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Love in nursing: an approach from Plato

In different studies in the area of nursing1-3, there is a thing that appears as an attribute, a characteristic or essence of the area itself, a complex word that, on the one hand, seems to be quite worn out by time and, on the other hand, is overly used in different contexts, making it lose its sense, namely, love. We have already explained in previous studies developed in the Research Group Health Promotion and Nursing and Health Care Practices of Population Groups, linked to the Postgraduate Nursing Program of the Nursing Faculty of the State University of Rio de Janeiro, that love was characterized as a possible element in the central nucleus of the social representations of nurses about nursing4.

This question is complex and requires a thorough analysis of the philosophy, history, and epistemology of nursing, as well as other areas of knowledge that can shed light on this issue in order to delineate it properly. Of course, this widespread apprehension is not our interest here, nor is it feasible at this time. We adopted the objective of taking an approach from Plato5 to understand, even if initially, how the philosophical concept of love in Socrates can contribute to a better understanding of nursing and its care.

The first issue to appear is the rapprochement between love and beauty, which has an aesthetic depth that materializes itself in good and right actions, in what is true and fair. In the context of the platonic dialogue, the basis for this analysis - the Banquet5, something that does not have the beauty characteristic cannot be a foundation for love, since it permeates the process of creation of beauty both in the body and in the spirit. Thus, the philosopher still argues that the beauty materializes itself to be sensitive and to obey what is good and healthy in a particular body. Florence Nightingale could, with authority, add that nursing would have this inclination to love and beauty in order to enhance the health and life present in each body, stimulating the natural sources of the organic self-regeneration and integration into the social, cultural and spiritual sphere in which each person is inserted throughout its existence.

Based on Plato, we could define nursing as the "science of love in the bodies"5:34, understanding its own dynamics, its dialectics between fullness and emptiness, both sometimes in extreme situations. It is the understanding and the respect that a nurse must have for a newborn's heart that beats fast when compared to an adult's and the same organ that, in someone else, when it ceases to work, silences its normal rhythm and interrupts its work at the moment of death; a mother's body that makes a baby's birth possible when nature considers it to be able to survive externally, as well as the body that does not recognize itself anymore and produces antibodies for its own destruction. Everything is loaded with meaning that is socio-culturally built and shared.

The love that is exercised in nursing, the bedrock of the beauty, makes nurses able to realize this dynamics and thus produce a kind of knowledge, a technique and wisdom that limit its intervention in this cycle as much as possible and to the extent strictly necessary. In this process, it preserves human dignity, corporeity as an important symbol of its uniqueness in the world and the decisions of each one, both in their own bodies and lives.

In order to accomplish this, the nurses who wish to follow the Socratic path of love need to provoke the patient's body (i.e., leading to its initial vocation), so that the body allows the birth of the friendship between their mutual enemies. This can be materialized in the relation established between the mind and the heart, the oral cavity and the stomach, the mouth and the excretory organs, sexual desires and the adoption of safe habits in practice and so on and so forth. This love acknowledges the dialectics present in the body and recognizes the enmity that time, personal history and the cultural and social insertions may have configured over time. Love materializes itself in the harmony that nursing care is able to coalesce, increasing the possibilities of reversing pathological processes, increasing the quality of life and comfort to face illness and death.

Insofar as love, according to Plato, can manifest itself in the beautiful, in what is true, in what is just and in harmony, especially bodily harmony, it can also be considered "the bond that unites the whole to itself". 5:57 This organic harmony comes accompanied by spiritual harmony by linking the immanent to the transcendent, filling the empty space between both. Through the path of the absurd, sometimes life takes you to human existence, a feeling of existence of a whole, which gives meaning to the entire experience, stimulating a strong integration of negativity (pain and sorrow, for example) and positivity (life continues and the discovery of new possibilities, not yet seen), letting a fine hope cross this darkness and making days have more lightness, pride, dignity and balance.

To Plato, love allows the capacity of birth and procreation in body and spirit. Here, again, nursing feels provoked in its possibility of a significant presence next to the patients and in its capacity to generate a space of meaning that allows this body and spirit to constantly procreate thoughts, feelings, relations and actions, renovating everything that aged and making it immortal - from the Bergsonian idea of time/duration 6 that happens in that meeting, which can summarize life, be it with ourselves, the others or the Divine - the undisputed mortality of our bodies and their constituent elements.

Still in relation to this subject, immortality occurs, not in the myth of perpetual youth and in an ideal of continuity that automatically refreshes itself throughout the centuries, but in recognizing himself/herself finite in space and time, in the capacity that the human being has to exceed them insofar as he/she recognizes the magnitude of his/her being and accepts the possibilities and limitations of history itself unfolded in his/her existence. It is also evident in the indignation towards the limitations imposed by the situations and he/she decides to build another future, even if it is not a possible one within the ordinary current contexts, reaching a state of order even higher than it was before. And, finally, immortality materializes itself in the possibility of confronting grief and conflicts that exist before death arrives, in the word addressed to those who remain, in sharing the fear and despair in face of finitude, humanizing all that are involved in the process of death/dying and in the spiritual, social, cultural and intellectual heritage that is left, the result of a life open to the world and to people, with all the snags that characterize each of us.

Nursing can reaffirm love as one of its fundamental elements when it is based on Plato and when considering that this is not only a feeling, somewhat undefined and imprecise. This means helping patients who are taken care of, even in very critical situations, build their desires of procreation and creation that are rooted in the beauty, in justice, in what is true, in harmony and in coherence. In order for the human being, "in permanent contact with the beauty, and in its company, to conceive and give birth to those things that it had been pregnant of for a long time"5:66.


Antonio Marcos Tosoli Gomes
Associate Editor



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2.Oliveira CP, Kruse MHL. A humanização e seus múltiplos discursos: análise a partir da REBEn. RevBrasEnferm. [Internet]. 2006 [cited Oct 12 2015]; 59:78-83. Available at: . .

3.Vale EG, Pagliuca LMF. Construção de um conceito de enfermagem: contribuição para o ensino de graduação. RevBrasEnferm. [Internet]. 2011 [cited Oct 12, 2015]; 64:106 - 13. Available at: . .

4.Gomes AMT, Oliveira DC. A estrutura representacional de enfermeiros acerca da enfermagem: Novos momentos e antigos desafios. Revenferm UERJ. 2007; 15:168-75.

5.Platão. O banquete. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira; 2011.

6.Bergson H. As duas fontes da moral e da religião. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores; 1978.

Direitos autorais 2015 Antonio Marcos Tosoli Gomes

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