Love Chapter 5: Enemy

credit: Mike Fritcher. cropped. link on bottom of post

“Ye have heard that it has been said, ‘Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies…”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Jesus. Gandhi. These three moral saints come to mind immediately. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a real religious person. He said “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” He said “I must not ignore the wounded man on life’s Jericho Road, because he is a part of me and I am a part of him. His agony diminishes me, and his salvation enlarges me.” He said we are in the same “garment of destiny.” He preached the most beautiful form of love found in all the world’s religions—loving your enemy. Seeing yourself in the enemy. Taking love beyond its natural limit. Taking love to its spiritual conclusion. He lived it, and died living it.

The gulf between you and your enemies is always a lack of understanding. 

When Martin Luther King Jr. looked into the eyes of a Klan member, rather than seeing an evil person, he saw a lack of understanding. “No matter what he does,” he preached, “you see God’s image there.” Beneath the fear and hatred, there are unanswered questions. Why do you hate them? Do they have reason to hate you? Why can’t you talk to them? Are they educated? Perhaps they could understand? At some point in our lives, we were all ignorant. Most often, an enemy is a person who hurt you emotionally once or twice, and your emotions refuse to let them back in. You would rather forget than forgive. That’s fine, but never think this is correct. Don’t be fooled into saying “I will forgive, but I will never forget.” That’s nonsense. I’ve heard Christians say it! Never think that shoving a person to the dark corners of your mind is Godly or Christian. It’s cowardly. This is fake religion. MLK reminds us: “Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing…This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master” (sermon, “Loving Your Enemies,” quoted from Tolstoy and Gandhi agree. In the end, you are hurting yourself. Unless you forgive.

Previously, I mentioned a gay man that I got in a fight with. He was perhaps the only enemy I’ve ever had in my life. He tortured me emotionally, lied to me, did things to hurt me, tried to drug me at least once. All the while I naively believed him, tried to be his friend, and suffered. All said and done, I did use the word “evil” to describe his diabolical mindset to get the things he wanted by taking advantage of my good nature. But it was all a horrible misunderstanding in the end, a very tragic miscommunication. He did not hate me. He loved me. He thought that I loved him the way that he loved me. But I didn’t. It did not take long for me to stop using the word “evil” to describe him, for me to forgive him in my heart. I think about the lessons I learned, and wish him the best . If I saw him I would feel no negative emotions. Although I’m not sure we could be friends, the account has been settled.
When a person is suffering and it’s nobody’s fault, we help them. If it’s our fault, we feel guilty and help them. If we think it’s their fault, we will not help them (e.g. the poor). Worse, we might hurt them. The problem with this, as all the moral saints have attested to, is that we are many times factually wrong. Lepers have a disease. Poor people come from a lineage of poor people. So the least we could do is not hurt them. As my favorite bumper sticker explains, “When Jesus said ‘love your enemies,’ I’m pretty sure he meant don’t kill them”. The most we could do is to understand and help. The least we could do is to stop hurting. When a person is suffering and we know someone else did it, we want to vindictively hurt that person. That’s what testosterone is for. We completely forget the person suffering. We don’t realize that most bullies are bullied at home. Again, our ignorance fuels the circle of suffering. That’s what MLK meant when he said that our hearts cannot be totally right if our head is totally wrong.
What really makes me sad is that we treat our loved ones as enemies, all the time. Think about all the times you degraded your husband with words, all the times you lied to your wife, all the times you took your family for granted, all the times you gossiped about your friends, all the times you took it out on your kids. What’s that ridiculous saying? “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” There is a sad truth to it. When we stop actively loving people, it just happens, it degrades: they become expendable. One day you wake up next to your husband, and you look at him in disgust. And yet, most people would die for a family, even a bad one.
If a person can love their enemies without God or some sort of Divinity, I am happy for them. As for me, I cannot. The very highest level of love—to love your enemies—is nothing short of perfection, which to me is what I mean when I say “God.”  That is why Paul said God is love, and why Gandhi considered nonviolence to be God-force.
The command to love your enemies is an extension of the command to love your neighbors. Jesus, knowing that people would misunderstand what he meant by “neighbor” (hint: anyone who needs help), just cuts to the chase. Jesus extends love to “cosmic proportions” (MLK). Jesus says it plain and simple: love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you, bless those who curse you. No interpretation needed. Many Christians don’t talk about it. Preachers, if they talk about it, have a sarcastic undertone: let’s all just try our best, ok guys? Thanks.
Jesus isn’t commanding us to feel emotional for our enemies or romantically attracted to them. That might be psychologically impossible. Love is larger than just emotion. The philosopher Immanual Kant, who was a Christian that gave himself some respect, says it best:
“So the saying ‘you ought to love your neighbor as yourself’ does not mean that you ought immediately to love him and [afterwords] by means of this love do good to him. It means, rather, do good to your fellow human beings, and your beneficience will produce love of them in you” (Met of Morals, 162).

