Appetite for Love

 

file0001923782950Have you ever taken time to meditate upon the content of our favourite social media sites like Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and many others? An abundance of entertainment, humour, irony, affection, anger, cuteness, hatred, feeling, and distraction can be found. What is it that we are so hungry for? What motivates the hours spent searching, clicking, and looking on these mainstream websites? I have given much thought to how our social media behaviour reflects upon ourselves. In one interesting psychological study it was observed that an everyday person could predict rather accurately the major personality traits of a total stranger just by being given a short view of their bedroom, up to thirty seconds and even as short as six seconds. If the state of our bedroom walls speaks so clearly about us, what are our Facebook walls saying?
 

I closed my Facebook account for three years at one point, my motivation stemmed from close observation of how I felt and what I did while surfing the site, either through messages or browsing what other’s had posted. I saw with a new clarity my neediness, the perpetuation of empty message strings all so I could feel something when I logged on and would see that I had a new message or notification. I saw the surge of emotion I’d get when I realised that I had something waiting for me, or conversely the disappointment when there was nothing.
 

It scared me.
 

Most recently I’ve decided to significantly reduce my exposure to Facebook. In order to come to this conclusion I asked myself some tough questions. Was my exposure to the content on the site leading me to grow as a person? Was the content teaching me to be stronger and more passionate about loving? Was the content leading me somewhere better?
 

With the exception of a small amount of the content, the answer was no to all three.
 

In the rock opera Tommy, the protagonist cries out with one visceral cry, the same tangible and overwhelming outpouring revealed by the activity on Facebook: See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me. In essence, over and over again, “will someone love me?”
 

We all have this longing to be loved, called by name, to be known completely, but all choose to express this longing differently.
 

Can our need for love be answered on Facebook? What troubles me about this state of affairs is that I know that these cries are, for the vast majority, unanswered. Having someone comment on your post feels good, but it will never fulfill. Having someone share your picture is gratifying, but it will never satisfy. In a large way, there are many who live in this poverty of love, but who is going to do the loving?
 

My roommate asked me as we drove together to buy some groceries, “What is your current aspiration in life?”
I responded, “To be a witness to love and compassion.”
In return he asked, “So you want to watch people being compassionate?” To this I had a good chuckle because it never occurred to me that the word witness is both a word for someone who observes something, but also something much greater and altogether different.
I thought over my viewpoint and responded, “A professor is someone who teaches with words, but a witness if someone who teaches with actions.”
 

Facebook is a powerful tool which can either be used for great good, banality, or for harm. I use the site regularly to settle plans with friends, to learn about great events and ways of connecting with the community, and to promote this blog. For these reasons I will continue to use Facebook. I feel, however, a keen awareness of the feeding frenzy of “me, me, me.” I often ask myself what can be done to help, how can I live out my life’s aspiration?
 

I must become a stronger, more loving, and compassionate man.
 

In order to achieve this goal I must be honest and clearly aware of what I am feeding my soul. A person cannot grow strong from eating garbage, and neither can I learn to love if everything I consume with my eyes and heart is mundane, thoughtless, and egocentric. True, there is great wit, links to profound articles, and interesting information on most popular social media sites. However, these insightful markers are swallowed up by a sea of debris and clutter. Moreover, there are better places to hunt for that which expands the mind, challenges the wit, and guides a person to become more open and aware. The library is an excellent starting point.
 

One of the dangers of social media is that there’s enough thought out opinions circulating that people get the impression that they are becoming well informed, that their time spent thus is justified. If you happen to disagree with the current cultural slogans you will notice an incredible bias towards one way of thinking, and little to discuss the opposite.
 

As I am not advocating outright absenteeism from social media, I do promote awareness of how much time a person spends within these sites and with what purpose. What a stark contrast in the way I feel after spending a half hour reading a well thought out essay, as opposed to spending the same amount of time learning what Jim-Bob cooked up in his microwave, or seeing the outfit Sally-Mae wore to the club last weekend. The impact of thoughtful reading cascades into other areas of a person’s life. If I avoid large amounts of mindless internet time I am more productive, internally aware, and more willing to come to the aid others. The brain and will move into a very different state of being. One altogether more satisfying and encouraging to the growth in wisdom and productivity. Though I should mention, productivity is not my aim in and of itself. Being alive is my goal; being awake enough to embrace the adventure of life is my aim.
 

The weight of our need on Facebook rests upon all humanity, our entire global family. I pray that I will be granted the grace to live as a man of love, to give so completely to the people in my life, that they will never feel like Facebook is somewhere they should go to find the attention and love they deserve.

To Each His Own: Wisdom or Folly?


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Language is profoundly indicative of a societies values. Using statistical methods to analyze the English language psychologists made a model designed to analyze five broad domains of personality. Their results became the Big Five, a popular and lasting measure used for personality assessment. Many popular dating sites have taken to using these results to try and make better matches between their users. It can be seen through their study and others like it, that language is not totally arbitrary, but has deeper underlying symbolism. Our use of language actually says something about us, in return.
 

