A few weeks ago I was full of enthusiasm for writing an article related to Valentine's Day. What holiday could be more apropos for the co-founder of a website dedicated to helping people? I already had three to four ideas for topics related to love, charities, and helping others and was sure the words would just flow from my brain onto the page with enviable ease once I sat down to write.
Eh, not so much. I have now decided that this must be the absolute worst holiday for us at WorkerAnts.com to write about. I am not sure why, but perhaps it is that I have too little to say about too many topics. Go ahead, count the number of ways helping others can be related to compassion, love and ultimately to Valentine's Day. When you stop counting tomorrow, feel free to ping me with a message of sympathy or just with great ideas for next year's article so that I can avoid 10 days of writer's block! I eventually found this article's topic after thinking through at least 20 ideas for this piece and noticing that one concept kept popping into my head cleverly disguised as multiple topics: What is the real spirit behind Valentine's Day?
Modern-day culture, and advertisement, promotes a day of romantic love, filled with sentimentality and passion. Hearts, roses, chocolates, romantic dinners and, based on the TV ads in my gym, 4-foot tall teddy bears shipped direct from the Northeastern U.S. are the end all be all of Valentine's Day. According to the History Channel, associating Valentine's Day with romance has been happening for hundreds of years with origins in the Middle Ages. The roots of Valentine's Day, however, tell a very different story.
The most popular legend of what gave rise to the original St. Valentine's Day dates back to the 3rd century A.D. when a priest defied a Roman emperor. Believing that marriage was a sacred right, the priest Valentine continue to secretly marry young people in spite of the emperor's law banning marriage for young men on the basis that men with no families made better soldiers. As a reward for being a person of integrity engaged in compassionate, non-violent civil disobedience, the emperor had Valentine beheaded.
Not a very romantic story, but what a grand spirit to celebrate every February 14! Not a mushy, contrived spirit of affected sentimentality, but a spirit of defiance towards injustice, of the indomitable will to do what is necessary to protect basic human rights, even in the face of governmental opposition or outright oppression, a spirit of humility and compassion that cries out to do what is right and help others, even if such actions result in the ultimate cost of one's own life. This integrity and fierce commitment is the spirit of love at the core of Valentine's Day, the spirit of Valentine's Day that we should be keeping.
Granted celebrating Valentine's Day this way sounds much more difficult than just celebrating our romantic love with flowers, chocolate and gigantic teddy bears (yes, I find those disturbing). It is not necessarily more important, but certainly seems like a more daunting task. So, let's keep it simple and start small. When I ask myself now "What is the real spirit behind Valentine's Day?" I come up with these two examples:
- My aunt, who lost her husband to ALS a few years ago, now has the tradition of hosting a Valentine's Day dinner each year for all the widows in her church so that none of them feel bereft on this day. This is a great way to tell people that they are not alone. Try hosting a lunch or dinner for people you know who don't have a romantic relationship this year.
- An acquaintance of my sister's has started a movement to stop sex tourism in Thailand called Real Men Buy Flowers Not Girls. His organization celebrates Valentine's Day by giving flowers and a message of love and self-worth to the people caught up in the sex trade in Thailand's Red Light District. By refusing to treat people with disrespect or as disposable objects this organization hopes to change their worldview and help them move into a different life. Even if you don't agree with this organization's approach, there are numerous organizations out there fighting for the rights and dignity of others, such as fighting against sex tourism, human trafficking and slavery. Take the time to find an organization that you like and offer it your support. You can find thousands of non-profit organizations in our WorkerAnt's database here.
There are a million ways to show this kind of Valentine's Day spirit, since it is at heart a dedication to doing the right thing and showing your support and respect for the human rights and dignity of others. Feel free to share your thoughts with us about how you keep this spirit and, hopefully, we can make this world just a little bit better this Valentine's Day.