BALTIMORE (AP) — Dr. Armin Zadeh was well established in his career as a cardiologist and professor at Johns Hopkins when he and his wife received news that shook their high-achieving lives.
The baby Denise was carrying — their third child — would be born with Down syndrome.
Zadeh’s first reaction, he regretfully admits, was disappointment: He knew he’d probably never be able to share with his son the kind of intellectual back-and-forth he loves.
Then the physician stepped back to glimpse a bigger picture.
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“It took me a while to realize that I was being selfish to worry about my unfulfilled expectations, instead of asking what the diagnosis would mean for (his son’s) life,” Zadeh writes in his new book, “The Forgotten Art of Love: What Love Means and Why It Matters,” published in December.
“Since (it) was not associated with any impairment to giving or receiving love . my initial response of sadness was unjustified.”
It is exactly this kind of inner conflict — the tension we feel between what we want for ourselves and the viewpoints of others — that lies at the heart of Zadeh’s book, a general-interest exploration of love that took ten years to write.
The core message is that love is not simply a magical feeling that befalls us from time to time, but a positive force we can summon through the intellect. Some say it could not be more timely.
Dr. Peter V. Rabins, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is the author of “The Why of Things,” a 2013 exploration of causality in science and in life.
“In this age of hookup apps, and with all the stuff about sexual harassment that has come out in the last month or so, I’ve been thinking there’s so little discussion about love itself,” Rabins says. “It’s brave of (Zadeh) to take it on because it’s a big topic. I think it’s a modern, enlightening, very accessible read coming from a medical doctor.”
It might also prove helpful, Rabins adds, given the hostility of our current political discourse.
“The fact that people are so passionate about politics tells us that it’s important, but that can also take away from our recognition that love is also crucial,” he says. “Love isn’t all you need, as the Beatles said, but it’s an important part of life that should balance these other factors.”
Zadeh, 52, says the very notion of a busy physician’s writing a general-interest book, let alone one on such an elusive topic, is so unusual that he’s not sure how his Hopkins colleagues will react when they first see the final product, other than to wonder how he found the time.
He wrote it, he says, a page or so at a time, during stolen moments over the past decade.
Zadeh downplays the notion that being a cardiologist gives him an inside perspective on matters of the heart, other than to say that scientists have indeed found ties among depression, mental health and heart disease.
But his family background, innate curiosity and passion for scientific inquiry drove the project.
In “Forgotten Art” and in person, Zadeh recounts with mixed emotions the influence of his father, a successful academician who, with the best of intentions, pressured Armin so hard to get good grades that the young man grew up wondering whether he was only as lovable as his last report card.
As a teen, he remembers, he pulled down from his parents’ bookshelf a copy of “The Art of Loving,” the landmark 1956 book by the psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm.
Though he was disappointed to learn the book was not a Western equivalent of the Kama Sutra, he found it fascinating — particularly the strange idea that love is a skill that can be taught and developed.
Over the years, as Zadeh worked to complete his education and establish himself as a professional, he not only continued pondering the subject but took note of how what he was learning provided new frameworks for understanding love.
Thinkers and philosophers from the ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians to Confucius, Jesus, Dante Alighieri and C.S. Lewis have explored the matter, he knew, and brilliantly.
But during the past 10 to 15 years, as scientists developed and refined techniques for mapping emotions in the brain, Zadeh decided it was time to write the book he’d been thinking about for so long.
“Forgotten Art” reinforces Fromm’s central point, but examines love from a range of perspectives. Zadeh draws on pop and academic psychology, history, religion, philosophy, literature, neuroscience and even endocrinology to tackle the big questions: Do romantic attraction and love differ? Are there different kinds of love, and if so, what do they have in common? Is love a skill that can be taught?
Zadeh explains that blood analyses and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain show that the “falling-in-love” phase of relationships is decidedly different from long-term love. After one to four years of courtship, hormone levels invariably return to normal.
“Divorce rates peak at four years of marriage,” he writes, “suggesting that breakups may be linked to falling levels of love hormones and the associated decrease of powerful sensations.”
If that finding can help partners develop more realistic expectations about love, so can others in the book offer help in dealing with issues unique to our contentious cultural landscape.
Because love is an art — a conscious surrender of our own self-serving motivations in the service of others — we can apply it whenever we choose, Zadeh argues.
Knowing this can be helpful, Scott Stabile says, whether we’re tempted to cheat on a spouse, victimize someone who’s vulnerable, or yell at a friend or loved one about taxes or immigration.
Stabile is the author of “Big Love: The Power of Living With a Wide-Open Heart.”
“The disconnect in communication we’re experiencing, the distance between family members and friends over politics — no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, it’s painful,” Stabile says. “But if someone you know posts something on Facebook that enrages you, are you going to respond in kind, or are you going to take ten seconds to cool down and remember that this is a human being on the other side of the dialogue?
“I may not connect with their idea, but if I can take the time to think about what struggles they might have gone through in their lives to bring them to their point of view, we can still have a connection based on love and mutual respect.”
“Love is a struggle,” he says. “Having strong disagreements over things like politics, money, values and religion can start to get entangled in how we relate to other people. (The book) is a good reminder that sometimes we also have to work at keeping those things separate from our feelings for the other person, and there’s a real value in that.”
Zadeh says remembering to be loving is as much a challenge for him as it is for anyone else. But being mindful of the challenge helps.
In any case, he says, it didn’t take him long to see how perfectly his views on love applied in the case of his son, Luca, now 10.
Luca still struggles with intellectual disabilities, his father says, but impresses nearly everyone he meets with his loving nature, good cheer, and concern for others.
“Those are qualities we should all have,” Zadeh says, “if we want to have happy lives.”
Information from: The Baltimore Sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com