It is within the understanding of this concept that I will give a critical look at a popular way of thinking. Though this way of seeing the world is not exclusive to modern thinkers, it has been verbalized especially clearly as of late, and is growing in popularity. In the course of this essay I will make one point clear: The statement “to each his own” is a self-centered, greedy, and unloving statement.
 

First, we must fix in our minds where this mentality comes from. What are its roots? Most often I hear these words in replacement or in conjunction with the phrase, “I don’t judge.” In a big way this mentality rises in opposition to religious, moral, or societal boundaries drawn, and often used, to judge others. The sixties must have been a major birthing ground for this type of thinking. If you’ve ever seen people picketing with signs which read “God hates gays”, it makes it easy to understand why such a reaction has come about. I am grateful that so many are eager to release our brothers and sisters from the burdensome and person destroying nature of human judgment. Such is a beautiful and good pursuit.
 

Always, as we work towards the authentic good, we must ensure the pendulum doesn’t swing too far. I hope that those who champion the fight against judgment will continue, but the phrase “to each his own” carries a lot of unseen baggage. It doesn’t just simply state that I don’t judge what you do, it states that I could care less what you do. There is a vast divide between these two notions.
 

To not judge does not mean the absence of an opinion or hope for that person. It means one doesn’t bludgeon the other with their own perceived moral high-ground. In our human capacity, judgment tears down, whereas love builds up, but love requires attention to what is best for the other. The reason we shouldn’t judge isn’t because everything is devoid of moral value, neither good nor bad, but because we have neither the authority nor the wisdom to judge, and we never will. With a few exceptions — emphasis on a few —  it is impossible to peer into the heart of another and understand in totality the motives, pre-existing conditions, and the tides of influence that played out over the other’s actions in any given situation. Therefore, we will never understand culpability, or in laymen’s terms, their true responsibility for their actions.
 

With that said, this concept should never be transformed into the assumption that since one shouldn’t judge, so neither should they care what people do with their lives.
 

Consider the love of a mother:
 

If a mother’s son approaches her and states that he is heading to a party and might try heroine tonight, if the mother says merely, “to each his own,” she has failed immensely in her maternal responsibilities. Likewise, if she slaps him, tells him drug users are the spawn of evil etc., she has also failed to communicate truth. The fact remains, if we love someone, it matters deeply to us what they do, and do not do. Why? Because actions have deep and lasting consequences. The path to addiction is quick, and the path back out is long, painful, and probably is occurring already at the loss of relationships, peace, stability, and so much more. A mother’s heart sinks when she hears these words because she wishes the best for her child.
 

Like the parent in this example, it matters how and when we express our concern for the other.

 * * * * *

Here’s another situation which highlights what is really being said by our quaint phrase:
 

Someone said to me in regards to the situation in Ukraine, “I don’t care what the Russians do, so long as they aren’t in my backyard.” Is the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine so far off as to not matter? Is their suffering somehow muted from existence by the vast amount of space between us and them? No, never. I would argue that such an opinion is a shallow one, one devoid of love or compassion. It is no different when we usher forth the phrase, pleasing to the ear alone, ‘to each his own’. When the pain of the other is incomprehensible to me, my heart resembles stone. It is unresponsive, dead, and unconcerned. No good can come from it.
 

I understand the intent of this statement is to prevent the other from being crushed, to not bear a burden upon someone, but too often harm is being done by our nonchalance towards those we love.
 

I am not condoning those who believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, and neither am I suggesting that it is healthy to worry incessantly about others problems. These attitudes come with their own set of issues. So, it is of great benefit to those I converse with and myself to hold within my heart one essential question: when is it appropriate and for the good of the other to express my opinion on someone’s actions, and when must I keep silent, for the sake of love?
 

Unless I have a  close connection with the other, keeping my thoughts internal is often the most loving choice — but not always.
 

As is the case with a mother, she discerns when to speak with her child and when not to, when to give hard advice and when to stay quiet and allow her son to experience his own mistakes. What matters is that she cares enough about her son to worry about what decisions he’s making and how they will affect him. She won’t always get it right, but to not try at all is reckless and selfish. The reason ‘to each his own’ is so self-serving is that it represents something a person would say to someone whom they have zero emotional attachment to, and really couldn’t care less what happens to that person. It is greedy because it reveals a person who looks our for their own first, unconcerned of the needs of the other. This type of thinking leads to a form of isolationism that is contrary to concern and compassion, and therefore, to love.
 

As Martin Niemöller wrote of the progressive Nazi persecution:
 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
 

As persons we are all members of the human family. There are functional members and dysfunctional members. There are artists, arguers, philosophers, and scientists. There are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sons, and daughters. Our communal life is messy, and it doesn’t always feel good, but we are at the very heart of our shared existence, a family. Thus, what happens to any member of my family matters to me, their future matters to me, their peace matters to me. For this reason, I will never say, “to each his own.”

Washing Dishes, Floors, and Feet

As I watch with apprehension the progressive Russian invasion of Crimea in the Ukraine, it moves my heart to journey inwards to gaze upon my own growth and failings. As we rest precipitously on the edge of another World War there hasn’t been a time more needful of the personal internal transformation that fosters love, peace, and respect.

