At the end of the month of love, I reflect on what love means.
In recent times, love is seen, more and more, as the infatuation we associate with romantic love. It is not typically associated with platonic friendship, nor acts of care for others. Nor is it linked to sacrifice. We have become so self-centered that even love is associated with the self instead of the other. It’s about what others can do for us instead of what we can mean to others.
We justify our self-centered pursuit to live our desired lifestyles, while others are starving.
I am not exaggerating.
This week I met up with a previous employee. She has since moved to a small town where she was fortunate enough to find a job as a cashier at the local branch of a large company.
On prodding, I realised that her family of three teenagers go hungry most days. Her meagre salary just cannot stretch to feed them even a basic meal, never mind a properly balanced meal every day.
Her public, unlisted employer declared a profit of R195 million in the past financial year. The shareholders received an increase of 35% in payouts.
This is the reality of someone I know and love. Someone hardworking, loyal, clever, and caring. Someone who takes ownership of her responsibilities – the type of employee any company should retain. But she is starving despite the company promising their employees' fair rewards and care for all stakeholders. Clearly, they don’t care enough to understand whether their workers survive.
The gap between CEO salaries and the lowest-paid workers is the widest it has ever been. The same is of course true of politicians.
This is while we are facing a global cost of living crisis. Basics have become unaffordable even to middle-class people. There’s probably someone in your office or someone you know who is hungry right now.
It is indefensible.
Sadly, history shows that revolution or war solves inequality. It is no wonder that across the world, strike action is on the rise. I am surprised that we have not seen more upheaval in our own country.
We can excuse ourselves from the solution because we see ourselves as neither wealthy nor powerful. However, if everyone reasons this way, there will be no change. Again, we must remind ourselves of our privilege on a global scale. Those of us who haven’t gone hungry in the past month (other than dieting to shake off the December indulgence), can count ourselves the lucky ones.
Can we ask ourselves, what love means in the face of need? Does it mean that we care to understand the circumstances of our co-workers? Does it mean that we care to give a sandwich to a beggar at the traffic light? Does it mean that we set aside money, time, and energy to spend on others? Does it mean that we pay forward some of our good fortune to ensure that no one in our circle of influence goes hungry? Does it mean that we care enough to extend that care - to ensure the circle of privilege widens slightly?
In my own life, I have renewed my efforts to ensure this is true of our business and my own circle. My friend will not go hungry next month.
Love costs something. It is not only something that satiates. Nor is it something that can wait until we have satisfied our desires. I have noticed how our own desires only expand. Love comes at the cost of some of our desires.
It may also be worthwhile to remember that satisfying all our desires, seldom brings us the happiness we thought it would. Sacrificial love, on the other hand, may surprise us with the contentment it engenders.
Perhaps it's time we re-think what love really means.
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