Famous Sayings: #48 — ‘Love and Be Loved…’

February 10, 2017

Love and be loved in return.

love and be loved, nature boy, eden ahbez, Nat King Cole, Sydney Smith, famous sayings, Valentine's Day

The first time I heard something like this was when I watched the movie “Untamed Heart” with Christian Slater and Marissa Tomei. At the start of the film and during the closing credits, the song “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole.

Afterward, I have heard this saying a few times, and at least one time in a children’s show.

The thing is: I have never really liked this saying. After looking into its origin, I will explain why.

Who First Used This Saying?

After doing the best I could, I found that “Love and be loved” might have originated in the mid-19th century. But I had to do more of my own digging.

My Initial Search

During my initial search, I was pointed to information on the person named Eden Ahbez, who wrote the lyrics to “Nature Boy.” There was a link to a page on Wikiquote.

On the Wikiquote website, eden ahbez (he preferred to have his name spelled in lower case) is credited with composing the song “Nature Boy,” which was sung by Nat King Cole and released in 1948.

More about ahbez in a moment.

I wasn’t satisfied with that answer and delved further. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to go on.

There was a link to a Yahoo! Answers page waiting to be clicked. After a while, I finally decided to follow the link.

Now, I normally try to avoid places like Yahoo! Answers, but the scarcity of information pushed me to go to a thread I found in my Google search. And I’m glad I clicked on it.

The thread was started at least 8 years ago, but the answer I found was posted in late 2015 to early 2016. There was a user, southernyankeefan, who put in the URL to another Wikiquote article. He also put in a quote from Syndey Smith and a title to a book with Smith’s writing.

Yahoo! Answers, Sydney Smith

Where the URL Led Me

First, I went to the Wikiquote page to look through Sydney Smith’s quotes, I finally found the quote I was looking for.

I also decided to search for a version of the book in question online, but there were two immediate options from the Internet Archive. I followed the first link, but none of my searches led me to the quote. However, the second book finally did.

It turns out the Wikiquote page was extremely helpful, as it points out to the exact letter where the quote in question could be found. During my search, I found that the quote I wanted was at the beginning of the letter entitled “Of Friendship.”

Here is the first paragraph of the letter:

Life is to be fortified by many friendships. To love, and to be loved, is the greatest happiness of existence. If I lived under the burning sun of the equator, it would be a pleasure to me to think that there were many human beings on the other side of the world who regarded and respected me; I could and would not live if I were alone upon the earth, and cut off from the remembrance of my fellow-creatures. It is not that a nan has occasion often to fall back upon the kindness of his friends; perhaps he may never experience the necessity of doing so; but we are governed by our imaginations, and they stand there as a solid and impregnable bulwark against all the evils of life.

I suggested you read the entire letter, which is very beautiful and progressive for its time. Smith was a writer and clergyman and these thoughts were published 10 years after his 1845 death.

Who Was Eden Ahbez?

The man known as Eden Ahbez was born Alexander Aberle on April 15, 1908 in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up as a Jewish boy and said he was raised in an orphanage.

In the 1940’s, ahbez ran into Nat King Cole’s manager, Mort Ruby, at the Lincoln Theater. Ahbez gave Ruby as manuscript with the song “Nature Boy.”

The song originally had a Yiddish melody, which was the same as “Schwieg Mein Hertz.” (Ahbez later settled out of court with the publishers of the older song after “Nature Boy” became a hit.)

Nat King Cole sung the song a few times in his show and would late record it on August 22, 1947. The song was arranged by Frank DeVol, it lost it original waltz melody and it was now rubato. Cole added a piano part that would be played by Buddy Cole.

The song wouldn’t be released until 1948 since Cole and his employer, Capitol Records, didn’t know what to do with the song. However, since word of mouth about Cole’s live performances began to spread, they figured it would be a good time to release the song. WNEW in New York first played the song, which quickly became a #1 hit for Capitol.

