Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day is about feeling special

Valentine’s Day is about feeling special - making others feel special and experiencing the feeling of being special.

As a celebration of love, Valentine’s Day gained traction in medieval times.  Prior to the 14th century, it was a feast day in honor of Saint Valentine.  Valentine was a priest who defied Emperor Claudius II’s edict that forbad young men to marry, until he was caught, condemned and executed. As the legend goes, he healed and fell in love with the daughter of one of the judges who had condemned him.  On the day of his execution he sent her a note and signed it “From your Valentine”.   The salutation, as we know, has become standard, and frequently expresses the romantic attachment between two people.

Today’s culture emphasizes the romantic aspect of the day, probably because romance translates into dollars.  Last year, Canadians spent a whopping $3.38 billion on jewellery, $6.38 billion on wine, and $70.9 million on flowers in honour of romantic love.

The National Retail Council estimates that this year total consumer spending for Valentine’s Day in the United States will reach $18.2 billion.  To be fair, some of that amount includes spending on gifts for children, parents, teachers, friends, co-workers, and pets. Still, lovers will spend, on average, over $85 on their significant other compared to about $27 on family members.  They will spend $4.3 billion on jewellery, $3.8 billion on an evening out, and $2 billion on flowers.

Spending aside, the rituals of Valentine’s Day, from candlelight dinners at tony restaurants to cupcakes with pink icing and cinnamon hearts shared in an elementary school classroom, express many different forms of love.

The English language is not very inventive when it comes to describing love.  We use the same word to describe the way we feel about all sorts of things. We might love to ski, our morning coffee, the movie we watched last night, or a special outfit.  We love our pets.  We love our spouse, children, parents and friends. 

The ancient Greeks were more sophisticated when it came to describing emotional attachment. They spoke about six forms of love.  
  • Eros expressed passion or intense desire. It was the fire within, and like a fire, eros could get out of control and become destructive. 
  • The concept of philia included friendship, appreciation of others, as well as loyalty to family, community and even the workplace. 
  • Storge referred to the love between children and parents. Unlike eros and philia that depended on an individual’s personal qualities, storge arose from feelings of dependency.  
  • Ludus could be the affection between young children, puppy love, or flirtatiousness. Ludus relationships were playful, casual and uncomplicated. 
  • Agape referred to the love of God for man and of man for God.  Agape was selfless and encompassed all humanity.  
  • Pragma described the mature love found in successful marriages. Where eros expressed the feeling of falling madly in love, pragma reflected the will and commitment required to maintain a loving relationship for the long haul. 
  • Philautia described love of self.  Like eros, philautia could be good, as in having healthy self-esteem and treating one’s self with kindness, or bad, as in being narcissistic. 

Valentine’s Day gives us a chance to celebrate the critical human experience of loving and of being loved across the spectrum of these various types of emotional attachments.

The simple acts of loving kindness that we enact on Valentine’s Day can move passion towards a mature and life-giving relationship, express friendship, enhance family bonds, communicate our concern for others, and nurture a sense of self-worth.  In an otherwise ho-hum, often dreary month, Valentine’s Day rituals brighten the landscape of the heart. 

My appreciation of Valentine’s Day has remained undiminished over the years. While never a big spender on the day, I like to mark it in some way.  It’s a playful, light-hearted way to celebrate something that is of great importance - the beauty of relationship and the uniqueness of the individual.

Valentine’s Day celebrates our ability to love. While we may not have the vocabulary of the ancient Greeks to distinguish between and define the various forms of love, our Valentine’s Day rituals express them all – passion, friendship, self-giving, commitment and healthy love of self.  Our rituals, large or small, are visible signs of the regard in which we hold one another.  Regardless of spending, love makes everyone feel special.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Leave a legacy: be your own "Person of the Year"

It was no surprise that Time magazine selected Donald Trump as 2016 person of the year.

The magazine’s annual pick recognizes someone who has most influenced events, for better or for worse, and like it or not, Trump’s influence was extraordinary.  

With the exception of a select few, we won’t see ourselves gracing the cover of Time.  We won’t be garnering person of the year honours.  We do, however, leave a legacy.  We touch the lives of others.  We exert influence on someone, somewhere at sometime.

“All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare. “And all the men and women merely players/ They have their exits and entrances/ And one man in his time plays many parts.” While Shakespeare was reflecting on the stages of life from infancy to old age, the manner in which we play our parts over time will determine our legacy.  

For better or for worse

Time editor Nancy Gibbs has said that occasionally Time chooses someone who is “unassailably worthy.  Normally that is not the case.”  Since the inception of person of the year in 1927, the selections are a mixed bag of the illustrious and the infamous. The recipients represent the broad spectrum of human traits from the laudable to the deplorable. For better or for worse, all have left their mark on human society, as you can see from my arbitrary list.

Some more recent recipients include: Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos (1999), Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono (2005), Putin (2007), and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (2010).  Looking back further in history the following caught my attention: Charles Lindbergh (1927), Walter Chrysler (1928), Mahatma Gandhi (1930), Wallis Simpson (1936), Adolf Hitler (1938), Josef Stalin (1939, 1942), Queen Elizabeth (1952) and Richard Nixon (1971).  (Every sitting United States president has been named person of the year.)  Three Roman Catholic popes got the nod: Pope John XXIII (1962), Pope John Paul II (1994), and Pope Francis (2013). 

The reader can decide if any of my arbitrary examples deserve to be called unassailably worthy. Even Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, whom Pope Francis elevated to sainthood in 2014, were flawed individuals, and had their detractors.

We might reasonably conclude that saints led impeccable lives during their time on earth.  We would be mistaken for saints, as Francis said, were “not born perfect”.   They just tried harder than the rest of us to live holy lives, to be unassailably worthy in the sight of God.

You leave a legacy

In 2006, “You” were the person of the year. That year the cover featured a blank computer screen made of reflective material.  Readers could look at their reflection in the screen and envision themselves as person of the year.

The 2006 choice linked the shaping of human destiny to the actions of ordinary people engaging with the World Wide Web. You and me, the choice proclaimed, were changing the world through online collaboration and community building.  

Social media has exploded since 2006. It has a profound influence on attitudes and behaviour.  It can magnify the best and the worst of our shared human traits, and influence our actions in a heartbeat.  Social media provides us with a platform for influencing others, for better or for worse, within our immediate circle and beyond. We can blog, tweet, post, comment, criticize, laud, organize and spew “alternative facts” (aka lies) to our hearts’ content in an environment that frequently lacks accountability.

The 2006 choice for person of the year was both controversial and gimmicky. It was a clever marketing ploy that reverberated in people’s imaginations for years. As recently as a few years ago, people were still listing themselves as 2006 person of the year on their twitter bios.

Yet, there is a distinctly serious and personal aspect to “You” person of the year.  All of us are called to unassailable worthiness.  We are called to be saints, to live our life as blessing to others and for the world. 

I am reminded of the Carole King song, “Legacy”, which challenges us to be a driving force for the good.   The song asks of us, “Don’t you want to leave a better world than you find?” 

We may not get the nod from Time magazine. But, each of us leaves a legacy.   Regardless the size of the stage – international or intimate – we play a part in the unfolding of human society – for better or for worse.   

“It’s your legacy.  Baby whatcha gonna do about it?”  How will we answer King's question?