This applies just as well to enemies. God doesn’t ask us for the emotion of love but the mindset of love, the principle of compassion, the action of love. The emotion, naturally, comes later (or not at all…no big deal). God asks us to control what we can: do good deeds, think of your neighbor as yourself. Respect them in your mind. The rest follows.
Love Chapter 5: Enemy

Love Chapter 3: Humanity

Religion begins here, at loving humanity. When it comes to love of self and family, Jesus assumes it, almost ignores it,  and actually warns against it: Who is my mother? He said. Who is my brother? My mother and my brother are those that do the will of God. He had bigger plans. He realized that the best way to love his family was to love everyone. Love is blind. His point was that the love for our family shouldn’t get in the way or interfere with our love for humanity. It often does. John Woolman, an abolitionist and beautiful soul, said that slavery was perpetuated by too much love for children. Slaveholders wanted to provide for their children, whatever the cost. And they did provide for their children: and guess who paid the cost?
A man named James Oglethorpe, the George Washington of England in the early 1700’s, visited a jail and had compassion on the inmates. It was dirty, nasty, disease-infested, little food, lots of booze, no medical care. James went up to King George II and said “give me 116 inmates and I will give them a new start in the new word.” And so he did. He called it Georgia. That’s compassion.
Between 1980 and 2003, the prison population of Michigan more than tripled (Collateral Consequences, 2). That’s not compassion.
To love humanity is to pass laws that support humanity.
Have you ever suffered through a book on the evolution of altruism? Some of these science writers bang their heads against the wall, wondering how in the world pure altruism could possibly exist? These writers assume a pathetic tone and, as they squeeze water from rocks, good people are swarming the streets.  In the meantime, they have done a good job trying to destroy the concept of altruism altogether, trying to explain it away rather than explain it. It’s hypocritical and short sighted. They have no trouble explaining aggression, and war, and all the nasty bits of our nature.
However, the new field of “positive psychology” is balancing the scales. We are born with the amazing gift called mirror neurons. When you watch a person suffer, your brain literally suffers with them. It’s the biological bedrock for the Golden Rule. Don’t let anyone tell you that loving humanity is not natural. A baby cries when another baby cries; that’s empathy taking root. The pessimists, as always, have have truths. Instead of reading them, perhaps we should read about Simone Weil, or Albert Schweitzer, or Keats, Mozart, Confucius and Socrates. Perhaps we should remember that yesterday your grandson learned to walk; he came over and gave you some of his chocolate bar; it almost made you cry. If the story of humanity is dark, there are bright lights that fill the sky. As Saint Francis said, all the darkness cannot extinguish a single light. And, as Yi-Fu Tuan’s book Human Goodness reminds us, there are many lights.
Let the skeptics talk about love as a product of evolution. Of course! I say it too: love is a product of evolution. I said it. So what? I’m a product of my mother. That’s a good thing. You could describe where I came from and you could describe how I am. Where am I going? Where should we go? Now we do ethics. Now we start living. That’s what George Price did.
George Price is the unofficial saint you never heard of. It’s the amazing story of a skeptical scientist becoming a moral saint and therefore proving himself wrong (or, I guess, proving myself right). It’s a very bizarre story of a genius who studied the evolution of altruism, tried to ‘explain it,’ became confused, went crazy,  and finally became infected with the love of God. Only feeling happy when he was helping poor people and alcoholics, he died alone; dirty and lovesick in some unknown flat in England. He killed himself, perhaps because he couldn’t help enough people, perhaps because he was lonely, or sick, or all the above. George Price went through two conversions. First, to Christianity. He began studying the Bible like Newton, looking for clues and hints and prophecies. He was still an arrogant prick and bad father. Then, he went through a moral conversion; what he called a love conversion. Then he became a saint.
The trick to loving humanity is to trust people in general. We are losing trust, it appears. Born for Love reports that only 32 percent of Americans agree with this statement: most people can be trusted. In 1960, 58 percent agreed with the statement (3). Perhaps it’s the media, coupled with technology. The media has always reported bad news disproportionately; now it does it much better. When bad news meets Jerry Springer and reality TV, we have a perception problem. We become infected with what Kant would call the pornography of human nature.
The trick to loving humanity is to see real people behind the numbers. People tolerated slavery because they couldn’t see the people behind the institution. Then came Harriet Beacher Stowe, and William Wilberforce, and John Woolman. Once you see the people, you are haunted by it. Here is what a writer said about Paul Brand, a doctor who dedicated his life to treating Leprocy victims in India:

