Words mean things.
In 2020 I went down a rabbit hole dissecting adventure. I went back and forth on the definition and interpretation of adventure, and honestly, haven’t finished that journey.
For 2020, I dedicated my blog focus to growth. Only upon reflection did I recognize that I did not start with a definition, nor robust enough understanding of growth. I think I more or less captured it, but not entirely and not in as pivotal a way as I could have had I considered the meaning of the word first.
This week I found some validation of this need to better contemplate the meanings of words. I just finished the book, let my people go surfing. This book is the story and philosophy behind the Patagonia brand, written by its founder, Yvon Chouinard. An incredible read. Relevant here though is that in it he dissects words he quite astutely identifies as “so overused and misused as to become meaningless.” Adventure is one of them.
Love, A Meaningless Word?
Another word that I now realize gets used and thrown around a lot without the benefit of proper consideration, context, and meaning, is love.
What is love? An important question I think, especially given the fact that we use it equally at times to reference our cars as we do our life partner and children. It is the same word used in tennis for a score of zero!
Merriam-Webster uses other words to define love, like affection, attraction, and feeling. It also uses assurance, and attachment. Hmmm … lots of words, little clarity on love; in fact, maybe nothing more than a list of more overused words. It does use the word devotion, which helps a little until you realize that it is used in relation more to attachment and objects. Not very clear I think. I think another word, or definition needs to introduced, distinct from love to express our connection and relationship with our spouses and children.
“We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.” – Tom Robbins
I see now that I’ve taken for granted my understanding of one of the most important bonds any person can have; that with their spouse.
I am happy to share though, that I have come across a characterization of love that I believe gives some beautiful context; that has scratched at its depths and offered an interpretation that properly reflects its power and meaning.
The Road Less Traveled
On a recommendation I read a book by Dr. Scott M. Peck, The Road Less Traveled. A book which helped me to better understand and consider love.
The book deals with more than just love, but it brilliantly dissects and defines love; and expresses the need for the will, effort and discipline to nurture and make love work. Further, it states that love is an action, not a feeling. It is an action that comes with risk; it is suggested that although the risk brings reward, the more love you bring, the greater the risk it becomes.
Peck identifies that love is a person’s will to foster one’s own spiritual growth, and the spiritual growth of another. He is articulate in his definition of the idea of spiritual growth as being not necessarily tied to a god or a higher power, but rather as a “worldview” or belief system – one that is informed by how one is raised and their family culture.
Love then, is growth; your own, and your willingness to put the effort into that of another. Growth, in this instance, is spiritual, but in the sense that we each have a worldview, a belief system that can mature, grow and be better understood if we let new experiences inform our views, and be deliberate in exploring life to further inform.
Love is work. It is not a passive state. It changes. Love is a commitment, and a responsibility.
Relationships grow. They do not grow in a linear way though. In a romantic relationship the courtship becomes the honeymoon, the honeymoon becomes the doldrums of routine, then kids, debt and the friction of learning about one another in the more trivial aspects of life. Life gets hard. Children, work and one’s own changes demand attention, all which compete with the fairy-tale. It takes a deliberate effort, based on a willingness to invest in the relationship that is needed to maintain, nurture, grow and adapt love through the journey of life.
I have taken love for granted at times; as a feeling, a passive state of affection. There have been acts I have taken in the nurturing of love, I have not been entirely ignorant. I can do better though.
I have been married more than 20 years. I have teenage daughters. Right now, we, like all 7.8 billion of us, are dealing with COVID. We are living on top of each other, navigating restrictions and unknowns, and misaligned priorities and schedules. We need to be patient and kind, quarter needs to be given and sometimes requested. Friction is unavoidable. I know that I for one, oftentimes focus inward to cope.
This does not mean there is any less love. However, I know now that love doesn’t really exist without action. Hardship and adversity do not permit a respite from the work of love. It needs effort.
Love is an act. It is the small acts. Not the gifts, although I will concede I understand the need and symbolism inherent in the giving of gifts. It is more so in the daily expression of admiration and gratitude, which I do not do enough. It is in the giving of space, and being selective of the ‘issues’ that need to be raised; are they really issues, or just an issue to me? Respect is huge. Not the grand gestures, although, again, I recognize the need for them occasionally, even during these commercialized holidays like Valentine’s Day.
Admittedly, I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. I fully believe that the best expressions of love lie in the spontaneous and, yes, the daily acts. The best expressions are through the willingness to foster growth, provide space and quarter, be present and committed, to accept that the shape, feel, and texture of love changes with the maturity of a relationship, a family, the responsibilities that lie therein, the growth in worldview and belief systems, and in understanding and acknowledging the influence of new experience and exploration on self and those to whom you are invested. In stating this though, I see better now that I need to be active in expressing them. I know I can do better, and am better armed now that I have considered the meaning of love.
This still doesn’t provide for us a proper definition though. I think cherish is a much better way to express love towards our life partners and children. It is shocking that some cultures can have 100 words to describe snow, and yet we have only the one word, love, to cover the spectrum of feelings and actions that constitute love.
A Declaration Of Love
So, I declare here then that I cherish my wife and children; I love my siblings, my parents, my in-laws, my broader family, my friends, even acquaintances and occasionally, those strangers whose lives intertwine with mine and for whom I might take some action towards their spiritual growth. Although love may now seem a diluted, overused and misused word to cover these numerous expressions of love, please accept the sentiment of it here. With Peck’s definition in mind, know that I am invested in your spiritual growth. There probably should be different words to express uniquely the love of one’s parents distinct from one’s friends, but I can think of none.
I know my wife well understands and accepts my journey of self-examination and growth, and I am invested in hers. She understands, or perhaps only accepts, regardless, she is supportive of my need for adventure and challenge, for adversity and creative expression. I cherish her for this.
We exchange gifts, we make accommodation, and at times concession. The work of my love requires me to better pay attention and to try to understand where she is on her journey of growth. I will make the effort to nurture and foster her journey, and work to influence the conditions needed to facilitate it.
Love Is …
So, I don’t like Valentine’s Day. Too bad for me. There are flowers and a card, and chocolates. These are small expressions, and although they won’t foster growth, they are an expression of my willingness and effort to take action. The better expression I would suggest is the desire to better understand love and how to nurture it, to better understand the influences that cause it friction and to find ways to smooth the bumps.
Love is work. Work done out of respect, commitment and a genuine desire to act towards a stronger love, and spiritual growth. I will work harder.
To my wife. I cherish you and I see your acts of love. I am invested, whether it is obvious or not, I am willing and trying.
Happy Valentine’s Day
“The highest function of love is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being.” – Tom Robbins