Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo

Last week “The World Book of Love” was launched in Brussels and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo invited me for lunch. He was so taken with the book that he immediately decided to give it as a present to all his ministers. “More love in the world can only be a good thing,” he said. In a previous existence Di Rupo organised the “Film Festival of Love” in his home city of Mons.

Elio Di Rupo had previously expressed his appreciation for the earlier work in this series, “The World Book of Happiness”. As a scientist himself, he was particularly interested by the scientific approach of the book: 100 researchers from 50 different countries summarised in simple language what we know about happiness. The quality of life and the happiness of people have become important new parameters in political and economic thinking.  That is also the conclusion of Professor Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, with whom I work closely. It was Layard’s ideas that inspired the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, to give “The World Book of Happiness” as a present to all the world’s leaders.

Today, Elio Di Rupo argues in favour of greater warmth and personal contact.  It is for this reason that he regards it as an appropriate symbolic gesture to give “The World Book of Love” as a present to his 12 ministers and 6 secretaries of state. In the book, they will be able to distil the essence of what modern science currently knows about the most powerful force that binds people together: love. In this respect, the book is not only about romantic love, but also about related themes such as solidarity, neighbourliness, charity, respect, trust and better relations between people. A Danish professor also explains why love for your country of origin can also be important.

What’s more, the book gathers together knowledge and insights from around the world. This was the reason why the first copies were presented in Brussels to 25 “international” couples, where the partners are from different lands. At this presentation, the differences in the various ways of expressing love were immediately noticeable.  An Austrian woman related how before her marriage to a Flemish man has she compiled a book of do’s and don’ts that would govern the way the couple behaved towards each other: for example, the Austrians don’t kiss and dance, and they don’t make jokes about their language or their food.  The Mexicans standing next to her could hardly believe their ears: in Mexico a boy who cannot dance will never find a sweetheart and kissing in public is a true expression both of love and the desire to possess the other partner physically.  This, in turn, made a Chinese woman in the group shiver with distaste. For her, modesty and reserve are the most crucial things in a relationship.  In fact, in her culture your family is actually more important than your partner.  The Flemish woman married to an Italian confirmed that their passionate reputation was well justified, but added that not many people know how much attention and respect Italian men show towards their partners.

All these differences show that the concept of ‘love’ is really nothing more than a construction, which is first and foremost defined by cultural considerations. But the basis of this construction is always to be found, as recent brain research has shown, in a universal experience that is the same for everyone, whether they are homo or hetero, man or woman, American or Chinese. It is the most powerful force that binds us together.

Leo Bormans
The World Book of Love