Valentine’s Day, the Real World, and the Five Languages of Love

You’re multi-lingual.

Maybe you didn’t know that! But you are. It turns out, according to Gary Chapman’s best selling book of a decade ago, that love has five languages. And love is so important (it makes the world go ‘round, remember?) whoever and wherever you are, chances are good that today you either have used, or will use, some or all of these – likely with a spouse or life partner, a family member, a close friend, maybe even a colleague or co-worker. Today? Fact is, you’ve been trying to master these five languages since grade school.

As we discussed last week, even though the Real World as such is inanimate, there’s a sense in which we communicate with it…and love’s five languages carry over into this arena as well. What better way to observe February 14th than to give this a quick look?

Here is Chapman’s quintet: (1) words of affirmation; (2) quality time; (3) receiving gifts; (4) acts of service; (5) physical touch. The labels themselves are rather self-explanatory, aren’t they? That helps a lot. Also keep in mind one of Gary Chapman’s main points. Just as with formal languages, you and I tend to be more fluent in one or more of these languages than the others. We may place greater store by one over the rest. Chapman and others have developed tests to help us see which of these float our boat. But you and I aren’t waiting for somebody else’s test. In our close relationships, we’ve always been testing, picking up cues. We’ve been noting and filing away the differences from person to person.

Words of affirmation. To some of us, this is the most important way we can receive and/or give love. We need to show that other person we appreciate who they are, what they do, how and why they matter, both to the world and to us. “The kids are happy and healthy because of your nurturing!” “I feel safe around you.” These and similar observations form a foundation for love. We often hunger for the same empathy from others.

What’s the analogy to our relationship to the real world? Certainly poets affirm when they write about nature: think Frost’s Stopping by woods on a snowy evening. At the other end of the spectrum, scientists affirm the real world as well. How about this … research that made real breakthroughs in knowledge and understanding about how the real world works, as opposed to studies that displayed virtuosity with respect to mathematics, or numerical technique, or graphics output, but yielded minimal new insight? [Or, worse yet – error.] How about policy formulation that really takes the world – or a piece of it – and fosters societal actions that make the Earth more productive, or keeps it pristine, or reduces its hazards?

The real-world response? If we’re getting the science and policy right, then we’re anticipating what comes next. We’ve minimized surprises. We’re finding rain in its season. Floods and droughts come, but we’re resilient with respect to those. The earthquakes hit, but we didn’t build there, or we built in resiliency. In the deepest sense, the real world affirms us!

Quality time. For some folks, the amount of time with you and me is not what matters. It’s the quality of that time as well. When we’re with them, are we with them, or lost in thought? Are we focused and really hearing what they have to say? Do we get it? Or are we preoccupied with the text messaging, the phone calls, or other preoccupations and concerns that crowd in?  

When it comes to the real world, the picture is complex. On the one hand, such quality time is growing more difficult for many of us. We live in an urbanized, built environment. Increasingly, we’re even psychologically oblivious to that cocoon, lost in a second-order virtual world created by IT. We spend little time outside, and much of that rushing from place to place. We’re catching a train, late for a meeting, dashing to pick up the kids at daycare before the penalties kick in. That sunset? Oh, yeah, the sun is setting, isn’t it?  Birdsong? What bird? There’s a reason Rachel Carson is famous and we’re not. She spent quality time with nature.

Checking in again with the scientists…geosciences departments in our graduate schools find their faculty and students spending less time at sea or in the field and more time running computer models. And yet, for those who really seek quality time with the real world, we have a dazzling array of tools for measurement of biogeochemical processes to chose from. Sniffers that can sample the scraps of airborne DNA that reveal the populations and diversity that make up the nearby biomass. Samplers able to characterize the chemical composition and even the isotopic makeup of the trace substances in air, water, and soils.

And when we bring to bear the new diagnostic power? Earth rewards the effort, yielding up an extraordinary array of secrets. In just the last few years, we’ve gained new insights into how glaciers melt, the relationship between the ocean’s acidity and its life forms, the factors that determine hurricane intensity and track…the list goes on and on. And IT and the mass media have made the tiniest details of the insect world and the majesty of the universe accessible to all of us, even in our homes.

Receiving gifts. At the human level, we know this one. She likes the candy and the flowers…and even the jewelry. He appreciates the tie and the card…and even the jewelry. For some of us, the size/expense of the gift is the way we determine how much the other person cares.

How about with respect to the real world? It’s pretty clear how this works from our side. Our water doesn’t just come from the tap. The real world provides our water. Food and fiber? We have to look past the supermarket. Energy? The same. And we receive a host of other natural resources, both geological and biological, from our planet.

Less clear is what gifts we have to offer the real world in return. In some sense we can only offer back what was the Earth’s to begin with. We’ve certainly had a huge impact on the land and its creatures. Experts tell us that for tens of thousands of years, our landscape has been shaped by wildfire, most of which are fires we’ve set. Ecologies and ecosystems reveal the influence of humankind, from hunter-gatherers to agribusiness. But for the past century or so, we’ve been making a practice of declaring certain lands, and certain ecosystems off limits to extensive human intervention. National parks and forests, marine sanctuaries, protected species all bear witness to the trend. In some sense all these are our gifts back the other way. And, to anthropomorphize a bit – the Earth shows signs of “appreciating” this.

Acts of service. At a human level? I show my wife how much she matters to me by holding the door for her. By doing the dishes. Or mowing the lawn. Or babysitting the kids while she has a night out with her friends. Maybe she shows me by taking the car in for 5000-mile maintenance and services. Touching up the paint in the living room. Some people see no credibility to “I love you” unless they’ve seen this backdrop.

The real world showers us with such services: Forested slopes reducing flash flooding; Mangroves along the coasts to provide natural storm surge protection. Water purification and waste decomposition. Carbon sequestration and climate regulation. Soils to decompose waste. Pest control. The list is extensive.

And maybe we give back in the same way, though not to the same degree. We treat our waste instead of dumping raw sewage back into the river. We monitor and reduce effluent emissions. We repair the ozone hole.

Physical touch. At the person-to-person level? Someone needs a hug. Or a backrub. Or just a simple squeeze of a hand.

Humans vis-à-vis the real world? Individually, and as a mass of seven billion people, we’re working to tread lightly on the Earth, versus insensitively blundering around.

And in return, the Earth treats us to the gentle touch of a cool breeze or the geophysical equivalent of Rolfing: a gale-force wind or a strong river current. It lets us feel a snowfall, a drizzle, a downpour.

So on Valentine’s Day of all days, choose a love language (or perhaps more than one). Express your appreciation for the real world to that same real world.

Ask, in your own way – through your research, or your services, or your art: Will you be my Valentine? And be open to Earth’s response. Chances are you’ll get a better answer than you did from your grade-school heartthrob.

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1 Response to Valentine’s Day, the Real World, and the Five Languages of Love

  1. Pingback: Valentine’s Day 2012 | Living on the Real World

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