Love and kindness, unkindness and stupidity

6 September 2020

Some interviews with ‘celebrities’ ask “Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it’?”

Before I answered that, I’d need the questioner to define love because I ‘love’ so many things.  I love my wife, I love my children, I love my friends, I love books, I love pictures, I love the countryside, I love music, I love the smell of lily-of-the-valley, I love swimming, I love the feel of rain in my face, I love the softness of a labrador’s ears.  Put like this, it’s clear that the word ‘love’ covers a whole range of feelings.  Then take into account that all the examples I’ve just given are very subjective and have no objective validity for other people.

There is another, more generalised dimension to love which encompasses our relations with the world outside, like a general love of cats which leads people to feed feral cats in urban wastelands, or a concern for homeless people that involves them in projects to improve their lives.

I’ve given examples of this in previous blogs and called it ‘kindness’ which is perhaps one of the manifestations of love.

The ancient Greek philosophers had quite a lot of words we translate as ‘love’, the best known, at least to people who were ever taught about the Bible, probably coming from the King James English translation of the Greek version of 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity”, where the Greek word agápe is translated as ‘charity’.  Most subsequent revisions and translations translate it as ‘love’ although the original meaning of the English word ‘charity’ was arguably closer to the mark.

Agápe implies selfless universal love, such as the love for strangers, nature, or a God, an unconditional compassion and empathy that is extended to everyone else in the whole world.

In English – as used in that stupid interview question – ‘love’ tends to imply what the Greeks called éros, which covers intimacy and sexual love and includes the physical pleasure associated with it, while ludus is a sort of eros Lite, covering mutually enjoyable flirting and having a crush on someone, and philia describes the reciprocated friendship, regard and affection between friends and close family members. 

Storge describes the affection and loyalty that accompanies a sense of ‘duty’ felt by parents towards their children or by people towards a country, political creed or football team, xenia covers kindness to strangers and hospitality, giving of yourself to people you don’t know and philautia is basically self-confidence, which can be good when it means being comfortable enough in your own skin to love others, or bad when it’s linked to sociopathy.

All these words can be translated and interpreted as ‘love’ but it’s interesting to see in how many forms ‘love’ appears, and surely kindness is implicit in almost all the Greek words. 

If only more people were kind, and remember this doesn’t mean imagining what you might like if you were in their situation, it’s what you think they might like in their situation.

This is, of course, all getting philosophical and textbookish and, predictably, I have hang-ups about philosophy:  it seems to involve a lot of armchair research that has no practical application in the world we inhabit, but that’s probably just because I’m not clever enough, and don’t get enough time to sit in armchairs.

In the real world, remember Marcus Rashford, a young footballer who forced the government into one if its U-turns back in June?  His latest target is to end child food poverty in Britain and he’s formed a task force, the Child Food Poverty Task Force, working with FairShare, the Food Foundation and many of the country’s best-known food brands.  He’s described the poverty of his own childhood, saying “I know that feeling [of a 9-year old trying to protect their family], that was my reality”.  

Down at our level in the real world, perhaps we should all just try to think less about ourselves and more about other people and if they might welcome any kindness

So many people aren’t kind.  Have you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagined the Gaslighter-in-Chief, Donald Trump, doing something kind, or even laughing?

This blog often highlights unkindnesses and stupidity in the hope that more people will be sufficiently shocked to think how they could do to make life better for others.

Random examples this week include:

  • Heathrow has told its 4,700 staff in the front line that their pay will be cut by 15-20% if they want to avoid losing their jobs;  their announcement omitted to say if the money they give to directors and shareholders would also be cut and the omission gives us the answer.
  • British Airways has furloughed tens of thousands of staff during the pandemic and is now planning to get rid of 10,000 jobs.  Willie Walsh, BA’s boss, agreed in March to reduce his basic pay (£850,000) by 20% but he was given £3.2m last year and, now he’s leaving, will be given another £883,000;  other senior executives will also receive huge bonuses.  Regardless of contractual ‘rights’, surely these should be forgone?
  • Back in the 1970s, Tony Abbott, former prime minister of Australia, was reported by Liz Jackson to have said “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons” and, in a 2010 TV interview, “I probably feel a bit threatened [by homosexuality], as so many people do. It’s a fact of life.”  (Not mine mate.)  Boris Johnson is now appointing him a special trade adviser.
  • Johnson has officially started the construction of HS2 (now estimated to cost £105bn of your money and mine) which will destroy AONBs, SSSIs, woodlands and the lives of many thousands of people on its route for the benefit of a few people who think they need to save 15 minutes when travelling between Birmingham and London.  (Why not just invite all its supporters to provide the £105bn in return for unlimited free first-class travel on the HS2 trains for themselves and all their descendants for the next three generations, and give the £105bn saved to the NHS and schools?)
  • Lebanon has discovered another 4.3 tonnes of undocumented ammonium nitrate near the port of Beirut.  (Sounds like an opportunity for Ryanair to offer cheap flights to ringside seats in Beirut for 5 November.)
  • At the end of August, Apple’s market value was greater than the combined value of all companies in the FTSE 100 index.
  • Water companies in England discharged raw sewage into rivers more than 200,000 times last year;  in February this year, a permit was issued for the import of 27,500 tonnes of sewage sludge containing human waste from the Netherlands.

Let’s finish with another kindness.

The Home Office has chartered an aeroplane to deport 11 Syrian asylum seekers, many of them without any identity documentation, and has just abandoned them at Madrid airport.  A Guardian reader who lives in Spain has offered to help and she’s now trying to arrange local support for them.

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