At the intersection of commercial and personal

This week has the distinction of two very different days. Tuesday, February 12th was “Let’s Talk” Day, an event sponsored by Bell, and put through social media. in Canada. Thursday, February 14th is Valentines Day, which as of yet does not have corporate sponsorship worldwide.

The purposes and histories of these days is very different, as is their motivation. “Let’s Talk” was designed to raise awareness of various mental illnesses, and to encourage people to open up about their struggles with them. For every tweet or text message with the hashtag “#BellLetsTalk” on the 12th, Bell donated 5 cents to mental health issues.

Valentines Day has been around much longer, and it’s historically been a holiday to celebrate “someone special”, with various expressions of love and affection.

The majority of the discussion around the 12th was positive, though there was some question as to Bell’s motive in sponsoring, and to whether the corporate backing was needed. Shouldn’t we be discussing this on our own? Shouldn’t mental illness be something we’re sensitive to? I imagine this comes up with a lot of “good causes” whenever big business gets involved.

There has been similar thoughts raised about Valentines Day- that it’s too commercial, that there’s no meaning to it, and it’s used as a mechanism to make money. As before, companies with an aim of profit will use any means they can to achieve it- and a day that encourages acts of affection (and gifts) is an easy enough means to use to achieve that goal.

To a point, that concern is justified. For-profit businesses exist, well, for profit. Anything that’s done by that business has to be viewed through that lens. If Bell was encouraging text messages and tweets, how many plans got extra activity on that day- therefore, bringing their bill up at the end of the month? Text messages on other carriers didn’t get the donation.

As for Valentines Day, when hasn’t romance been big business? Diamonds, spa trips, chocolates, we probably see more of those in February than any other month. It’s just more visible now than it ever has been.

Where they come together for me is that the aims of both of these days can be used for good. Business being involved is a side effect of anything in today’s society. But it doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in the days, or even in corporate encouragement of it, as long as we don’t confuse the value of it with how much we spend.

We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the commercial aspect of anything. The challenge is to not let that aspect dominate the conversation, or steer our aims for these days. Mental health has a long way to go before we understand it, and the expression of love towards someone special is always worth celebrating. Having days set aside for that, social constructs where everyone is participating, can be good and worthwhile, if we appreciate it properly.

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