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Ancient Greek and types of love

Peter Muijres | Culture Class .org

A terrorist attack by radicalised Muslims in London during the holy month of Ramadan (Mai 26th – June 24th 2017) adds another reason to have a look at differences in the experience and different types of ‘love’. And this time from the perspective of the ancient Greek, who believed that one type of love cannot be all encompassing, regardless of how passionate and carried away you might be about your community, a romantic partner or even a god.

The ancient Greek identified many different gods and types of love, who were all living in coexistence. Of over 30 types of love, 7 are explained below.

  • Agape is the love of humanity. It’s the kind of love which makes us sorrowful when we hear of a crisis in another country or in our own. It makes us contribute our time, money, bodies to the good cause and makes us feel connected to people we don’t know simply on the basis of our shared experience as human beings.
  • Philia refers to the love which comes from shared experience. It’s the love we feel for the people we strive with to achieve a shared goal – our co-workers, the players in a football team, and the soldiers in an army.

The Philia most prized by the Greeks was the profound friendship that developed between comrades who had fought side by side on the battlefield. They considered themselves as equals, and would not only share their personal worries but also display extreme loyalty, helping one another in times of need without expecting anything in return.”

  • Pragma is the love which endures. It is the love between a married couple which develops over a long period, the love which endures in sickness and in health. It’s the care a child gives to a sick parent and the love which makes a friend care for her old school friend who has become vulnerable in later life.

In the 1950s the psychologist Erich Fromm made a distinction between ‘falling in love’ and ‘standing in love’. He said we spend 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.

  • About Philautia: there is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt. Philautia is the love we give to ourselves. This is not only vanity, like narcissism, but our joy in having self-respect and being true to our own values. If we have the strength to care for ourselves, we can in turn care for others.

“All friendly feelings for others, wrote Aristotle, are extensions of a man’s feelings for himself.” The message is that we must first ‘own’ ourselves by accepting our strengths and weaknesses, before we can give ourselves away again and love others. You can’t give away what you don’t own. But when you like yourself and feel secure in yourself then you will have plenty of love to give without fear, envy, greed, or having to prove yourself coming in the way. If you know what makes you happy, then you will be in a astronger postion to find a way of extending that happiness to those around you. If, on the other hand, you are uncomfortable with who you are, or harbour some self-loathing, then you will have little love to offer others”.

  • Ludus means flirting or playful affection. It’s the feelings we have when we test out what it may be like to be in love with someone – the fluttering heart and feelings of euphoria; the slightly dangerous feeling.
  • Eros means romantic and erotic love. This one is based on sex and powerful magnetism. It’s the one which can get us into the most trouble. It can turn into other kinds of love – like pragma – but it starts as romance and attraction.
  • Storge is the love members of a family have for each other. It’s the love a parent has for a child or a child has for a favourite aunty or uncle, the love a foster parent feels for the children in her care and the love a grandparent feels for the child adopted by his son and daughter-in-law.

When one kind of love grows and turns into a passion, other types of love are sometimes forgotten about. However, keep in mind that love is a quality and as such can’t be boxed in, measured or compared. One type of love may precede, change into or be a condition for the existence of other types of love.

Love turning into passion might make other types of love appear  inferior or less desirable. The ancient Greek show that love does not survive in isolation or can be understood within a hierarchy, but thrives in quality and diversity: in the qualities of the life that we share together.

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What’s in a word: Culture in context.

Written by Peter Muijres – http://www.cultureclass.org

The last blog post was about the question how the availability of words in different languages facilitates people to express things. Right now, this emphasis will shift towards the question whether a language is able to express cultural uniqueness and what implications this would have for cross-cultural communication. ‘Intranslatable’ foreign words are often quoted and explained to show there is nothing special about the culture that generated them.

The Swedish word Mångata, is popular for example, meaning: the road-like reflection of the moon on the water. Next one; the Spanish sobremesa is the leisurely time spent at the table together after people have finished eating. Easy. Next, one: utepils means enjoying a beer outside in the sun. Next one in line is the Japanese Komorebi. English language might need several words to describe the effect of sunlight filtering through leaves where the Japanese need only one, but in the end we are talking about the same thing, aren’t we?

