What’s Love Got to Do with It?

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Commentary by Jody Cramsie

It’s that time of year — the “love” holiday is just around the corner — Valentine’s Day.

I’ve never been a fan of this made-up excuse to entice (pressure?) people (mostly men) to spend silly amounts of money on silly things to prove just how loved their partner is. There are saccharine words and images on cards, pounds of candy, overpriced, crowded and understaffed restaurants selling a night of romance and ostentatious displays of flowers, worst of all, delivered to the partner’s place of work.

And for years there has been the not-so-subtle implication that anyone (especially a woman) who does not have a romantic partner on that one day of the year is an object of sympathy. Why single women so often have been viewed by society as people to be pitied and/or fixed is perhaps a column for another time. At any rate, the stereotypical “love” holiday hardly lives up to its name.

Paradoxically, the expensive and banal expressions of love have actually cheapened the meaning of the word instead of enhancing and strengthening the love that is, hopefully, at the root of it all.

Don’t get me wrong — romantic love, the kind engendered by Cupid’s arrow that can feel like ecstasy and a “death-bringing agony” (Joseph Campbell), is one of the most thrilling experiences in human existence. And romantic gestures and gift-giving per se aren’t to be disdained, but unless there is a deeper understanding and expression of love, romantic love is only part of the picture.

In her book “All About Love: New Visions,” bell hooks writes about love as more than a feeling or an emotion or caring or affection or attraction. She uses a definition of love from M. Scott Peck’s book, “The Road Less Traveled,” which was influenced by Erich Fromm. Love is —

the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.

She expands on that by saying that “love is as love does;” love is an act of will — namely both an intention and an action;” “will also implies choice;” and “we choose to love.”

She further clarifies spiritual to mean that dimension of our core reality where we are one, integrated — where the animating principle of the Self (Soul? Life Force?) is encouraged and which magnifies our capacity to be who we really and most fundamentally are at our deepest level.

Holy Moly. That’s no “luv”-hearts-flowers-candy-gifts sentimental love. That is a muscular love that is life-affirming with commitment, trust, responsibility, honesty, loyalty, respect and sacrifice. That’s love that compels me to ask if I am that person for the can’t-live-without people in my life. Are they that for me? Is that how we are showing up for each other in our lives?

Beyond the personal expressions of love in our lives, Erich Fromm in “The Art of Loving” argues that this kind of love is actually a social phenomenon. This love cannot help but manifest as concern for the collective good. To be truly transformed by love, you cannot help but extend the boundaries of that love to a wider circle — love your neighbor as yourself, the universally recognized ethic of the Golden Rule.

In his 1967 lecture opposing the war in Viet Nam, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.”

In “All About Love,” hooks writes that love is an active force that “should lead us into greater communion with the world.” She approvingly quotes Parker Palmer:

To be fully alive is to act … Action, like a sacrament, is the visible form of an invisible spirit, an outward manifestation of an inward power.

So on this Valentine’s Day, if the traditional expressions of love are part of your plans, enjoy them. But try to view them as sacraments/symbols, not the “Thing Itself” — the love that is an intense life-altering connection.

Better yet, in these days of increasingly hard times for an increasing number of our neighbors, maybe you could donate the cost of those flowers, wine, dinner, candy and cards to a local food bank. Choosing this act of compassion and kindness might do justice to the true spirit of the “love” holiday and perhaps help it live up to its name.

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