For the love of ourselves 💚
This week I'm contractually obliged to believe in love!
If the day after Christmas is nicknamed 'Boxing' and the Friday before Easter is supposedly 'Good', then what shall we call the day after Saint Valentine's?
Love is something of an empty word, in that it means so many different things to different people with no one agreeing on much aside from its intrinsic value.
It's the perfect hook for a marketing campaign.
Even the local British Heart Foundation are leveraging the season to hoick donations from people looking to advertise their love in the shop window on Gloucester Road.
But what I never hear about is the relationship between love and ambition. Bear with me.
You can't love someone unless you truly love yourself.
Not only do I disagree with this card filler, but I actually think it is much easier to love someone else than to love yourself.
Do you love yourself? I don't. Quite a surprising revelation if you've never properly entertained the question.
It doesn't mean that I loathe myself, but I don't love myself as much as I love other people in this world.
Think of how you feel when a loved one walks into the room.
If you're anything like me, then you're absolutely THRILLED. Your face lights up and you feel a ripple of excitement about how the next ten minutes are going to play out.
That is not the feeling I get when I wake up in the morning. 'Ooh, look – I'm ME again!'
No. My first thought on regaining conscious control of my higher faculties is more along the lines of: 'Ugh. How can it be morning again already?'
If you do react with unalloyed delight every time you realise that you're inhabiting your own skull, then all credit to you. That must be a pretty special place to be (if a little disturbing for the rest of us).
The people I love, I love unconditionally. If there's one thing about love that we all agree on, aside from its enormous marketing potential, it's that it should be unconditional.
No matter what your loved ones do, you'll always give them the benefit of the doubt, you'll always support them, you'll always think that what they're doing is awesome and deserves to triumph.
But hold on. Always?
Actually, no. On serious mathematical reflection, I estimate that I unconditionally love my loved ones about 95% of the time (and yes I am aware of the contradiction in that sentence).
But 95% of the time is still pretty amazing, and sufficient that we all use the shorthand 'love' to account for such madness.
You wildly exaggerate their positive qualities. In particular, you overestimate their intelligence, sense of humour, beauty and profundity.
Pretty much all the time, you can't see their faults. When unambiguously confronted with their faults, they're charming - or at least off-set by the fact that they own a Lexus.
You unfailingly interpret their intentions as good, even when bad things happen. Again and again.
You talk them up to others, who may or may not roll their eyes.
You feel completely comfortable around them (this might be a good test for whether a feeling is love or infatuation).
You are astonishingly patient with them. So patient are you that you can bear to live with them in the same house. Sometimes even the same room or - in exceptional circumstances - a two-man tent.
You are proud of what you see as their stunning achievements. Maybe not always in their presence because no one likes a braggart, but if anyone challenges them on their stunning triumphs, you'll knock them out.
You do shit for them that no one in their right mind would do for another person. You find yourself doing things that you've never done for anyone ever before. Like their laundry.
You want to be close to them, physically. You miss them when they're gone. Sometimes this hurts, physically.
You believe in their dreams and are pretty confident they'll get there, unless the universe conspires cruelly against them.
Based on this list, I reckon that I 'unconditionally' love myself about 30% of the time.
I definitely overplay my strengths and I'm as susceptible as anyone to the cognitive bias that makes me overlook and excuse my own faults.
I don't, however, own a Lexus.
I also give myself a much harder time than I do the people I love. I'm less likely to cut myself some slack, trust my good intentions, or even recognise, let alone be proud of my triumphs.
However, where I think our struggle to love ourselves harms us most is in the arena of ambition, life goals or dreams, as you prefer. After all, these are the momentous things that end up changing the world.
It scares me to think of all the dreams and glorious futures that go unrealised because no one ever thought that they were worth believing in. That belief comes from love. It's called the astronaut test.
The Astronaut Test
Someone comes to you and says: 'One day, I'm going to become an astronaut.'
If that person is just another Joe, then you'll say, 'Really? That's great. Good luck.' And in your head you're probably thinking, 'As if!'
If that person is someone you love, however, then you'll probably say something like, 'YES YOU ARE. THAT SHIT IS AWESOME.' And give them a massive hug.
In your head, you're probably thinking, 'Fucking hell, that's amazing! I love this human!'
Further back in your head, you might also dimly recall that the last time they got on a plane they had to be stretchered off while it was still on the runway because 'It was a little bit high up' - but overcoming such adversity only goes to show how incredible they are.
Now. Which of those two reactions do you show yourself whenever you dream big?
If you're anything like me, it's hands-down the first – to such an extent that I mostly keep my dreams buried deep down in the mudflats of my heart where no one can see them, least of all myself.
That seems like a bit of a shame. It'd be cool to get my love-of-self up to more like 50% unconditional and see whether there's a corresponding rise in ambition.
The Day After Valentine's Day
This is where we come back to that silly homily: You can't love someone unless you truly love yourself.
But if it's easier for me to love another than it is to love myself, then I'd bet it works the other way around too. (Standard exclusions apply.)
Valentine's Day is all about showing our love to others - and I'm all in favour of that. But today I'd like to dedicate to ourselves.
What dreams and ambitions could we discover and realise if we all took February 15 to recognise and actually acknowledge the love-of-ourselves in the eyes of someone else?
Is there a Saint Narcissus*?
Thanks to the PTA for conversations leading to this. Love ya!
* Narcissus would be a totally inappropriate patron saint of love-of-ourselves. Narcissus was actively disdainful of the love people showed him: the exact opposite of what I want to encourage. But I really needed a flippant sign-off to this post. Sorry.
One of the reasons why I write this email, week in, week out, is because I always get some wonderfully thoughtful replies.
Last week, you sent lush messages about Khora, stories about beloved hair stylists, and a mind-blowing email about the joys of living vicariously through the lives of your loved ones. You guys are awesome.
I just wanted to put this little box here to say thank you to everyone who writes back, and to remind everyone else that this is an email and you can use the reply button like you would on any other. Thanks!
It is natural for a man to feel an aweful and religious terror when placed in the centre of a thick wood. John Evelyn (1664)
Like Alastair Humphreys, I'm spending more of this year up trees. This particular coppiced ash climb drew the attention of a worrisome dog, highly suspicious of the bag that I left at the roots.
A walker came to investigate.
'Hello?' she called out to the patently empty woods.
I've published 5 books, including stories of hitch-hiking from London to Ben Nevis, and cycling 4,110 miles around Britain. Visit my tiny book shop.
The ebooks are Pay What You Want, so you choose the price tag. Can't say fairer than that.
Right. Back to the day job now, although perhaps only after a turn around the sunshining park.
Let's do this thing where, if we meet a homeless person this weekend, we remember that laziness doesn't exist. I gave a £1.51 to a man who asked the other day and he gave me a big hug. Best return on investment I ever made.
Don't forget to listen to Smashing Sundays this, er, Sunday. Episode 3 is with the wonderful actor David Oakes, who lives up to his name with some great chat about trees. Edited by the elusive Dave Charms.
David Charles wrote this newsletter. David is co-writer of BBC Radio sitcom Foiled, and also writes for The Bike Project, Elevate and Thighs of Steel. He can be found at davidcharles.info and on Twitter @dcisbusy
WORD OF THE WEEK
‘The warmeness of the Sunne in Winter.’ Cockeram 1623.