 

Have you ever stared at a puzzle for hours, but couldn’t figure it out?

 

It is usually not until we take a break, return to the puzzle, and voila, the answer just pops out. It was there all along, but suddenly, as though emerging from the paper, the solution presents itself. It was in a similar fashion that the fogginess of my own egocentrism cleared away, and I began to see my roommates in a greater depth of understanding and love. I started my friendship with these men somewhat estranged because of ideological differences, but over time the flaws of this approach have become apparent and I have come to see my brothers without the distortion of our differences, but in clarity alongside compassion. I see more clearly their personhood, dignity, and beauty, before all else.

 

file00040835889Ideology and religious belief has been the starting point of discord during humanity’s entire recorded history. This is not a condemnation of these necessary acts of the human will, but the basis of a more fundamental question: what is the true root of our conflict? Are some correct when they state that religion is a plague of the modern man’s mind, that it only fuels hatred of those who do not agree? Are strong political views only another reason for us to draw our weapons and re-enact the atrocities witnessed over the last century and further? They do not have to be.

 

Radical atheism tells us that religion breeds separation and absurdity, all the while fueling its own campaign of intolerance toward religious believers in the marketplace, the social sphere, and the educational system. Marx in his effort to spread communism called religion the “opium of the people;” the suffering caused by his followers, both throughout the past and continuing up until the present, has been so gruesome and comprehensive that it would be impossible to describe it all accurately in words. Many of those who claim to rule with God’s authority have done things so vile we can only shake our heads and ask, why? Fundamentalist Islam is the most poignant modern example. Still more, we have the ongoing list of violence, war, and death as a result of the jostling of different political factions vying for power, freedom, land, resources, and sometimes just plain vanity. The conflict between Russia and the Ukraine highlights this problem with great urgency.

 

So it appears that no matter which stance you take, you can find someone who used those beliefs for hatred. Is it best then to be non-committal? Is the only safe path to cast your vote in no direction, to live as an isolationist? Many simply dig their heads in the sand, give up, and spend their time in frivolous pursuits, but this is not what the human person is being called to.

 

Whether it be political, religious, artistic, or intellectual passion, to live our lives immersed in the pursuit of truth, beauty, and compassion, is the heart of what the human person longs for.

 

Passion can be unpredictable, can make us blurt things out we wish we never said, can cause us to take risks that lead to our embarrassment or rejection. Just as this is true, without passion there would be no great literature, no Micheangelos, no Mother Teresas, no Picassos, and no feminism or political change. The very advent of democracy in ancient Athens would never have come to pass without the flames of the desire for change. Neither passion nor belief can be cast aside, even though they may cause conflict, because they are not the problem: the perversion of these good things is what turns us upon one another.

 

The things in life which are the most beautiful, when corrupted, can become the most ugly. Passion ordered towards the good is glorious and inspiring, but when our passions become distorted and are used for evil, they become the most perverse thing of all. This raises one final and very important question: if passions can be perverted, how do we prevent it from happening?

 

One perplexing and uncomfortable word: humility.

 

God shows us the example of what humility is. Jesus, the Son of God, He who desires our acceptance, invites us so that we might come to understand Him. God’s humility is truly awesome. It defies human reason and logic about hierarchy and service.

 

The most powerful example of God’s gift to us is revealed when Christ washes the feet of the disciples. Peter, in understanding the amazing reversal of assumptions about relationships, protests, “Is it for You to wash my feet?” Again he attempts to stop Jesus saying, “I will never let You wash my feet.”

To this Jesus replies, “If I do not wash your feet, it means you have no companionship with Me.”

Peter understands, in part, and he replies, “…then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”

 

Humility means seeing the true source of our talents, capacities, and strengths. It means directing our talents towards washing the feet of our brothers and sisters. Any ideology or religious belief, if subjected to the one fundamental condition that it must be used to assist and serve the other, will become perfected through love and that which is lacking within it, will inevitably be cast aside. When our gifts are used for our own ends, for our own selfish desires, for our pursuit of pleasure or power, then passion becomes a slave master, driving us further from peace and truth.

 

Jesus’ response is initially perplexing, but holds profound meaning. It bears repeating: “If I do not wash your feet, it means you have no companionship with me.” The path to true humility means first having our feet cleansed by the King of the Universe. Only by allowing God to see our faults, to touch our feet, to be in contact with our skin, can we come to know the profound humility that pierces and overcomes all selfish desire.

 

It burdens my heart when I think of all the times I’ve used my knowledge, skills, or beliefs as weapons wielded against my roommates. Too often has this been the case, and in doing so I’ve made one clear statement: You wash my feet.

 

I am blessed always by the presence of my roommates. They have shown me time and time again the beauty which lies within them. They have taught me to grow, to be a stronger, bolder man; in effect, they have shown me, one step further, how to love with my whole heart. Most important of all, they have revealed to me the importance and dignity of every human being regardless of their ideological or religious background. Truly, we are human first, and then we act. Our dignity, beauty, and being is primary; this must be recognized if love is to permeate our actions and beliefs.