I serve on the Board of the British Library, which brings with it a privileged glimpse into the research methods of authors and academics and curators as they begin to piece together novels, papers and restorations. I always enjoy that phase of creativity in my own work: the unearthing of new connections, the unexpected discovery of a parallel life, the light that history shines on our contemporary preoccupations. A mix of enthusiasm and excitement in discovery, a source of energy, a ‘eureka’ moment that turns inspiration into action. An act of life-fulfilling creative love as passion.
Today is Valentine’s day and probably the oldest Valentine’s letter in the English language survives in the British Library. It was written by Margery Brews to her fiancé John Paston in February 1477. Describing John as her ‘right well-beloved valentine’, she tells him she is ‘not in good health of body nor of heart, nor shall I be till I hear from you.’ She explains that her mother has tried to persuade her father to increase her dowry – so far unsuccessfully. However, she says, if John loves her he will marry her anyway: ‘But if you love me, as I trust verily that you do, you will not leave me therefore.’ There was a happy ending to the story, as the couple did eventually marry. A very private letter of love from across the ages: a personal love fulfilled.
Part of my MSL work helps leaders to understand ethics in the context of their business lives as complex rational, emotional and social beings. In my background reading I have found myself drawn to Aristotle, Greek philosopher and polymath who wrote elegantly on a huge range of subjects, including ethics. In his discussion of love in friendship, he says a genuine friend is someone who loves or likes another person for the sake of that other person, that each friend recognises this attitude in the other. Aristotle famously captured a multi-layered definition of love: ‘Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.’ It might be interpreted simply is the Yin and Yang of opposite forces, of dualities that interconnect: finding oneself in another. For Aristotle love of rational contemplation, love of activity, love of creativity were attributes to pursue on the path to a good life.
All of the designers we meet at MSL talk about their love of fabric and particularly a love of print on textiles. They talk of their love coming from the warp and weft of the fabrics, from the inspiration that follows research, from developing prints which grows from that inspiration. They produce examples of Aristotelian love, a passion for life and for beauty. The designers we meet demonstrate the difference between the ordinary and the remarkable, the way love of detail, of proportion, of beauty and of purpose can lift our souls and help invigorate all of our ‘loves.’
In amongst the Valentine’s cards, I hope you find yourself reflecting like Aristotle on the power of our ‘loves’, for the excitement of inspiration turning into action turning into passion.