“The great societies of the West have been gradually moving away from an underlying belief in the value of a single human soul. We tend to view history in terms of groups of people: classes, political parties, races, sociological groupings…After prolonged exposure to Dr. Brand, I realized that I had been seeing large human problems in a mathematical model…I had been wrestling with “issues” facing “humanity.” I had not, however, learned to love individuals—people created in the image of God” (Chosen Vessels, 39).

Loving humanity, just like loving your enemies, doesn’t require agreeing with them. It’s not that hard. It doesn’t even require understanding them, although that helps. As Kwame Anthony Appiah says in his book Cosmopolitanism, all that matters is that we get used to them, tolerate them, enter into conversation with them, extend our imagination to them. How about this: Not kill them. Think about that for a second: what would the world be like if we simply stopped killing? Contact, living together, spacial location, integration. Sometimes that breeds toleration more than anything. Young people tolerate gay people. Our parents don’t. Why? We went to college with them. Lack of spacial proximity explains the hope and failure of racial healing in America.
The skeptic says that it’s psychologically impossible to love humanity. Humanity is too big. There is no “out group,” no “other” that you can say “we are not like them,” which forms group identity. How can you form an identity with humanity if there is nothing to define it against? No; this is a fart of the intellect. What is this–high school football? There is a grain of truth.  Yes, it is true that, for example, some Christians feel a sense of identity by hating gay people. It brings them together, in a real way, but the hatred is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition. People form groups in many different ways; groups come together in many different ways. Human nature is not a teeter-totter. We are not hydraulic machines that once you pump a certain fluid here (love), an opposite fluid must come up there (hate).
Loving humanity takes moral imagination. This is our challenge. Adam Smith said that when we hear about the earthquake in China, we get sad; but when a “frivolous disaster” happens to ourself, the world turns upside down. We have more practice in the one and not the other. Globalization is new. We will learn. When I heard about 9/11 in high school I didn’t shed a tear. Now I probably would. I got better. Plus there’s the issue of emotion. The emotion of loving your mother is a little more concrete than the emotion of loving humanity (a beautiful emotion!). But it’s all good; sometimes you can love people more with your intellect, imagination, and abstract compassion.
Otto Keller was my kind of missionary: kind, loving, humorous, spiritual and practical. All of the things we don’t like about missionary people–he was not. He devoted his life to Africans. He learned their languages. He believed the Africans physical needs were as important and prerequisites for spiritual ones. He build houses and hospitals and plants. He saw them as equals and they him. His theology was simple; he preached by telling people about his friend, Christ. This is what his own son said of him:

“His was a totally selfless life poured out for others. He gave and gave and gave that others might gain life. This in essence is the very life of God, the love of Christ, demonstrated in the brief, shining life of a common man” (Chosen Vessels, 106).

