It's always a wise thing to know the backstory of something you're involved in and to remain curious about where it came from and what it really means. We've just celebrated Valentine's Day and there are two ways I get reminded of this, even though I'm self-employed and single. Valentine's Day was my Dad's birthday -- he would have been 97 this year. And a neighbour across the street -- who is very fond of all the holidays! -- has a full display of hearts festooning her front porch.
Where did Valentine's Day come from? How does our story of love need to change? What's your story of love going forward?
Where did it come from?
Valentine's Day is more properly the feast day of St Valentine, who apparently died in 269 or 270AD after disregarding a ban on marriage for soldiers put in place by Emperor Claudius. He married them in secret and even performed a healing on a young girl, sending her a note signed "Your Valentine" just before he was executed.
In 14th century Britain, at the time of courtly love, Geoffrey Chaucer's circle took up this day, and in the 18th century it was a time of couples expressing their affection. By the 19th century the first mass produced Valentine's cards were made. Now we are all about roses, chocolate and romance.
Valentine's Day has mixed memories for me. When I was in elementary school, we celebrated Valentine's Day by wondering for weeks ahead if we would get any cards on the day and how many. We brought empty cereal boxes to school, and in class, we made them into mailboxes, cutting a slit in the front for the cards to slip in, decorating them and attaching them to side of our desks.
Then we would take up paper, scissors and glue and make our cards. Would we sign them or not? Who would our secret Valentine's be? I remember the air of excitement and cutting up paper doilies to make a fancy edge to my red construction paper hearts.
I don't remember any worry about being included or any other child who didn't seem to belong, but then again, until the age of twelve I felt very in charge and at home in my world. I think that changed for many of us as adolescence ended and our expectations of love changed.
So many of us have an expectation that love equals romantic love and that this is the pinnacle of the expression of love. But there's more to the story of love than that...
I'm a language lover. Every language has its way of expressing concepts important to a certain group of people. Just as there are multiple ways to speak about rain for a Dutch person or multiple concepts for "I" in Japanese, the Greeks have seven different ways to speak of love.
Eros is passionate love, a form of madness brought on by Cupid's arrows. Eros is what we most think about in romantic love and the opposite of Logos or reason. One of my Greek colleagues once told me that it is commonly know that there are three things needed to create anything new -- Gaia, or earth. The ground of something. Chaos, a shaking up of the known, and Eros, the passion or fire that brings life.
Philia is what they call friendship or goodwill. Philia is based on trust, companionship, dependability and mutual benefit. For Plato, this is the friendship lovers have for each other, when the first passions have deepened into something else. The word "philosophy' includes the word philia and Sophia, the feminine wisdom of God. Literally, the love of wisdom. Real friends support each other to be their best and thereby live more fully.
Storge ('store-gae') is familial love, the love between parents and children. This kind of love does not depend on the personality or personal qualities, but is born from dependancy and familiarity. It is an unconditional fondness, something that eros can only become over a longer time.
Agape is even broader, a universal love, the kind people feel for nature, animals, strangers or whatever they feel is the higher power. In our current context, you might call that altruism and it is associated both with greater mental health and longevity and with creating a strong social fabric that protects, sustains and enriches people and their relationships.
Ludus is the playful, flirtatious, uncommitted side of love. There are no strings attached, the focus is on fun, seduction or conquest. These relationships are casual and easy and best when both parties are mature, otherwise ludus can be mistaken for eros and complications arise.
Pragma is founded on shared goals, duty and making things work. Relationships that start out as eros or ludus can end up as storge and pragma. Think about power couples, political running mates and arranged marriages.
Philautia is the love spoken about in the story of Narcissus -- self-love. It can be either unhealthy, as in hubris or an inflated sense of entitlement or arrogance. It is placing yourself above the common good. As for Narcissus, he starved himself staring at the beauty of his own reflection. Philautia can also be healthy self-esteem. As Nathaniel Brandon defined it in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, a good mixture of feeling worthy to be here and also competent in the world.
There are so many ways love can be expressed. When I think about the realm of story, I naturally think about its companion -- listening. You might say that
Listening is love in action. It is possible to listen a better story out of someone than they ever thought they could tell. Story responds to the space made for it.
Listening is one of the most powerful ways you can demonstrate your care for someone else. Give them your time, your attention and your unconditional positive regard. Becoming a great listener, and even better -- a great witness -- will reap the rewards of trust, respect and deepened relationship.
And while you're thinking of expressing love to those you care about, realise that everyone has their own love "dialect", as Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, demonstrates. Just like crafting your story to meet your audience helps it to arrive in them, expressing your love in a way that meets the needs of its intended recipient helps it to be felt more deeply.
Whoever you are -- and wherever you are -- take a little time today to think about how you are expressing your love in the world. Could you take some time to listen? Could you leave a post it note with some uplifting words where it might make a difference? Could you love yourself enough to do something you've always wanted to do?
Here's an idea -- make a difference and don't claim the credit. The "surprises" or acts of kindness you make could be transformational. Take Hector Elizondo reading "Somebody Loves You, Mr Hatch" as an inspiration.
Declare yourself a Love practitioner and start small. Take a step every day. Be kinder in your workplace. Pick up rubbish in the street. Smile more often. Little things can make a big difference. And these days, every little bit counts.