Ahbez would later compose another song for Cole, “Land of Love.”

Ahbez led an unconventional life style. He and his wife, Anna Jacobsen, camped out under the stars, even after the two had a son.

In 1960, Ahbez was finally approached by Bob Keane from Del-Fi Records. Ahbez recorded Eden’s Island, in which he recited his own songs and poetry

Eden Ahbez died on March 4, 1995 in Los Angeles, California after being hit by a car. Echoes from Nature Boy, his second album, was released posthumously by Accent Records (“Eden”).

Now, What Message Do I Draw from the Saying, “Love and Be Loved …”?

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

From the onset, I have had a negative view of these lines. While yes, there is a positive lesson in there (give love in order to receive it), being loved can ultimately be beyond our control.

We can control our actions but we cannot control the actions or feelings of others. One can be the nicest person in the world, but there are mean (and mean-spirited) people out there who take and who won’t appreciate others’ kindness. It’s sad but true.

There is another perspective, which I found on the website run by Darlene Quimet. I think hers is an important perspective.

Quimet, a certified profession life coach in Alberta, Canada, has devoted her blog to helping others and talking about emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse. A number of her posts deal with child abuse and how one can recover from the damage being done.

In a post entitled “The Problem with the Saying ‘Love and You will be Loved,’” Quimet talks about the harm that can be done when children are told “love and you will be loved,” particularly in parent-child relationships. Quimet points out that it’s the child who needs to be shown how to love in order for them to learn and love their parents.

Speaking of children: I often envision children at school when I hear “Love and be loved.” One child and be a loner who is hassled by other children for no good reason and there may be nothing he can do to ingratiate them to him. But why should he placate bullies? Like a said before, it’s beyond one’s control for the most part.

What do you take from the saying?


I struggled with going with this famous saying and another that was connected to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. If I went with Lincoln, I would have nothing for Valentine’s Day (although Lincoln’s birthday is closer), and I already planned to do “Love and Be Loved” anyway. I will visit Lincoln next week as we approach Presidents’ Day in the United States.

Works Cited

Austin, Sarah, Holland, Lady Saba and Smith, Sydney. A memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. Harper & brothers. New York; 1855. Print. Pages 129-130. <https://archive.org/stream/amemoirreverend03austgoog#page/n129/mode/2up/search/loved>.

Austin, Sarah, Holland, Lady Saba, and Smith, Sydney. A memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. By his daughter, Lady Holland. With a selection from his letters. New York Harper. 1855. Print. <https://archive.org/details/memoirofreverend02smituoft>.

“Eden Ahbez.” Space Age Pop Music. Web. Retrieved 10 Feb 2017. Web. <http://www.spaceagepop.com/ahbez.htm>.

Law Nolte, Dorothy. “Children Learn What They Live.” Via Blinn College. Web. Retrieved 9 Feb 2017. <http://www.blinn.edu/socialscience/LDThomas/Feldman/Handouts/0801hand.htm>.

Quimet, Darlene. “The Problem with the Saying ‘Love and You will be Loved.’” Emerging from Broken. 21 July 2012. Web. Retrieved 9 Feb 2017. <http://emergingfrombroken.com/the-problem-with-the-saying-love-and-you-will-be-loved/>.

Various. “Sydney Smith.” Wikiquote. Last Updated 30 Nov 2016. Web. Retrieved 9 Feb 2017. <https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Sydney_Smith>.

Various. “Who came up with the quote ‘the greatest gift you’ll ever learn is just to love & be loved in return’?” Yahoo! Answers. Last Updated 2016. Web. Retrieved 9 Feb 2017. <https://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090514062304AAeopU9>.


2 thoughts on “Famous Sayings: #48 — ‘Love and Be Loved…’

  1. Yes I can see some truth in this statement but trying to prove the actual behaviors about what this means is difficult. Tomorrow is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. any thoughts for a blog?


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