Valentine’s Day 2012

Prologue, Part 1: One of the perks of having blogged for over a year? Significant dates start rolling around a second time. Here’s a link to last year’s post: Valentine’s Day, the Real World, and the Five Languages of Love. This year’s post builds on the same theme…

Prologue, Part 2: One of my facebook friends had this quote up on her website last Friday. Not sure where it came from. But I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since…

“When you really matter to someone, that person will always make time for you. No excuses, no lies, and no broken promises.”

Crisp, isn’t it? Black and white. No wriggle room. [This particular friend posts a lot of material like this. Inspiring but also challenging. Blunt]

When we toss around the word love (and we’ll be doing a lot of that today), when we say “I love you,” are we saying to that person, “You matter to me?” To this high a standard?

The Greeks wanted a little more flexibility. They had not one, but three words for love. First, there’s romantic love: eros. We all understand that one, don’t we? Then, there’s philia: brotherly love. As in: “Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love” [Tell that to visiting Redskins fans.] Finally, there’s agape, a self-sacrificing love, that puts the other and his/her interests and well-being first. That love’s a matter of commitment, not mere feeling. [It’s this last one that’s the challenge.]

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So…two questions for us on Valentine’s Day 2012: First, to anthropomorphize a bit: do we really matter to the Real World we live on…the world that is at one and the same time, everywhere, locally and globally, a resource, a victim, and a threat? And second, does that same Real World really matter to us?

The Real World has never failed to “be there for us.” Sounds hokey, but the point is, we owe our survival and all our success – throughout our human experience, but especially our success over the past two centuries – our increase in numbers, the improved quality of life made possible in part by our increased per capita consumption of resources, and the accelerated pace of scientific and technological advance…to the planet we live on. To our minds, the planet hasn’t been perfect. It’s not always the easiest planet to live with. It has a wild side, a temper. But it means us no harm. It’s our behavior, our ways of doing business, our land use and building codes and much more, that put us at risk. And its gifts to us certainly seem to have been sacrificial…there are signs of habitat loss and reduction in biodiversity and environmental degradation everywhere we look. Our planet has paid the price.

As for the flip side…

…this same real world matters to us…but we act as if it doesn’t.

Do we make time for it? Yes and no. The “no” especially fits the half of us who live in cities. Let’s review our history, as we have several times in this blog. [Living on the Real World…but longing for the Garden, for example.] We took a real step away from our day-to-day awareness of the natural world some 10,000 years B.P., with the move from hunter-gathering to agriculture and civilization. We moved a step further away with the Industrial Revolution. And a third with the creation of our current virtual reality. We now have three degrees of separation from the world we depend on. Maybe we make time for the Real World on vacation. But much of our experience with the real world is grudging…shoveling two feet of snow, or making our way on city streets through the rain, or cleaning up after a  flood or scurrying from one air-conditioned building to the next during a scorching heat wave…hardly what relational counselors would call “quality time.” A few of us gather in parks on Earth Day, for a few hours.

Or do we fail to do so? And then…Do we make excuses? Do we lie? Do we break promises? This sounds more like us. We’re so absorbed with the manufacture of stuff and the provision of services and the policy that governs all that activity that the planet we live on, our natural surroundings recede into the background of our daily grind. We tell each other that we really long for the outdoors and for those walks and the sunsets and listening to the seabirds and all the rest, but that will have to wait until we complete this task or dash through that series of errands. We get our kids to the soccer field and call it nature.

And excuses? Oh yeah. We look around at the environmental deterioration in the third world and we say, that’s because they’re too poor. But then when it’s our turn to step up and pass needed protective legislation we say that the economy is going through a difficult patch and that for the moment jobs have to be the priority. So we take that false choice and use it as an excuse to postpone emissions standards for vehicles or restrictions on fine particulate matter, or wetlands protection, or true pricing of carbon fuels. Juliet Eilperin covered this in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Lying? Breaking promises? The United States made excuses and didn’t pass Kyoto (don’t get on my case here; I’m just choosing this one example out of hundreds), but maybe that was less hypocritical than making a promise we knew we couldn’t keep. Nation after nation among the Kyoto signatories failed to meet the targets. And that’s just this one instance. In environmental regulation across the board we struggle to keep our word. 

But no more guilt trip! The point here is simply that the Earth’s increasing reluctance to yield its resources (forcing us to more remote regions, requiring that we drill deeper, etc.), the loss of habitat and diversity we see, and the loss of life and economic disruption that natural extremes occasion are nothing personal. The planet can do no more than mirror our own attitude.

Our own attitude? It starts not with our stance toward the Earth but with our posture toward each other. If others  come to matter more to us, if we can learn to love each other, in the deepest sense of the word, not in a superficial way, if love becomes our relational foundation… then our resource issues, environmental challenges, and hazardous threats will become that much more tractable.

Maybe that’s what Antoine De Saint-Exupery meant when he said “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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