That remains the question. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that words that exist only in one language expresses an unique experience particular to that culture, because the meaning of words determines what we are capable of thinking of. At the other hand, the structuralist approach in linguistics, proposes that the words in a language are like the holes in a fishing net. Each language group throws the fishing net in its own way over a surface, which represents reality. Although the net and the holes will always fall differently, and different words cover different aspects and dimensions, the reality underneath stays basically the same. The methaphor is used to illustrate that people all have a similar experience of reality, although the words they use to catch this reality may differ.

What does this mean to cross-cultural communication? Structuralists might argue: ‘communication between cultures is possible because people understand the words they use in the same way‘. Cultural differences are superficial and no experience is exclusive to people in one culture, the structuralist view holds. At the other hand, cultural relativists, like Sapir and Whorf, might argue that ‘communication between cultures goes wrong all the time, because people understanding the words they use in different ways’. The latter suggests that people from different cultures make sense of reality differently and should therefore be understood in their own terms.

An abilty to explain something (‘erklaeren’) and having an interpretative understanding (‘verstehen’) are two different things, Max Weber once explained. By now, you might have a notion of what utepils is. However you still have no idea what it means to live through a long, dark Scandinavian winter and the mindset, social setting and joyful expectations of spring and summer that the Norwegians tend to associate with ‘enjoying a beer in the sun’. Understanding the meaning of a word means something different than understanding that meaning in its cultural context. Let’s sink our teeth into two examples.

The German word ‘Fingerspitzengefuehl’ literally translates as ‘fingertips feeling’. The concept describes a certain strategic awareness, tact and intuition that allows for a quick responding to situational changes. The description might have drafted a picture by now, but it probably won’t include the almost geek-like joy and satisfaction that fingertips feelers may derive from observing how all particles in an incomprehensible scheme ingeniously work together to produce the tangible, hoped for result. A commitment to understand what needs to be done, why and in what way fosters a carefully cultivated mindset of punctuality, discipline and critical curiousity on a level where skills turn into art. Famous for their attention to detail, planning and punctuality, a missing cultural context would fail to make understandable why Germans were among the first to come up with a word for ‘Fingerspitzengefuehl’.

The opposite of planning is delicately caught by a word the Portuguese came up with: desenrascanço. Literally meaning “disentanglement”, desenrascanço refers to improvised, ad hoc solutions that prevent the problem from getting completely out of control and without a solution. So, that be a serious reason for concern?

Although you may have an idea of the translation of desenrascanço, developing cultural sensitivity requires a context. Desenrascanço is normally used to express an ability to solve a problem without having the knowledge or the adequate tools to do so, by use of imaginative resources or by applying knowledge to new situations. Portuguese people are said to strongly believe it to be one of their most valued virtues and a living part of their culture. There is a distinct pride and pleasure involved in the resourcefulness associated with the ability to handle unexpected situations and is not to be confused with an endorsement of amateurism, irresponsibility and lack of planning.

This brings us back to the original question: is a language able to express cultural uniqueness and what implications would that have for cross-cultural communication? The purpose of raising questions such as these is not to end up with a final answer that should be copied and applied across situations indifferently.

One post on cultureclassblog mentioned that picking up easily on new languages indicates cultural intelligence, because it shows an ability to recognize and apply subtle culture specific meanings in communication. What did the American expat, who refused to speak anything but English, communicate by stating : “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s surely good enough for me!”? That speaking in the same language is no guarantee for being on the same page.

More important than the content of words is your view of self, others, your relation to others and the world that you communicate. Relationships depend on communication and over 80% of it happens non-verbally. Attending to mind whether another person really understands and feels understood may not seem necessary at times, but may contribute something else  within a context where borders are crossed and opportunities created together.

Cultureclass.org provides training in cross-cultural personal and communication skills.

Ramadan Kareem!

 

 

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By Peter Muijres – Culture Class

Getting sloppy with your daily prayers? Do sexy bikini girls make you sigh and your eyes wander off? Do feelings of greed, envy, anger or other sinful thoughts clutter your mind? The month of Ramadan offers Muslims a tailored opportunity to get their  spiritual, moral, social and psychological ducks in a row again. However, many people who are not Islamic only have a faint idea what it involves and why Muslims do it.

Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, because they have to and/or choose or want to. Opting out of fasting without having a good reason means inviting severe critique and social rejection and is therefor hardly an option. At the other hand, Muslims are self-motivated to fast. Fasting is a religious obligation because one of the five pillars in Islam (#4) commands that all adult Muslims have to fast during the month of Ramadan. The other four pillars are: #1: Accept God as the only god and Muhammad as his messenger (Shahadah). #2) Pray at least five times a day (Tarawih). #3) Spend 2,5 % or more of your savings to the poor and needy (Zakat). #5) Make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life (Hajj).

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Arabic calendar during which the fasting takes place between sunrise (suhoor) and sunset (iftar). The Ramadan month is holy, because the first revelation of the Qur’an was sent down by God to Muhammed during Ramadan. During the holy month, the ‘thawab‘ for being good or bad are multiplied. ‘Thawab’, entails a sort of religious credits associated with being virtuous as a Muslim. The sight of the crescent moon marks the start of the Ramadan and the break-of-fasting party (Eid-al-fitr) 30 days later marks the end. This year, in 2014, Ramadan starts today on the 28th of June and ends on the 27th of July.

Muslims who are exempted from fasting include children, and adults who are travelling, menstruating, breast-feeding, busy with a Jihad (holy war), ill or pregnant. Who is fasting and who is not has always been an inspiring source of conversation. Modern days have complicated the cut-off line, because it is harder to determine who is travelling, for example. Are first generation Muslims who are temporarily living abroad travelling? Also, are people with mental disorders ill and thus exempted, so they can continue taking their prescribed medication? Even if they are, the ‘spiritual medicine’ and healing effect that the sense of ‘social belonging’ has to offer, motivates many to participate nevertheless. When circumstances force a person to miss one or more days of fasting, these can usually be compensated with fasting extra days after the Ramadan month.

Fasting is associated with religious, cultural, social and psychological benefits:

– Religious benefits: Ramadan offers a great window of opportunity to please God, repent your sins and save your soul because the thawab are multiplied during the holy month. It is a time of reflecting on your belief and reconnect with God, repent your sins. The five prayers a day and recitation of the Qur’an help you remind how you ought to behave.
– Benefits for cultural identity: During Ramadan, all Muslims are doing and focusing on the same thing. That has a strong bonding effect within the ‘umma’, the transnational Muslim community, and strengthens to the cultural identity of Muslims.
– Social benefits: During Ramadan, Muslims try to be nice to each other, not to get upset and avoid feelings like envy, greed, lust, anger and such. They try to keep their coolness and avoid swearing and fighting. This creates a great opportunity to restore social ties, get in touch with people you haven’t seen for a while, settle old conflicts or make new arrangements. Family and friends visit each other after sunset and organise buffet style dinner parties with delicious traditional dishes and drinks in abundance. The charity resulting from observance of the third pillar helps out the poor and needy.
– Psychological benefits: To fast for 30 days during the daytime requires an effort and shows that you are capable of self-restraint and self-discipline. Abstinence, poetically worded ‘dying before you die’ (Rumi), will help you:
(a) regain appreciation for the luxuries you have,
(b) free yourself from the value and dependency you may have attached to wordly goods, and
(c) prepare you to sacrifice yourself and your possesions for a higher goal when necessary.

So, although fasting is in effect a religious and social obligation, in many Islamic countries enforced by rules and laws and an facilitated by an adaptation of daily life, many Muslims consider it a choice to fast. Pickthall illustrates that element of choice in a speech in 1920. He points out that God does not require people to fast, because God does not want or need anything from us creatures. Instead, Muslims themselves decide to fast because in the end the self-disciplinary effort of pleasing God and all social side effects include are to their own benefit. The fasting before and the feasting after sunset brings Muslims closer together and to God, and works as a source of self-respect, social restoration and the acknowledgement of others.

Culture Class is a group of trainers, therapists and performers who train and coach people to realise their potential beyond personal and cultural limits. http://www.cultureclass.org