When we first feel what we call love for other human beings, it is usually a form of self-love. We love our mother because she loves us, we love our parents because they buy us Christmas gifts and take us to softball practice, and we love the prettiest girl in the class because looking at her makes us feel good. Then we feel love that acknowledges the other person, but is still often very shallow — we might give our first crush a rose on Valentines Day, but dont understand the other persons needs. Perhaps when they have a bad day, or need time with their friends, we ignore them or get upset when they seem to be ignoring us. This shallow love deepens into the ability to experience and appreciate a more mature and self-sacrificing relationship, like what occurs during a long-term relationship, or when we have a family. Then we have moved from thinking the first shadows we experienced are love, to finally seeing beyond the shadows, looking at what Plato would call the puppets.
Most of us never get past this point of deeper, but still materially-focused love. But the highest form of love, the love of a humanist like Martin Luther King Jr. Or Mother Teresa is the love of someone who sees the universal spirit in everyone. It is a Platonic love that transcends physicality and physical desire. This does not mean a person who experiences the Platonic form of love still cannot love his or her spouse, just that he or she can appreciate the highest form of love that is not physically driven. However, in our own modern culture, although we celebrate great humanists, we do not always celebrate this form of universal, Platonic love as the greatest love of all. We prefer self-love and sexualized romantic love, and interestingly, Platonic, non-sexual love has become a kind of synonym for a love that is not very strong at all, as when we refer to a Platonic friend..