Getting to the Heart of Love by Mary Montgomery
Column: CyberWeave:Spirituality and the Internet
This month’s column was inspired by an email I received from huffingtonpost.com’s Arts & Culture section. The November 8, 2015 article, “A Brief History Of The Heart Symbol” by Maddie Crum was written in response to Twitter’s decision to dump its star icon (used to convey “I like this,” “I agree,” or “thanks”) in favor of a red heart emoji.
#Emoji rage has erupted since Twitter’s announcement complete with a wide range of comments including:
“I’m not sure I’m ready for that level of commitment. I mean, there’s a lot of real estate between like and love.” — Edward Fitzpatrick, providencejournal.com
“Serious news about terrible events calls for a system of language (including visual language) which reflects the gravity or complexity of any given situation. One cannot for instance “love” the latest Nasa report on polar ice density, or profess amorous adulation for the news that the Metrojet aircraft which crashed in the Sinai might have been targeted by terrorists. The tiny red heart reveals that Twitter does not want us to talk about unpleasant things…”— Emily Bell, theguardian.com
On the very same day that Twitter made its announcement, Adam Clark Estes from gizmodo.com published this article for the disgruntled: “How to Replace Twitter’s Dumb Heart With the Emoji of Your Choice.”
Now, to people like me who aren’t big Twitter users, this could seem like a tempest in a teapot.
However, I’m thinking that Crum has a point when she observes that this change may result in a weakening of the power that this symbol of love carries. That weakening can even be seen in Twitter’s tweet about the change:
“♥=yes! ♥=congrats! ♥=LOL ♥=adores ♥=stay strong ♥=wow ♥=hugs ♥=aww ♥=high five.”
Crum’s brief history reveals that the heart symbol wasn’t around as a metaphor for love until the mid-13th century, and was popularized in the 16th century. She points out that theories abound, including the idea that the heart symbol comes from its resemblance to the leaves of a plant once used as makeshift contraceptive pills, and Gloria Steinem’s theory that the heart replicates the curves of a womanly figure, the source of erotic love.
For Crum, this eases the pain of Twitter’s decision since “when it comes to the Twitter change, if your heart’s not in it, remember that historically speaking, the symbol is interpretable.”
Hmm…I’m of two minds on all this. On the one hand, the world needs as much love as it can get—even if it’s only symbolic. After all, isn’t this the Holiday Season where we are encouraged to extend peace and love to our fellow beings?
On the other hand, Twitter’s decision is reinforcing the tendency of English language speakers, particularly Americans, to LOVE everything, from God to significant others; children; pets; their favorite ice cream; that dream car; to that cute black number in the department store window.
I believe Edward Fitzpatrick, the Providence Journal columnist had a great idea when he suggested that Twitter could borrow a page from ancient Greece, and offer us four different types of love: agape, eros, philia or phileo, and storge. Agape (unconditional love), Eros (romantic love), Phileo (enjoyment, fondness, friendship), Storge (family loyalty).
With that in mind, I thought I’d check out whether there were any interesting websites devoted to these four types of love.
My first surprise was finding an article at yesmagazine.org that explored six Greek words for love. But wait! The article doesn’t even mention storge, which is the love of parents for their offspring. That must mean that those Greeks must have had at least seven words for love!
I have to say that the Yes Magazine article, “The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change your Life),” by Roman Krznaric is worth reading. (Check it out at yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life.)
Krznaric believes that we can learn from the diverse forms of emotional attachment prized by the ancient Greeks. Here are thumbnail summaries of his exploration of these six forms of love:
Eros: Named after the Greek god of fertility, eros represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. Eros involved a loss of control that frightened the Greeks. Krznaric points out that for us modern folks losing control is precisely what many people now seek in a relationship. We need to reconsider that.
Philia: The Greeks valued philia or friendship far more than eros. Philia is about deep comradely friendship and about showing loyalty to your friends. Krznaric states that we moderns can all ask ourselves how much of this comradely philia we have in our lives, especially in an age where we are busy amassing “friends” on Facebook or “followers” on Twitter.
Ludus: Ludus was the Greeks’ idea of playful love, which referred to the affection between children or young lovers. It can include flirting and teasing. It can also include sitting around bantering and laughing with friends. Krznaric notes that we could all use more of this adult frivolity in our lives.
Agape: Selfless love is agape. It is love that is extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. In Latin, agape was translated as caritas, which is the origin of our word “charity.” Krznaric notes that empathy levels in the U.S. have declined sharply over the last 40 years. This means there has been a dangerous decline in agape, a trend that we urgently need to reverse by reviving our capacity to care about strangers.
Pragma: This is longstanding love, like the deep understanding that develops between long-married couples. Pragma is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance. Krznaric believes we moderns should heed the words of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm who said that we expend too much energy on “falling in love” and need to learn more how to “stand in love.” We need to focus on developing pragma in our lives.
Philautia: Philautia is the love of self, which can either be healthy or unhealthy (narcissism). The idea of philautia, according to Krznaric, is that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others. Krznaric didn’t state how philautia should be used today. However, I found another website that did: The Wellbeing Center (wellbeingcenter.com/the-beauty-of-self-love/). Nicole’s advice is to practice philautia by giving yourself a little SPA time. In this case, SPA means:
S…set aside time…Do you set aside time to do something simple and small, daily, that you love?
P…praise yourself!...Learned something new? Discovered something novel? Transformed a piece of your life? Reached a life goal? Make sure you give yourself a little praise: you deserve it.
A…affirmations…Think of the beautiful human you want to become…call to mind their qualities, the feel of their life. Now, create a sentence, maybe two, that would come out of that beautiful human’s mouth. “I am beautiful…”
It is Krznaric (romankrznaric.com), an Australian cultural thinker and cofounder of The School of Life in London (theschooloflife.com/london/) that provides some final food for thought:
“It’s time we introduced the six varieties of Greek love into our everyday way of speaking and thinking. If the art of coffee deserves its own sophisticated vocabulary, then why not the art of love?”
My Advice: Maybe like me you desire to bring more love into your life. Let’s use this whole Twitter Love Emoji controversy as a springboard to figuring out how to bring more love into our lives and the lives of others by expanding our horizons to encompass the many nuances and varieties of love—just like the Greeks did.
Mary Montgomery’s company, Montgomery Media Enterprises, specializes in public relations, writing projects and social media development, especially in the non-profit sector. Ms. Montgomery has a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS). She has completed the coursework in doctoral studies with a focus on Altruism and Unconditional Love. Contact her via email at: [email protected] Please use Cyberweave in the subject line. You can also visit her at her new blog, SpiritualTravelerGuides.com.