Andrew Carnegie, the great steel baron, was a financial lover of humanity. “I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution” (Autobiography, 255). Before Obama said “redistribution of wealth,” Carnegie said it and did it. He revered and respected his mother and father and followed the moral pattern that they set. He also believed in the social gospel interpretation of Christianity—the Kingdom of Heaven is right here, right now. He was cosmopolitan, respecting the truth of all religions. He loved literature. I wonder: How many great men were also renaissance men?
It’s a paradox that sometimes the greatest lovers of humanity treated their own family badly. St. Augustine, Rousseau, Tolstoy, Martin Luther King Jr.: all harmed their family to some degree. Don’t we all? The Buddha, Jesus, Teresa of Avila, Marie Guyart: all left their family to pursue a higher calling. It almost seems as though the hero must give up his familial love to serve a higher love, as if the one takes away the other. In The Matrix trilogy, Neo cannot decide between his love for humanity and his love for Trinity (his lover). He does the unthinkable: he chooses both.
We can choose both. There is no paradox. Only larger love. God does not make us choose. It’s an exaggeration. Jesus and Gandhi loved their friends as much as anyone else. The only finite thing when it comes to love is time. How shall we spend our time? On what? With Whom? Habitat for Humanity, or bring the dog to the spa?
It is a big philosophical question whether emotions have anything to do with our moral lives. Emotions have their place too, even negative ones. Simply put, emotions are used by the mind to perform moral actions. For example, when you see preventable suffering, anger is the appropriate response. Look at Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr. They had a controlled, righteous anger; it fueled their compassion and nonviolence. When Jesus wept, he was overcome with compassion. Stoics use emotions to do their duty. Kant says emotions are “surrogates for the motive of duty” (quoted in Bagnoli 68). The person on the corner protesting war is angry. The man who gets cheated on is angry. What will they do?–now we talk right and wrong.
Some emotions are better than others. No doubt about that. Anger, hate, envy, pride, lust, jealousy–should be eradicated from your life as much as much as possible. Unless they are supporting good action, they are bad. Thanks to God and myself, I cannot remember the last time I felt a negative emotion. Other emotions–love, compassion, respect, sympathy, joy, sadness–these too can be used for good. I feel them from time to time; I consider it a gift, not an expectation. Did you cry when you watched the 9/11 towers fall? Did you cry when the first African American president was inaugurated? Thank God: your love of humanity was renewed.
To depend on good emotions for good action – that’s a mistake; it reminds me of a similar mistake – to lose faith because you ‘don’t feel it anymore.’ A billionaire gives to charity. He feels good and gets praise from everybody. All well and good. The praise eventually fades, and he feels nothing when he writes the checks. He stops giving. Why? Here is where Kant’s ideas are spot on. Emotions come and go, but our duty to right and wrong never goes. Sometimes feelings are associated with doing the right thing. Sometimes they are not. The problem is we can’t turn them on and off; we are not in control of them as we are with our rational thoughts. The greatest moral saints all helped people out of a sense of duty, a principle; not an emotion.
Which brings us back to the command to love your neighbor, and to love your enemy, which is also a command to love humanity. I won’t go into the meaning of the greek or anything, but suffice it to say we are not talking about an emotion here. God is not commanding that you feel an emotion for a perfect stranger. Kant said it best:

“So the saying ‘you ought to love your neighbor as yourself’ does not mean that you ought immediately to love him and [afterwords] by means of this love do good to him. It means, rather, do good to your fellow human beings, and your beneficience will produce love of them in you” (Met of Morals, p. 162).

Love Chapter 3: Humanity

Love Chapter 2: Friend

In the show Survivor, the key to winning is making alliances. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Likewise, in the Hunger Games, alliances are needed to literally survive. This is probably how friendship evolved. As the book Moral Tribes says, back in the day, a friend “inviting” you over for dinner could have been a life and death situation; without dinner you are dead. Friendship, as some scientist say, is simply a weird kind of cooperation, weird because friends are not related through genetics but through good will.
But as we know explaining where a thing came from, whether that be friendship, monogamy, or consciousness, is not the same as explaining what the thing is. What is friendship? One of the greatest, selfless, most beautiful forms of love. It’s no wonder friendships last forever.
Jefferson and Adams had quite the interesting bromance. image source: 1/15/15

