We plan dates for Valentine’s day. We buy flowers on Mother’s day. We get Dad slippers every year for Father’s Day. We organise celebrations for our friends and family’s birthdays.
But once these days are over, it’s business as usual. We revert to our normal behaviour. To being selfish, egotistical, and focused on our own lives. To caring little for other’s feelings or desires.
The very popularity of these days indicates that this is so. Because if we always treated our spouse with love, respect and kindness, would Valentine’s Day be such a big deal? If we extended the same generosity and devotion to our parents as they extended to us every day, instead of only on certain days, wouldn’t these special days be redundant?
Remembrance Day takes place on the 11th of November. It commemorates the signing of the armistice that marked the end of the First World War. It is a day when poppies are worn. It is a day when people the world over cast their minds back to the individuals who sacrificed their lives in exchange for our freedom.
Victory Day is May 8th in Europe. It is the day on which the Nazi regime capitulated to the Allied Forces.
Independence Day is July 4th in the United States. On that day, Americans celebrate their departure from the British Empire and the founding of the United States of America.
These days are commemorative. Days in which we are supposed to recall our collective past and preserve deeds that are in danger of being forgotten. As Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, says:
“To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
I do not want to forget. But I do wish to see the end of the superficial acting out of the roles demanded of us by these special days.
Valentine’s Day compels us to treat our partners with love. Mother’s and Father’s Day forces us to do things for our parents we wouldn’t normally consider. Think about Remembrance Day. Everyone wears a poppy? Why? I understand that it’s a symbolic representation of the poppy fields on which thousands and thousands lost their lives. But why wear a poppy? Does it really matter?
I used to train at a friend’s gym. The philosophy that underpinned all the gym’s programs and approaches to training is formulated in two words. Suffer Better. And like most statements of ideology and philosophy, it loses it’s power the more it is expressed. The more explicit it’s formulation, the weaker it becomes as an idea and force.
Lyndon, owner of the gym, has had t-shirts and hoodies printed with the gym’s logo and philosophy. These garments were snapped up by members. Nothing wrong with that. We all want to belong to a tribe and demonstrate our belonging to others. Right now, as I write this, I’m wearing one of those very hoodies.
The problem is not representations and symbols of these ideas. It’s when those symbols are donned by people who don’t embrace the ideas they’re supposed to represent.
What are the chances that the ones who expend the most energy on Valentine’s Day are also the ones who treat their partners the worst? What are the odds that those who ardently celebrate Mother’s or Father’s Day spend the rest of the year forgetting and ignoring their parents?
An even more concrete example. How many people who proudly display the poppy on their breast regularly reflect upon the sacrifices of individuals of all countries in both World Wars? How many have bothered to learn about the experiences of individuals from both sides, and tried to understand why these wars even happened in the first place? I don’t know. My gut says not very many.
There’s a reason I don’t wear a poppy. There’s a reason why, for the most part, I don’t get caught up in these commemorative days. It’s because, in my eyes, these days aren’t enough.
Pierre Hadot observed that philosophy does not end with pen and ink. Philosophy is about the union of your beliefs and your conduct. It’s about aligning the two. So yes, love and cherish your partner. Please, give thanks to your parent. I beg you, meditate on what had to be sacrificed for your freedom to be preserved. Do this not because the day demands it of you, but because it’s the right thing to do. And do it every day, on all days, not just for the few we’ve designated to it in our cultural calendar.