True Love Overpowers Cynicism, Marketing

Ethics: True love overpowers cynicism, marketing

By Andrew Fiala

Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 | 11:10 AM

Valentine’s Day celebrates the defiant, unruly and awe-inspiring power of love. Love is emotional, unstable and fleeting. But it offers hope, inspiration and a taste of eternity.

When we fall in love, we are overcome by desire for the beloved. We crave the other’s presence and feel incomplete without them. We will break rules and resist authority to be with the beloved. That’s the story of Romeo and Juliet: defiant teenage lovers who cannot stand to live apart.

The legend of Saint Valentine is also connected with the rebellious affirmation of love. Valentine supposedly married Christians in defiance of Roman law. This led to his martyrdom. Love arouses courageous resistance to authority and sacrificial deeds.

Philosophers have long noted the power of love. Plato suggested that love stimulates virtue. Love inspires us to become better, so that we are more deserving of the beautiful presence of the beloved. And Plato hinted that love and beauty were eternal goods.

Kant explained that beauty is a symbol of morality. When we love a beautiful object, we celebrate its inherent worth. True love is for the sake of the beloved. The Romantics extolled the experience of beauty and the spiritual power of love. Emerson explained “all mankind loves a lover.” We love to see people in love. The smiles and glances of those who have fallen in love are hints of joy and magic.

Love is enchanting and beauty is bewitching. Advertisers know this. They use love and beauty to sell us products, filling our screens with enticing appearances and images of lovers. Too much of a focus on beautiful appearances is a problem. It can lead us to see persons as objects. Facebook “friends,” pornography, video games and the icons of popular culture are pixels without personality. Such images are disposable and exchangeable. We use them, discard them, and move on to the next.

There is a risk that we will come to see living human persons this way, if we are too focused on beautiful appearances. The risk is that we will move through relationships and interact with people as if they were merely pictures on a screen. Attraction to beautiful images remains skin deep. Love aims deeper, toward the person who abides beneath changing appearances.

Shakespeare indicated this when he suggested that true love lasts beyond the changes of the seasons. In one of his sonnets, he says to his beloved, “thy eternal summer shall not fade.” Love remains devoted to the beauty of the other, the youthful summer day, even as time moves on. Great and beautiful love affairs are hints of eternity. The Shakespearian lover remains enamored of the beloved even as death approaches.

Some may deny that there is such thing as deep and abiding love. Critics will claim that attraction and appetite rule the day, that love is a flowery fa├žade concealing primal desires. The critic will dismiss love with a cynical wink and a salacious snicker.

The cynic is right that love remains an ideal. It is obvious that we are seduced by appetite and appearance. But ethical love corrects the wandering eye and the hungry heart out of devotion to the beloved. If there is no such thing as true and eternal love, the lover claims that there ought to be.

Our culture celebrates the dazzling heat of young, impetuous lovers. But this ignores the fact that young love dies, as Romeo and Juliet did. Would Romeo still love Juliet as her beauty faded and her hair turned grey? Would Juliet love a pudgy, balding Romeo?

Lasting love requires commitment and care for the concrete reality of an actual person over time. Genuine love happens when you love the other person despite their changing appearance, through hardship, illness and despair. It happens when we see the summer day even in the gloom of February.

It is not always easy to see the beauty in the other. Some days it is quite hard to love ourselves, and even harder to love anyone else. But true lovers look for the ideal, defying the changing appearances and the ravages of time. They keep looking for the summer day. Nothing lasts forever. But true love comes close.

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