It was raining out. My fists were clenched ready to punch this mother fucker. Beat the shit right out of him. I was drunk. He poured a beer over my head as I was taking a piss. We were at a party. He was upset that I was making out with a girl. I couldn’t wait to finish peeing. Time to fuck him up. He came outside and I landed a right straight to his upper lip, loosening his tooth and bloodying his lip. He wanted to “go out back” behind the apartment complex. Naively and stupidly I followed him to the back. He broke down crying. He asked: will I let him punch me in the face? I said sure, but I’m punching back.’ The only thing resolved that night was this: he may have been my friend at one time, but now he is my enemy. That was the last straw. I saw this coming.
Besides the fact that I resorted to violence, which I don’t believe in now (never should have), I feel very little shame in what I did. Paradoxically, I also feel no hatred for the man; in fact, I wish him all the best. In the beginning, we developed a friendship. Eventually, he developed romantic feelings for me. If he was honest, our friendship could have been salvaged. But instead, when the dust settled, it was all confusion and misunderstanding and hundreds of wasted, pointless, agonizing hours. The lesson I learned was sobering: you should trust people, especially at the start. But, eventually, when the evidence mounts up, you need to trust yourself. Not all people have good intentions. The gulf between you and your enemies is always a lack of understanding. In this case, a lack of understanding turned poisonous.
From the beginning, my brother has always been my best friend. If you take away my brother, I am nothing. Take that away, I am less empathetic, less smart, less open-minded, less inquisitive, less everything. We did nothing short of exploring the world together. We knew we were lucky. Later, I would study philosophy, but we were philosophers first, we were seekers. That’s what we did. There is absolutely no replacement for that kind of thing.
As we gain hundreds of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, it appears that we are losing real friends and best friends. The book Born for Love reports that “80% of Americans say that the only people whom they feel close enough to confide in are family members. A full quarter say that they trust no one at all with their intimate secrets. The proportion of people with no close friends or family members tripled between 1985 and 2004” (3). This is sad. Who are we without our friends?
Aristotle said “when men are friends they have no need for justice.” He’s right. Friends would make the perfect government and the most peaceful foreign relations. It’s a type of love filled with respect and mutual understanding. Justice and fairness and good government, on the other hand, all depend on a vague respect for humanity among strangers. This is hard, abstract, large. It’s much harder to betray your friend than to betray, say, those Mexicans over there — which explains our harsh immigration laws. Your friend has a face. You have to see them tomorrow.
In high school my best friend became addicted to pills. LIke all addictions, lying and stealing followed. I slowly distanced myself. I’m ashamed at my lack of bravery to face the situation. But it seems that friends either grow together or grow apart. Like a marriage, they become one or divorce. Aristotle said that only people with similar virtues can be friends. At that specific moment in time, we have different virtue, different habits. You can only be friends with someone you truly respect. But deep down in my heart I knew that Aristotle’s love was, in a way, superficial; that real love transcends pill addictions, stealing, and lying. I had failed one of my first tests. Jesus forgave his killers, and I couldn’t have a conversation. Yet the love for my friend still lives on in my heart, indomitable, lasting, filling my dreams and memories. I would reach out to him from time to time, years later. I said I was sorry for not being there. Of course he understood. His heart was large. I’m sure he thinks about me from time to time, has a flashback of some ridiculous phrase we used to say.
Our past girlfriends and lovers make permanent and beautiful marks on us. As I’ve mentioned in a past post, I find this utterly amazing. I celebrate it. One night, for no particular reason, I wrote this email to an ex-girlfriend:
“It’s so amazing that love seeps into our souls and never leaves. The love I had for you, although gone, remains, as it does for all the people I’ve loved. I find that such an amazing thing, that the people we love we always love, even if we never speak to them again. There is no stopping it, is there? My subconscious still dreams about you, and I still think about you. I have a happy life and a happy marriage, as I’m sure you do too. I’m so happy that I have no hard feelings at all about my past, and I hope you do too, and I just felt it necessary to express this as life is short, perhaps as a testament to the most amazing thing in this world–love. I felt it necessary to express the real joy of life.
God bless you [her name] and no response needed!”

That was five years after not speaking to her. Love could care less about the boundaries of time and space, even of people. I didn’t send that email, thinking it may have been selfish. But we all have these emails, written on our hearts. It’s funny. Old people warn young people that sex is a special thing. They’re right.
Love Chapter 2: Friend

