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What is love? (1)

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By Douglas Anele

For millennia, the concept of love has been a controversial topic among philosophers, psychologists, theologians and other interested parties. The problem is that, like every other word or expression that designates a complex human emotion, ‘love’ does not admit of an adequate definition or characterisation in one or two propositions.

Besides, it is difficult to delineate unambiguously a unique feeling or set of feelings that represents love in each and every person that claims to be in love or out of love. Chambers 20th Century Dictionary states, among other things, that love is “…fondness: an affection of the mind by that which delights: strong liking: devoted attachment to one of the opposite sex.” From the definition above, it is clear that the psychological disposition called love is difficult to pin down since the terms ‘fondness,’ ‘affection,’ ‘strong liking,’ ‘devoted attachment’ and so on contain some fuzziness that cannot be eliminated through lexical definitions. This is the main reason why people confuse love with several other emotions.

Now, before we discuss further the complexities connected to the idea of love let us throw some light on the origin of St. Valentine’s Day, which has evolved into a global celebration of love every February 14. According to Wikipedia, Valentine’s Day, also known as St. Valentine’s Day or the Feast of St. Valentine, began as a Western Christian feast in honour of several early saints named Valentinus. The celebration Day is recognised as an important religious, cultural, religious, and commercial commemoration of romance and romantic love. Most people are unaware that several early Christian martyrs were named Valentine.

According to one legend, a certain Saint Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for wedding soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire. St. Valentine, as the story goes, restored the sight of the blind daughter of the judge who imprisoned him, and wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell before his martyrdom.

Accordingly, the feast of Saint Valentine was formally inaugurated by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD to be celebrated on February 14 in honour of Saint Valentine of Rome who died on that date in 269 AD and was buried on the Via Flamina. There is also the case of Valentine, Bishop of Interamna, who was martyred in 273 AD during the persecution of Christians under Emperor Aurelian in 273 AD. Like St. Valentine of Rome, he was interred at the Via Flamina but on a different location. A third St. Valentine was said to be martyred in Africa with some companions, but nothing concrete is actually known about him.

Based on what we have said so far concerning the origin of St. Valentine Day (also referred to as Lovers Day) and its roots in the martyrdom of some Christian clergy, the connection between it and romance or romantic love seems somewhat awkward, even farfetched.

Indeed, the link apparently did not arise prior to Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem entitled Parliament of Foules in 1382, written to honour the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. On the other hand, the earliest description of February 14 as a yearly celebration of love appears in the Charter of the Court of Love allegedly promulgated by Charles IV of France at Mantes-la-Jolie in 1400 AD.

It involved lavish festivities to be attended by several members of the royal, including a feast, amorous song and poetry competitions, jousting, and dancing. Form the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries onwards, mass produced Valentine cards gradually replaced handwritten sentimental messages as a means of expressing romantic feelings on St. Valentine’s Day. The various ways people celebrate the occasion, including sending greeting cards, offering confectionaries, giving flowers and all manner of gift items, developed in early modern England and spread throughout the English-speaking world.

By the late twentieth and early twentieth-first centuries, St. Valentine Day has evolved into a universal phenomenon celebrated in virtually every country. Even in highly conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran where sharia law prohibits public celebration of amorous relationships, an increasing number of people have found creative and covert ways of circumventing the strictures of archaic Islamic tenets that put severe limits on how people celebrate Lovers Day.

READ ALSO: Love yourself when nobody loves you — Moet Abebe

In Nigeria, it was only from the closing years of 1990s onwards that the celebration became popular particularly in the urban centres of the south. As in other regions of the world where St. Valentine’s Day is taken seriously by mostly the youths, here the event is characterised by exchange of specially designed cards and gifts, spending time with loved ones, and recreational activities such as going to fancy restaurants, cinemas, beaches and night clubs.

Although St. Valentine’s Day has gradually gathered momentum in the last few decades worldwide as a significant enabler of economic activity, unlike better-organised countries of Europe and North America specific data on how much Nigerians spend on the occasion annually is unavailable. But there is no doubt that the amount could be in billions of naira considering that some really expensive gift items such as cars, wristwatches and jewelleries, and costly trips to exotic places are involved.

Unfortunately, the parlous economic and security situation in the country, especially since May 29, 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari to over power, has adversely affected the celebration of Valentine’s Day. Obviously, since people’s capacity to celebrate love or anything for that matter tends to be inversely proportional to the degree of poverty and insecurity in the society and given that the current federal government has been a colossal failure, this year’s Valentine for majority of those interested in it would be low key.

That said, Nigerians pressurising themselves trying to impress their lovers must bear in mind that it is not compulsory to buy anything for anyone on Valentine’s Day. After all, the Christian martyrs celebrated on February 14 were known primarily for the sacrificial love they extended to certain persons, not for the material things they gave out.

Thus, the focus should not be on receiving and giving gifts; rather, people should concentrate more on how to make those around them feel genuinely loved and happy. To give a material object as an expression of love is good. But the gift of kindness, service, loyalty, and affection can have more profound impact on someone’s life than cards, cars, flowers, perfumes, smartphones etc. It is foolish to stress oneself unnecessarily just because of Valentine’s Day. The guiding principle for everyone should be: cut your coat according to your cloth.

At this point, having traced briefly the historical origin of St. Valentine’s Day, let us examine the concept of love in order to cut through the brambles of obscurity and deepen our understanding of what it entails. It must be stated at the outset that one cannot grasp the meaning of love in its complexity without a working understanding of the basic conditions of human existence.

Like other animals, man, (always in the sense in which it includes woman and other gender varieties), has instinctive drives. But he is also gifted with reason and self-awareness. Because of his self-awareness, man sees himself as a separate individual from others and the world; a living, thinking, and feeling being who must die one day. In order to mitigate the anxiety and anguish arising from his feeling of separateness or alienation and mortality, he needs to unite with others and with the world outside himself. Although the feeling designated as love is inscrutable most times, the love between a man and a woman is one of the deepest answers to the problem of separateness that characterise human existence on earth.

In the literature on love, different types of the phenomenon have been identified and analysed. These include motherly love, brotherly love, self-love, love of God, and erotic love. This categorisation depends on the object of affection, that is, the entity or individual towards whom love is directed. Given that the major focus of this discussion is on Valentine’s Day, it is pertinent to introduce the distinction usually made by Christian writers between agape love and eros or sexual love.

Agape signifies the fraternal and filial love between people devoid of sexual content. Platonic relationship is a sub-set of agape love especially between man and woman that does not seek sexual expression. The issue whether two healthy members of the opposite sex with no filial connection can have genuine Platonic relationship is not yet settled: whereas people with strong religious inclinations have no doubt that there is such a thing and extol it, some psychologists dismiss the relationship as the sublimation of sexual repression often associated with the thwarting of natural instinctive sex drives in early childhood which causes certain physical and mental illnesses. Be that as it may, Valentine’s Day as celebrated nowadays comprises both kinds of love, although increasingly erotic love is overshadowing platonic relationships.

To be concluded.   




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