While Valentine’s Day is often about sugar highs and overpriced romantic dinners, it is, at heart, a celebration of love. It can also be the springboard for talk about love—not just as a one-time, special event during a dinner of red foods and chocolate-dipped strawberries, but as part of your nightly routine.
For most of us, food is a metaphor for love, and surely getting a home-cooked meal on the table most nights should suffice. But what if you also want to have more conversations that promote love?
I think that at the core of love is the capacity to show up and tune in to another person’s experience. This is an experience that starts at the beginning of life, when a parent soothes a baby with a calm voice, a gentle gaze and relaxing cuddling. It is this feeling that someone else “gets me” that continues to be essential to making deep connections with others. Being able “to get” someone else is what empathy is all about.
When children are toddlers, they start to develop the capacity for empathy—not only can they comfort themselves, but they also can comfort others. When my younger son (at an age when he wasn’t yet making sentences) saw his brother crying, he quietly climbed a chair and reached for a box of Band Aids—not a perfect solution to hurt feelings, but certainly a sign of brotherly empathy. The capacity to feel empathy — ‘How you feel matters to me’ –is part of our wiring as humans and forms the basis of all types of love: sibling, parental, as well as romantic.
So, how can this capacity for empathy be woven into our everyday table discussions?