Love Chapter 1: Self, Family

We are born with a beautiful thing called self-interest, the most basic evolutionary gift. Get what you need to survive. Babies cry. Paradoxically, this most basic selfish impulse is also the foundation for loving other people. Scientifically speaking, loving others requires that we notice ourselves first; that we notice ourselves as separate entities. Even bacteria have this trick. The God of evolution was kind, perhaps too kind. Self-interest can turn into selfishness. Adam Smith noticed that a man from Europe would be sad to hear about the earthquake in China, yet a small cut on his finger would feel way worse: “the most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance […] Human nature startles at the thought.” (The Theory of Moral Sentiments, quoted in Appiah, 156). We lack moral imagination unless we flex its’ muscles. China is not that far from our reach. The seed of self-interest grows into enlightened self-love. Jesus’ parable of the seeds planted on different soils comes to mind.
Self-love is not selfishness. It’s nothing more than realizing how good you can be, treating yourself with the same respect as others. It is actually the opposite of selfishness, or self-interest. Selfish people actually have no self-esteem; they hate themselves.
It’s so obvious that we should love ourselves that it’s implied in Jesus’ greatest commandment: love God and love others as yourself. The skeptic says “what if I hate myself, shall I hate you then?” St. Augustine replied rather matter-of-factly: everyone knows we automatically love ourselves. Duh. Besides, Jesus gives us plenty of reasons to love ourselves. He had one of the most positive theories of human nature out there.
“The kingdom of God is within you.” One of Jesus most incredible teachings, Jesus said that God is in us and that we are in God. In the creation myth, God breathed himself into us. It’s not wonder, then, that Jesus thought we could do incredible things; that we could “move mountains” and do “even greater things” than himself! Jesus was the ultimate optimist.
We are worthy of love because we are good, because we can be better, and because our potential is unlimited. My potential haunts me. Does it haunt you? If you read Emerson’s journal, you see a man haunted by his own possible greatness. It’s God inside us, the Holy Spirit. George Fox (Quakerism) called it the “Inner Light” or the “Seed of God.” John 1:9 says it “lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
Yet self love is a paradox; the thing nature infused in us, we lost. We look around and see grown men hating themselves. We hear the degrading pessimism. The drunks, the losers, the motto: “I’m only human” and “I’m a sinner.” We hear it in church, of all places! Think of the pessimistic alcoholic, the addict who destroys his brain and body, the woman who gets beaten and keeps coming back. Benjamin Franklin was busy perfecting his morals, creating ethical clubs with his friends–and we sit here in a vomit of depression? If we are to go anywhere, we need our self love back, the kind that Jeremy Bentham said fuels all other love. We need respect and dignity and a healthy pride, the kind that Aristotle preached to his nephew in the Nicomachean Ethics.
Oh, the body! Precious! You must love your body! Without a healthy body and brain, what are we? Lumps of shit. You must stop smoking. Smoking costs America $100 billion a year in direct health care costs ((It’s Enough to Make you Sick, 135). You must stop doing drugs; we must drink and eat in moderation (if at all). Alcohol costs America $185 billion a year and of all the patients at a hospital, 25-40% are alcohol-related problems. This is not trivial but crucial. Eat healthy. No more fast food. Sadly, one-third of our kids are overweight and 17.6 are obese (135). The poor kids don’t have a chance! Eat vegetables and leafy greens and have your kids do the same. Will power first, then habit. Simple.
Make a real friend. Join a club. Find a hobby. Start doing. Will power is the spark inside; be diligent and get shit started. Make a plan. If you don’t have these preliminaries down, if you don’t give your body what it owes, how will you love your mind, humanity, God? Jesus said “how can I tell you about heavenly things, not understanding earthly things.” Can a starving man save a boy drowning, or will they both drown? Do not listen to the idiots that say “spiritual body” vs. “physical body.” You are the body of God. The body fuels the mind and the mind fuels the soul.
Loving the body is one thing. It’s not enough. Paul Brand spent his life repairing the bodies of leprosy victims in Africa. He realized there’s something more than a healthy body: “The most precious possession any human being has is his spirit, his will to live, his sense of dignity, his personality.” Dignity, purpose, respect–this is the ending place of self-love.
