Love Actually

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Love is in the air, and by that I mean love is on the calendar.

Today, February 14, is Valentine’s Day…St. Valentine’s Day, technically. Valentine is the patron saint of people with epilepsy and the patron saint of beekeepers. But we know him primarily as the patron saint of lovers.

Even though we primarily don’t know what love is.

Our lack of understanding is not due to our lack of questioning. Pop culture has often asked about the topic, of course, with perhaps one of its most notable inquiries being Haddaway’s 1993 hit dance song What Is Love?

At first listen, Haddaway’s question, “What is love?” seems rhetorical, as he asks it 12 times in the song without answering it once. However, he also uses the line “don’t hurt me” 24 times in the song, which indicates that he links love with the avoidance of pain.

Derek Webb takes the opposite approach, exploring What Is Not Love in his 2004 song. Here is the chorus.

But I give myself to what looks like love
And I sell myself for what feels like love
And I pay to get what is not love
And all just because I see things upside down

In his song, Webb suggesgts that he doesn’t often understand love and thus pursues what is not love. His lyrics about love feel like a lament, an admission of pain.

Pain, of course, is the common denominator between What Is Love? and What Is Not Love. And pain is a critical component of what love actually is. But love isn’t an avoidance of pain nor an admission of pain. Instead, true love is an entrance into pain.

When we love others, we enter into their pain with them, alongside them. And if/when we can, we enter into their pain for them, on their behalf.

This is not the glamorous, amorous, version of love that Valentine’s Day presents (to no fault of St. Valentine’s; he understood true love very well — to the extent that he was executed for it). Our culture in general, and specifically on Valentine’s Day, settles for a Cupid-and-chocolates version of love, framing it as (a) a feeling others elicit within “me” because (b) they are familiar with what makes “me” happy.

But note: In order to lead — in order to serve others — well we must disconnect love from “me emotion” and connect it to “others action.” Toward that, here is a useful definition of love: Love is repeated (a) decisions made from a genuine concern for others and (b) actions initiated intentionally for the benefit of others, without requirement or expectation for positive reciprocation.

In short, true love is sacrifice.

Which is why true love is difficult. Exceedingly.

And why it is transformative. Exponentially.

This Valentine’s Day, take stock of your love, leaders. The accurate measurement is not how intimate you are with that which causes others pleasure.

The accurate measurement is how intimate you are with that which causes others pain.

That’s love, actually.

Love Actually was originally published in Horizon Performance on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.