Ethos As Your Valentine
If you are not one for the manufactured love-fest that is mid-February, come sit over here. Same. These heart-shaped days can be formidable for many. If this holiday season is newly painful, or routinely difficult, or anything in between, then timing is overdue to look at how being an actual valentine starts with your very own ethos.
Ethos? What the hell — it’s so ancient, does it even make sense?
Maybe you were taught to write in a style that includes ethos, defined as using a credible source. It’s more than that, though; it is speaking from a place of moral character, with practical wisdom, and goodwill toward your audience. Okay, here’s an example. I love baking desserts, I do it out of pure enjoyment, and it’s an area I’m pretty confident I’m not going to let you down. I made the bars/biscuits from “Ted Lasso”, and let me tell you, they don’t live up to the hype. (Right there, is practical wisdom and moral character and audience goodwill: you can trust me, these bars are not all that.) Rebecca, a character in the show, positively swoons over these bars (her actual reaction is not suitable for print in this medium); I am here to tell you Rebecca needs better desserts in her life for baseline comparison. If those little shortbreads are the best sweets she’s had, that lack of experience needs some attention. That’s how ethos works — share the insights. Everyone is clamoring about wanting to try to Lasso’s bars/biscuits. Those of us who actually baked them up are like, meh. And we tell you so from a place of practical knowledge: we bake on the regular, those are not so greaty-great.
Here’s the next level about ethos. It has communal roots. It is visible when one’s private self is made public, when one’s credibility becomes part of one’s identity. Someone who teaches is a teacher, someone who cares is a caregiver. You have societies with a collective spirit, sharing common beliefs — kindergartens full of questioning learners, towns supporting local businesses, neighbors who decorate so seriously for the holidays, cultures with multiple generations under one roof, groups proudly wearing sorority colors, fans tailgating before the game, Coloradoans quick to tell about their 300 days of sunshine a year. Our ethos flows out to others around us, and — if we are lucky — is included in how others define us.
There is some credence to understanding what makes others, and ourselves feel valued. A quick exploration of the five love languages will show you we all respond differently; in “Ted Lasso”, Rebecca loves receiving gifts, and Ted responds to words of affirmation. Roy likes physical touch, and Keeley likes quality time (also, time alone). Those are all well and good, and are the best and easiest paths to building relationships. But that fifth language of love, acts of service, is the one you can do even without a partner or relationship. Engaging in acts of service extends well beyond making life easier or better for your significant other; it actually makes your community better, and allows you to see yourself as a valued member. It builds ethos. Your acts of service begin to define you: you are a volunteer, a blood donor, a gardener, a booster, a supporter, a neighbor and friend. As Father Greg Boyle explains in his book, “Tattoos on the Heart”, the Beatitudes are less a spirituality and more a geography; rather than “Blessed are the peacemakers…”, a more precise translation is “You are in the right place if you work for peace.” Again, what he is saying is, the work begins where we are, with acts that ripple out like water.
Oh, the ways we show love is complex. What and who we love is important unto ourselves, and we have to figure that out for ourselves first. We might love books, and dogs, and sunrise, and fresh coffee, music, poetry, favorite jeans, eating oranges in bed, travel and hikes and lemon bars, March Madness, hometown teams, rocky beaches, summer peaches, all the things that make us, us. Maybe we are lucky to have people we love and who love us back, but maybe — for many— that is just not coming together. For everyone finding this season of hearts and flowers and lace and love just a mite difficult, for any overwhelming myriad reasons, have faith. What you have within you is both tiny and mighty; we are not in charge of a lot of things, but we are in charge of the self we bring to the world. The seeds we plant right now to build community and add value to our days, in fact contain multitudes. Practical and wise, you are a credible believable source on being a decent human in the world. Be a lighthouse to others, full of promise every damn day of the year, not just one heart-shaped calendar date in mid-February.
In the dark of the lonely days and nights, the truth is what we already know — we can only ‘be mine’ to the ethos we cultivate, to care for ourselves with values we value, in order to best care for, or lead, or influence, others. That right there will make the heart bigger, and compassion stronger, and empathy deeper, laughter richer, inclusion wider, kindness mightier, connections sturdier, fear quieter, and hope bolder. It is no surprise to those of us who’ve been in the trenches: the hard way is the only way — it’s not satin boxes of waxy chocolates. It is building an improved ethos. We deserve better desserts in life, and we are the sweetness we’ve been waiting for.