Have you ever surprised yourself by smiling? You were watching someone else smile, a happy event, and you automatically smiled without noticing? This is the amazing gift of mirror neurons, the building blocks of empathy – the building blocks of morality. When we see someone smile, our brain smiles. When a baby hears another baby cry, they cry. A beautiful evolutionary achievement.
At first, it’s the baby and the mother. Everyone else on the face of the planet is deemed “Other.” It’s well known that fathers can feel rejected by their newborns (luckily, because I had paternity leave, I wasn’t). That baby, in the end, will be in a casket someday, and will be judged by how many “Others” she has taken in; by how many “others” she has turned into “friend” or “fellow citizen.” Starting with our own fathers, we must take everyone in. Environment has a lot to say about if we will succeed.
Do we have free will? Given the laws of nature, our genes, and our upbringing, could we have turned out any other way? Doubt settles in, I must admit, the more I learn about a child’s tender first years of life. The love that a baby gets from their primary caregiver will decide the love they give for the rest of their lives, the pleasure they get from loving, and how they nurture their own children when they grow up. Simon Baron-Cohen calls this an “internal pot of gold” that stays with them always.
Lack of love can have devastating, permanent effects on the brain. I had a girlfriend that was abandoned by her father, which had devastating consequences on our relationship; she didn’t trust me, she couldn’t trust me. Something that came so naturally to me, was hard for her. Then you’ve got the orphanage baby, passed on from one caretaker to another constantly; they also don’t learn to trust. Take a particular example: in this case, a rich mother didn’t want to take care of her baby, so she kept hiring and firing nurses, because the mother got jealous when the baby got attached. The child in this situation would grow up to humiliate and rape a disabled girl in high school at a party. He was a sociopath (from Born for Love).
What’s the lesson from all this deterministic science? Forgiveness. That is why forgiveness is the ultimate practice of love. It’s not their fault. The gang member from South Chicago is the lady at the well. Jesus has pity, forgives them, and says “ sin no more.” Jesus, way ahead of his time, actually understands that people never wanted to be this way and they want a way out. Jesus didn’t understand 21st Century science, but his ethics were compatible with it.
Loving your child is not controlling their life, yelling at the coach at a baseball game, thinking your child is the best or perfect, expecting too much, or micromanaging their life. Do not be the parent that lives through your child. This is not love. This is pathetic and, ironically, will hurt the child more than you ever realized (see HyperParenting: Are you Hurting Your Child by Trying Too Hard?)
The word kind comes from kin, meaning kin selection; our natural, evolutionary gift that says: love your family. In terms of passing on our genes, we love two brothers as much as eight cousins. They are so real and so close. How could we not love them? We have no choice. Closeness begets love. And hate.
I was woken up in the middle of the night. My dad was breathing on me, close. Something was wrong. He was threatening me, or yelling at me or something. My nightmare was coming true: your own family turning on you. Lightening shot through my body. “Why did you do it, Matt,” he said. Do what? He was drunk, really drunk. He seemed dangerous. At the time, I had no clue he was referring to the cans that spilt all over the kitchen floor, a bag of pop cans the cat probably knocked over. To him, it was a wiccan spell. He thought I was a witch, that I put a spell on the pop cans that were all over the kitchen floor. He was confronting evil. I was evil. My blood was coursing through my body. “Dad, get the fuck out.” This is the first time I ever felt hatred for my own father. I would have beat him up, smashed his face right in front of my mother. So would my brother. The next day he probably felt bad. But he did not apologize to me. Instead, he said “Matt, you should have seen those cans…,” as if that explained anything. At the time, he knew I was writing a paper on Witchcraft for high school English. My thesis was that the Wiccan religion, which got a bad rap by Christianity, is a positive religion. He didn’t want to discuss it, of course. He let it build, and then reacted. Now, of course, I love my dad. This is just one bad example among a mountain of good examples, examples of love.

