August 1, 2014

How should we live by Roman Krznaric

How should we live by Roman Krznaric
Great Ideas from the past for everyday life.

The man immortalized as St. Valentine would be shocked to discover that he has become the patron saint of romantic love. He was executed for his Christian faith in the 3rd century. A feast in his name was first held in 496 and for most of the next millennium he was venerated for having the power to heal the sick and crippled. He had nothing to do with romantic until 1382, when Chaucer wrote a poem describing Valentine day, celebrated each February, as a time when birds and people - would choose their mates.

Most of us have experienced both the pleasure and sorrows of love. We might remember the burning desire and shared rapture of a first affair, or have taken comfort in the security of a long-term relationship.

The six Varieties of Love:
Contemporary coffee culture has developed a sophisticated vocabulary to describe the many options for getting a daily caffeine fix - cappuccino, espresso, flat white, Americano, macchiato & mocha. The ancient Greeks distinguishing six different kinds of love.

Cupid is the Roman version of Eros, the Greek god of love and fertility. It is viewed as dangerous, fiery and irrational form of love that could take hold of you and posses you. “Desire doubled love, love doubled is madness” said Prodicus, a philosopher from the 5th century BCE.

The next type of love is known as paiderastia - often associated with homosexuality, esp. the love of older men for adolescents, a practice prevalent in the 5th-6th century.

Philia is another variety of love - usually translated as ‘friendship - was considered far more virtuous than the base sexuality of eros.

Scholars commonly use the Latin word ludus to describe this form of love, which concerns the playful affection between children or casual lovers. We see ludus today when youngsters play ‘spin the bottle’ which provides the prospect of a first, nerve-wracking kiss.  Our most exuberant lucid moments often take place on the dance floor, where physical proximity to others - often strangers - offers a playful sexualized encounter that acts as a substitute for sex itself. One of the reasons Latin American dances such as salsa and tango have become so popular in Europe and North America is that they are suffused with this lucid quality that many people feel lacking in their lives.

In 1950s the psychologist Erich Fromm made a distinction between ‘falling in love’ and ‘standing in love’: he said we expend too much energy on the falling and should focus more on the standing, which is primarily about giving love rather than receiving it. Pragma is at the core of this idea of standing in love.

When pragma required giving to your partner, agape or self-less love was a much more radical ideal. This was an ancient Greek love defined by its lack of exclusiveness: it was to be extended altruistically to all human beings, whether they were a member of a family or a stranger from a distant city-state.

A final love known to the Greeks was philautia or self-love, which is first glance, seems the opposite of agape - a rival that would destroy it. The wise Greeks, however, noticed that it came in two forms. There was a negative kind of self-love, which was a selfish hunger to gain personal pleasures, money and public honors, far beyond your fair share. Luckily Aristotle had spotted a more positive version of self-lover, one that enhanced our wider capacity to love. ‘All friendly feelings for others are extensions of a man’s feeling for himself’.

“When you marry you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.”.

Romantic love was born towards the end of the first millennium in the stories, poetry and music of early medieval Persia. its central features can be found in ‘The Arabian Nights’, a collection of Middle Eastern folks tales dating from around the 10the century, told night after night by the Princess Scheherazade to her new husband, the hot-tempered Sultan Shahryar, who had a habit of executing his virgin brides.

Ibn Hazm’s book was part of a wider Arab literature on love and sexuality, which popularized erotic practices such as the sensuous kiss on the mouth, hardly known in Europe during Middle Ages. the author of the North African sex manual ‘the perfumed Garden’ wisely advised that ‘A moist kiss is better than a hasty coitus 9sexual intercourse)’.

The ideology of ‘cortezia’ appeared in books such as ‘The Romance Of the Rose’, a 13th century French bestseller about a courtier attempting to woo his lady, which may be one of the sources of the custom of giving roses as a gift of love.

An even greater peculiarity of cortezia was the presence of agape, the selfless Christian love for strangers. This was best illustrated by the legend of St. George and the Dragon, which became popular in the 13th century. An evil, plague-infested dragon makes its nest at a spring that provides water for a nearby city. The king’s daughter is offered as a sacrifice to the dragon so the citizens can access the spring. Suddenly along comes St. George, who looks the dragon in the eye, makes the sign of the holy cross and charges towards the beast, giving it a near-fatal wound with his lance. Accompanied by the liberated princess, St. George then leads the limping dragon back to the city on a leash, where he slaughters it before the eyes of the people. In honor of this heroic deed, the grateful citizens abandon their paganism and converted to Christianity.

