First of all – don’t be fooled, this is neither an excessively sentimental promotion of Valentines Day nor a rant on how horribly commercial it all is. Well not really. For a start, if we get right back to the roots of Valentines Day, it’s a Pagan fertility festival that involves naked men spanking women and crops with the bloodied skin of a sacrificial goat. Not really something you’d find at Clinton’s Cards.
However, this doesn’t mean that Valentines Day is a waste of time or cardboard. The significance of an event can transition just as the meaning of a word can. Maybe celebrating love isn’t such a bad thing (!) Or not at least, if we open up our understanding of what it is instead of relying on vacuous song lyrics.
I Wanna Know What Love Is
About a year ago, I spotted a copy of Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving at a second-hand book fair and being a little disillusioned with love at that time I bought it. Far from a manual on Karma Sutra, Fromm ‘s book is a philosophical analysis on love and the way it manifests in all kinds of different relationships; romantic, family, friendships and even community relationships. The most important thing I took away from Fromm’s book was this: that love is an art.
Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love….Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable.
Any good philosophy student would supplement this statement with examples, but I’m sure you have your own list and I wouldn’t want to bore you with my experiences. Only think about how much energy you spend worrying about if someone really loves you. We assume that our part in loving someone is easy to come by; and we equate it to the feeling of butterflies in the stomach when we first meet someone and we feel resentful when this feeling dies down.
Yet Fromm suggests we really need to be confronting another issue; how to love instead of going through a constant cycle of build-up and disillusion. He does not equate that feeling of butterflies in the stomach to love, though that is not to say it can’t be part of the process. In order to learn how to love we must approach it like we would any other art, by acquainting ourselves both with it’s theory and practice. For more on Fromm’s theory you can check out his essay online. In terms of the practice; if for example, you want to learn to play the violin, you don’t expect to turn into Vanessa Mae overnight, even after you have read all of the books on the topic. You have to practice, make horrible squeaky sounds and strengthen your finger muscles to really get good. The same goes for love.
Love is a Battlefield
But I’m not sure where to start. First of all, it’s hard to identify when you’re on the right track. With a violin in general, you know when it sounds squeaky that something is off, but it’s not always that explicit with love. And who are the Vanessa Maes of love that we should be aspiring to? I’ll leave that one up to you again.
Secondly, when you learn to play the violin you can put it down whenever you like and forget about it, get on with your life. Love however is much more all-encompassing than violin practice. It is much messier and neurotic. It’s analysing every detail of a text message, it’s going to family gatherings motivated by guilt; it’s looking for recognition at work. Love is so complicated.
So why would we want to celebrate this messy, erratic part of ourselves?
The Power of Love
I recently watched the film Occupy Love which highlights the importance of love in overcoming the current social and ecological injustices by telling the story of the movements happening across the world including The Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring and the environmental movement. It does this whilst posing the question How can we turn the economic crisis into the greatest love story ever told? This might sound a little crazy at first, but let me tell you a little about what Charles Eisenstein (one of my Vanessa Maes of love) said on this topic. According to him, the new revolution doesn’t have an enemy to fight. It might seem easy to place the blame on some of the people at the top; politicians, bankers, corporations but maybe the next step towards real social change is for us to be compassionate towards them. Imagine being them; living with the responsibility of what you have done, the lives you have ruined. Whether these ‘big’ guys are aware of their wrongdoings or not, whether they even care; just try to humanize them for a second and imagine what their lives might actually be like. Do you think they enjoy being social bloodsuckers? When I think about politicians in this country I wonder if Cameron’s hug-a-hoodie campaign needs to be flipped to hug-a-politician?
But this isn’t exactly what Eisenstein and the creators of the film are talking about; they propose the need to express our love in more powerful and creative ways doing things like building community resilience and engaging in gift economy. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet and it’s a bit risky but love is and always has been that way. I’ll keep you updated on my findings.
All You Need Is Love
Essence of the new revolution or not, I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s something about love which inherently makes it worth celebrating. Probably because for better or for worse, it plays a huge role in our lives and if there wasn’t so much love there wouldn’t be so much pain. So let’s use Valentines Day as an excuse to celebrate what love really looks like and only you know what that is.
Finally some words from a poem by Rumi that reflect the only thing I have really learnt about love:
Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground. Be crumbled,
so wildflowers will come up
where you are.
You’ve been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
The utopia is inside us all, just have hope and keep practicing. Happy Valentines Day.