia or eros type of love with everyone we meet. In Greek, there is even a word ("storge") that expresses the specific love a parent has for their children. Yet, there should be a verb for extending a love that does not require becoming a parent, establishing a friendship, or having a sexual attraction to another human being, and this verb is agapó.
Imagine you were in a long-term relationship that ended but you still wanted the best for the other person. You probably no longer have eros love and creating a philia type of relationship by remaining friends doesn’t seem entirely feasible either. In English, we would technically be out of words to describe this relationship because it would be strange to say that you still “love” this person when things clearly have changed. Agapó fills this linguistic void by allowing you to continue caring about this person without having people misconstrue your love for another type of love. Your love for this person becomes less conditional in a sense because it is no longer contingent on which relationship category it fits into. If this person found themselves in a bad situation and needed your help one day, you would be able to help them by using agapó.
The verb agapó is so important because love as an action is very needed, and it isn’t enough to possess love only as a noun. You need to show it for people to believe that it exists. This is partially why agape/agapó are so integral to Christianity. God is not a physical being, so in order for people to believe that you love God, you have to show it.
The example of a long-term relationship is just one manifestation of agapó, but agapó can play an integral part in our lives. If you see someone in need and have the capacity to help them, you can change your agape into agapó. It is also totally possible that your “agapó” lands on the right person, and turns into “philia,” then “eros,” and then “storge” if you end up having a family. Nonetheless, agapó is the primary iteration of love that far too often seems like it is sorely missing from our society. Ensuring that it has its own word makes it harder to forget and easier to carry through.
Black Lives Matter and Agapó
As I thought about the need for agapó in America today, my mind went to a quote by Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the NBA nearly went on strike. Many of the players did not want to continue with the playoffs and the players, who are majority Black, began to question whether they should still entertain the American people as Black people were being shot by law enforcement. Eventually, the players decided to resume playing but they hoped to use their platform to spark change. During one interview, Rivers was asked about the Jacob Blake shooting and this is what he said,
“It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad.”
The language of the United States inclines people to believe that our democratic principles extend agape to all Americans when the reality is that this is a country fueled by conditional love. In America, communities of color are told to have a steadfast devotion to the nation with the promise that their love will be reciprocated, yet rarely does the love come back.
As the deaths of George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, and countless others show, America's response to Black existence is too often and too easily the use of deadly force and sustained injustice. We live in an intensely divided society built upon denying love to non-white people. To combat ethnocide in America we must prioritize the expression of unconditional love and agapó to people of color. Agapó is the name of the type of love America needs the most.