The consumerist ethos infiltrating public culture also encouraged us to treat finding a lover as a form of shopping, a point first made in the 1950s when Erich Fromm wrote that two people ‘fall in love when they have found the best object available in the market’. There is a danger, claim some psychologists that we may seek to maximize the quality of our romantic purchases rather than accept imperfections and end up treating our partners almost like material possessions that we can discard at will.

The first lesson from history is to shift our expectations. We have to abandon the idea of perfection - of finding someone who meets all the criteria on our amorous wish list. The second lesson is to understand that lover has its own chronology, with the different varieties of love coming and going throughout the course of a relationship. The challenge before us is to adopt a new vocabulary of love inspired by the ancient Greeks, and let our knowledge of its many forms permeate our minds, infuse our conversations and guide our actions.


If you have ever experienced stony silences at a family dinner, you are in good historical company. The Rule of St. Benedict, which has guided the life of Benedictines and other monasteries. since the sixth century, asks its followers to avoid evil words and spend much of the day, including meals in silence. Dinner is a time for listening to readings from uplifting spiritual texts rather than having conversations, even about God. This explains why medieval villagers spoke little while eating.

On the other hand, silence is as much a matter of geography as religion. ‘Scandinavians are of the opinion that you only speak when you have something to say’ according to communication experts and talkativeness is associated with being egotistical and unreliable,

The 18th century was the era of clever conversations. It was followed in the 19th by the era of hidden emotions. This began with the rise of the Romantic Movement, which offered great conversational promise. Poets such as Coleridge and Keats willingly bared their tortured souls and unrequited love to the world. But they mostly did so on paper. During the Victorian era a stark divide arose between how men and women expressed themselves, esp. amongst the British middle and upper classes. Men came to prize cool rationality and emotional reserve, while women were more likely to display their inner thoughts and feelings and showed a greater capacity for sympathetic listening. Marriage guides advised wives not to burden their husbands with their personal troubles, while children were encouraged to repress their feelings and ‘keep a stiff upper lip’ - an idiom originating in a 19th century nursery poem.

For possibilities to become realities, we need to find ways of overcoming our fears and lack of self-confidence, which may be holding us back from taking action. What if I make the wrong choice? Do I really have the skills to be successful? Can I take the financial risk of changing jobs? Won’t I be wasting all those years I spent getting to where I am now? These are many ways to approach such fears and begin on a pathway towards change. 19th century writer Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. the more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled to torn? What if you do fail and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble?”.

We now occupy a hyper-visual society. Sight has increasingly become the default filter for our sensory experiences and our perceptions of sound and scent may be more dulled than at any other moment in Western history. The result is not only that most of us fail to develop the sensory sophistication at our biological realities of surface impressions.

The inheritance of belief:

To the question, ‘Why do people believe in God?, the best answer remains: ‘Because they have been taught to believe in God... The vast majority of believers have been born into whatever tradition they now follow... Most individuals learn their religion in childhood as a specific identity, within a specific community”.

A typical right-brain exercise asked you to sketch a tree by focusing on drawing the ‘negative’ spaces between the branches rather than the branches themselves in order to circumvent the conventional idea of what a branch is supposed to look like. Another activity called ‘Morning Pages’ developed by Julia Cameron, suggested you write three pages of stream-of-consciousness each morning by hand, which would ride your mind of rational overload and free it up for creative endeavors.

The tragedy of this growing movement in creativity was that by the 1990s it had been largely appropriated by the commercial world. Books and courses were increasingly designed for business sector, and aimed at helping organizations thrive, rather than the individuals with them. best-selling creativity gurus became highly paid consultant to multinationals, applying their ideas about mind maps and thinking hats to foster;’business innovations.

All artistic genres have their conventions, ‘rules of the game’ which shape subject matter, style and technique. Traditional Chinese painting contains no shadow and gives much greater prominence to natural landscape than Western art. Ancient Egyptian wall painting displayed virtually no innovations in visual representation for 3,000 years: the head and legs were invariable in profile, with the eyes and chest portrayed frontally. Classical Greek sculpture focused on the image of man with scant interest shown in the female figure.

We might live our lives in a thousand different ways. And the civilizations of the past enable us to recognize that our habitual ways of loving, working, creating and dying are not the only options before us. We need only open the wonder-box of history and look inside to see new surprising possibilities for the art of living. Let them spark our curiosity, captivate our imaginations and inspire our actions.

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