The very people that we love the most—our family—we treat the worst. This is shockingly sad. Most homicides are crimes of passion, usually done by someone close [verify this]. My parents loved each other, just like most divorced parents do. We lie, we take people for granted, we become selfish. Our souls become filled with rubbish. We need a clean slate. We get one. What shall we do?
Love Chapter 1: Self, Family

Love: Introduction

Go into the woods. Go meditate or pray. What do you come up with? What is the meaning of life? What is the solution?
It all comes down to love, doesn’t it?
In the closet of your mind, burning with humanity, stricken with joy and pain, we all think of love. At our greatest moments, we know that love wins.
“Love is a circle.”
Have you felt it?
Me too.
The man on his death bed–him too.
Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Mother Teresa–them too.
Anyone who was ever for peace, social justice, sacrifice, virtue, righteousness–they have all preached love.
It’s comically simple and cliche as the Beatles song All You Need Is Love. So simple that we forget and take it for granted. And come back to it.
Don’t be confused with words. Compassion, respect, care, sympathy, loving-kindness, forgiveness, sharing. It’s all love. Old Christians called it charity; the Enlightenment called it sympathy; now we use the word empathy. Love is just the word I use for all these things. For academic purposes there’s a reason to treat each word differently, but it’s important to remember it’s all the same sort of thing. It’s the feeling you get when you look at your wife or kids. It’s when you pass someone on the street and they nod (it still surprises me!). Love is when you decide to give blood or help an adult learn to read. I don’t have to tell you what love is.
In this book I treat love by its’ various targets in this particular order—self, family, friend, humanity, world, enemy—but of course this is artificial too. Love has no targets. The point of this book is to say that one love isn’t better or worse than the others; it all hangs on each other and, in the end, becomes one. A person who loves humanity in spite of their family has a flawed character. Love cannot be mastered, it takes over your heart; you let it in. Einstein called it a “circle of compassion.” This book is a circle; a new chapter, the circle gets bigger.
Love is a historical force just like hate and greed are. People are historical forces. Emerson said “properly speaking, there is no history, only biography” and Carl Jung said “the essential thing is the life of the individual. This alone makes history” (quoted in The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, front). We forget this. We forget that actual people in history made actual history. When a man named William Willberforce was born, the slave trade existed. When that man died, it didn’t. Perhaps history is also driven by complex “historical forces”–natural, economic, or otherwise. Sure. But stop and read the very first sentence in John Woolman’s autobiography:
“I have often felt a motion of love to leave some hints in writing of my experience of the goodness of God…and before I was seven years old I began to be acquainted with the operations of divine love” (quoted in The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, 13).
It is no wonder this man went on to dedicate his entire life to ending slavery, by literally walking around the country talking to slave-owners.
This book began when I embarked on a reading journey, a “love study” of sorts. Basically I read tons on the history and concept of love. I was getting married. From Aristotle to Buddha, Plato, Faulkner, Christ, Dante, Hobbes, Martin Luther King Jr. From philosophy to brain science, poetry to prose. The greatest people who have ever lived disagree on many things, I noticed. But they all agree on one thing: love is the greatest thing. Call it the universal law of wisdom. Paul said that “God is love” and Jesus made love the greatest commandment because love is the closest we can get to describing perfection–which is God, by definition. Even Jonathan Edwards, the stereotypical angry hellfire preacher, said this: “all Virtue…is resolved into Love to Being; and nothing is virtuous or beautiful in Spirits, any otherwise than as it is an exercise, or fruit, or manifestation, of this love” (quoted in Heroic Colonial Christians 40).
All good men and women on this earth share two things: love and wisdom. Wisdom is what happens when knowledge meets compassion. Aristotle said to contemplate virtue every day. He was right. Love swallows virtue. You can’t just read it; you must think it and especially do it. If I was a better man, I would stop writing and start doing.
I make no arguments. They won’t work here. Love simply is; it enters your heart through inspiration. The philosopher Peter Singer argues that you should only keep twenty thousand dollars and donate the rest. Okay, sure. We find that interesting. But the fact that Peter Singer actually does it…now that’s an argument! Let’s throw logical fallacies out the window. “Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation that I can receive from another soul,” way Emerson. This book inspires and provokes, or does nothing. If this book were an argument, the argument would be nothing short of this: love is the only thing that can and will save the world from its many problems. Love is the only thing that can save you, me, us, them. This is the oldest truth – “as old as the hills” says Gandhi – still as true and powerful as ever.
Love is the only thing. We have tried other things. We tried religion, which helped a lot. Religious people treat their own very well. But religions clash and tons of people die. The Enlightenment gave us Reason, which helped a lot; but Reason can blow up buildings too (Ted Kaczynski). Philosophy and moral thinkers helped a lot. They gave us the virtue ethics of Aristotle, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Mill’s greatest happiness principle, Rawls veil of ignorance. But philosophy will not make you write checks to Oxfam, or make you give blood or volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. None of this will make us get along.
Love never presents an argument, but it does suggest the greatest way to live this life. This book inspires, or it does nothing.
Love: Introduction