No roses, no chocolates: Other ways to show some love on Valentine’s Day

Recently I received an online solicitation for Valentine’s Day from a surprising source. It wasn’t from a florist or a greeting-card company. It came from an organization called Beyond Pesticides. This clever advocacy concept, cooked up by the crew over at Beyond Pesticides, is called “Show Bees Some Love.”  The idea is to “swarm” Home Depot and Loews with valentines and ask the big boxes to show some love by taking steps to help save bee populations (and our food supply) from the devastating effects of bee die-off. How can the stores help? They can start by halting the sale of plants treated with bee-killing pesticides and products containing harmful chemicals. (Goodbye, Roundup!)

This outside-of-the-box campaign got me thinking about more than just bees. It got me thinking about the tired clichés that define Valentine’s Day.

What is it about Valentine’s Day that disturbs me the most? Let me count the ways. Is it that the day emphasizes a one-dimensional definition of love and neglects the deeper meanings of the word? Is it that the day encourages us to forget that there’s more to love than sex, roses, and chocolate? Or is it that in the weeks leading up to the fourteenth, nearly every sector of the economy rolls out a splashy red-and-pink marketing campaign to try to make a buck by exploiting the most simplistic of notions about the most sublime and mysterious of emotions?

And what exactly are the layers of love neglected on this Hallmark holiday? Compassion and kindness.  Tolerance and acceptance.  Respect for one another and  recognition of the bonds that connect us with not just the people we know intimately but also with those we’ll never know. And don’t forget empathic love–the exalted feeling celebrated in song and prayer in churches, synagogues, and mosques that often is left behind once the doors of the holy places are closed and locked, and we return to our secular lives.

Love is the emotion that defines us as compassionate individuals and as a fair and just society. I ask myself: is it not possible anymore to hope that some semblance of love underpins the workings of our public institutions and our politics?

This Valentine’s Day I’m feeling no love for the cynics and the exploiters. Yes, those are the politicians and corporate bigwigs with stone-cold hearts who are cheering on the divisions and lack of love amongst us and profiting from the discord.

Valentine’s Day is a sad reminder that the caring side of love has been pushed into a tiny box that’s getting tinier all the time, and that the goodness contained inside is reserved for our private lives and not for our collective responsibilities. How else to explain our neglect of those who are hungry, in need of shelter, medical care, jobs, a living wage, a good education, and protection from gun violence? Sadly, the list of neglect and paucity of love goes on and on.

And I ask myself as well: How much longer will we tolerate politicians and business people who are known to their friends and neighbors as nice, friendly people; loving spouses; responsible fathers and mothers—but yet pursue and support public policies and business practices that harm other people?

Lest these musings seem too harsh, let’s remember that the public and the private have not always been so divorced from one another. Our history contains public figures who understood that our better selves—our loving selves—could and should be a part of our public lives. We need look no further than to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR, arguably the greatest and most challenged of our presidents, understood the essential role of compassion and love in public life when he admonished those who opposed and rejected the New Deal and Social Security. Reflecting a courage and certitude sorely lacking in the public figures in our time, he reminded the doubters and cynics of his time that “human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”

On February 14th, you won’t find me at the checkout counter buying greeting cards or chocolate hearts. Instead, I’ll be making a list of those among us who, like the bees, are most in need of our expressions (and actions) of love on this Valentine’s Day. Here are a few of them.

• The 47.6 million people—including children, seniors, and the disabled—who participate in the SNAP program and are now purchasing less food because of the $800-million-a-year cut in the recently passed Farm Bill.

• The 5.9 million babies (born to 1 in every 20 moms) who live in low-income families and must wear reused wet or soiled diapers because their parents can’t afford to pay for diapers and are not allowed by law to use food stamps to pay for the purchase of that essential baby-care item.

• The 8 million men, women, and children who lack access to preventive and general medical care just because they’re unlucky enough to be living in Republican-dominated states where governors and statehouses have refused to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid eligibility.

• The 1.4 million children and young adults—the Dreamers—who were brought illegally to the U.S. as minors by their parents and are currently living in legal-status limbo while awaiting immigration reform.