Today, of course, is Valentine’s Day, which is thought by many cynical people to be nothing more than a manufactured holiday; a clever conspiracy by the Card, Candy, Chocolate, Teddy Bear, and Miscellaneous Gift Industries to get US to part with more of our money. And frankly, the part of me that harbors a healthy portion of cynicism, that part has to agree, to a certain extent.
But the larger portion of this phenomenon called me; that part thinks Valentine’s Day is a special opportunity to express your love, kindness, thoughtfulness and humanity to that special someone (or someone’s) in your life; but also to express that love, kindness, thoughtfulness and humanity to everyone you meet today, on the street, at the supermarket, on the job, at the post office, on the subway, train, plane, or in your car.
Think about how much it “costs” to be kind or thoughtful to a complete stranger today. Express your love and humanity to others and feel what that “feels like” today. How much kindness, love, thoughtfulness, and humanity do you have to “spend” today? The American Economy surely has problems, but each of us has the infinite capacity and resources to spend or give away the currency of kindness, love, thoughtfulness and humanity we possess. It takes courage, mindfulness and putting others before oneself – but it costs nothing. And the “interest” you earn on the “currency” or “capital” of your love, kindness, thoughtfulness, and humanity will return dividends beyond your imaginings; many you may not experience directly, but like a “virus” that spreads and infects others.
Remember that some people do not have a Valentine to return their love today; some Valentines may be serving in Afghanistan or other foreign lands around the world; many elderly people may have lost their loved ones to the inevitable mortality each of us shares as human beings; grown children are busy with their own families, or live great distances from their parent or parents; homeless people and families are struggling to survive each day; others are housebound with disabilities, or in the hospital with no one to visit them.
I could go on with many examples, an infinite variety of human stories, but the point is: not everyone shares the fortunes in life as we do individually, and as human beings we often forget this. We easily assume everyone has the same range of opportunities, the same love, the same friendships, the same joy, the same struggles we experience in our own life; the belief that life is as equally good (or bad) or equally fulfilling (or unfulfilling) as we view our own. But as surely as their are other human beings that we perceive as having better lives, or better opportunities as our own fortune in life, there are surely other human beings that have far worse fortunes than ours.
Much of human misfortune and lack of opportunity is not caused so simply, and simplistically as some suggest, because of laziness, lack of taking responsibility for one’s life, lack of trying, or lack of the desire for a richer, more fulfilling life. No. I think, if you reflect on the complexities of your own life experience, you will reach the conclusion I have – life is far too complex for the majority of human beings, and families, to so easily write them off with such simplistic, all inclusive labels as lazy, the 47%, the “takers” or the poor. They are ALL people, human beings, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, children, grandparents, of someone. They are also fellow Americans. How many other people know all the kindnesses, opportunities, misfortunes, disasters, setbacks, and good fortunes that have shaped your own life? Probably few. It is quite likely and even possible that not even your spouse, significant other, or your parents know ALL the events in your life that have brought you to your place in life, society, and the workplace. Perhaps YOU are not even completely aware of all the intangible details, circumstances, or the influence of other human beings which have quietly had an effect or impact on your life. I’m fairly certain few of us ever share ALL of our inner lives with anyone, or at most, with only one or two.
Yes, there are those who scam the system, steal, cheat, lie, or damage themselves, and others, with drugs, alcohol, anger, hatred, isolation, depression, indifference, irresponsibility, criminal behavior, and all the other destructive trappings of humanity. But these human frailties are not the sole province of the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, or the “criminal” persona or image most of us envision and associate with criminal, unethical, or immoral behavior. Something echoes and lingers in my mind about glass houses and throwing stones….and there, but for the grace of God, go I.
My point is, each of us has great power within ourselves to make a difference in this world of ours, if only we choose to use the good, positive qualities of humanity to influence our world and the other human beings with whom we share this planet. The power of subtle acts of kindness, compassion, love, thoughtfulness, mindfulness and humanity is immense, but requires the courage to resist and suspend the equally powerful human tendency to think the worst of people we don’t know, or perceive as different from ourselves.
So consider opening a door for someone, greeting someone with a smile and a nod, wishing someone a good day or a happy Valentine’s Day. Consider letting someone into traffic ahead of you, or cross the street, or go before you in line. Visit someone in the hospital, who has no one or few visitors, volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Help someone whose car broke down or is in distress. Talk with your lover, spouse, child, parent, friend, or a complete stranger with complete engagement and genuine interest; listen more than you speak. Realize that each of us can only live in the present moment, it’s all we can really share between us because the past is yesterday, beyond our human reach; and the future will only be a reality tomorrow, and some of us may not be here tomorrow. Although Love, Kindness, Compassion, Thoughtfulness, and Humanity are nouns or philosophical and social concepts, they only become transformative, significant, and deeply meaningful when they are translated by human beings into verbs.
Have a happy Valentine’s Day, and consider making the effort to employ these positive, powerful and free human qualities each and every day!