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Daniel Bruch column: Afraid of the light

Daniel Bruch

While there are many days in February designated as holidays or days of celebration, it is Valentine's Day that seems to head the list. This, in spite of the fact that St. Valentine's history is murky and there may have been numerous St. Valentines throughout history. In any case, Feb. 14 has been celebrated as a romantic day and lovers' holiday since the 14th century, when the date was thought to be the beginning of the mating season for birds. More recently, our current President expressed that he has "a great love" for the roughly 800,000 young immigrant "Dreamers." So it is the season of love for birds, for our President, and surely for the many who celebrate "love" on Valentine's Day!

So what is love? Our English language has only one word to describe the many facets of this human emotion. Surely the "great love" that President Trump has declared that he has for "Dreamers" is of a different type than the love typically expressed on Valentine's Day cards. Recognizing that our culture has an incredibly complicated and sophisticated vocabulary about types of coffee, a little more sophistication in the vocabulary of love might motivate us to also choose our expressions of love with a little more finesse and refinement.

The ancient Greeks set a good example for us, recognizing at least six different varieties of love. We would be defined by them as crudely boorish if not obscene by using the same word to whisper "l love you" over an intimate meal and to casually also sign an email "lots of love." Briefly, they used the word "eros" for sexual passion (which they defined as a dangerous and irrational type of love that could take hold of you and possess you); "philia" for a deep friendship; "storge" for love between parents and children; "agape" or self-giving love for everyone, particularly strangers; "pragma" for mature love such as exhibited by long-married couples; and "philautia" for love of the self (often defined as narcissism, where one becomes self-obsessed and focused on personal fame and fortune).

The reality, of course, is that some types of love are easier to engage in than others. The message from the ancient Greeks encourages us to nurture the various varieties of love, and especially to cultivate the higher forms of love such as philia and agape. The diverse Greek system of loves can also help one to discover a lot more possibilities for love than we had ever imagined—especially when directed toward unfamiliar people who cross our paths. So maybe it really is time we introduced the six varieties of Greek love into our everyday way of speaking and thinking. If the art of drinking coffee deserves its own sophisticated vocabulary, then why not the art and practice of love?

Oh, and when it gets difficult to practice love toward the difficult to love, keep these words of Mahatma Gandhi in mind: "When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always." Happy Valentine's Day!