Love is not permissiveness: love is commitment and sacrifice. But how do you go about doing love?
I’m asking this in a corporate sense, not a one-on-one relationship sense. How do you love your neighbor in your interactions with society as a whole?
I don’t really know. Love may not be permissive, but it also is not a constant lecture. Those are two unhealthy ends of a spectrum: the proverbial “do whatever the heck you want” versus “only do exactly what I say.”
Frequently, good folk who believe we should let people “do whatever the heck they want” like to claim the moral high-ground by stating that this position is the only one that does not level judgment on people. I think it’d really help public discourse for us to understand that all positions, by necessity, are forms of discrimination.
The issue is always which groups or individual people are we discriminating against, and what kind of discrimination are we talking about? Those who advocate that people should be allowed to do whatever they want are necessarily discriminating against all people who do not think we should be allowed to do whatever we want. Additionally, the position is not clear nor consistent, as it relies on some sort of intuitive sense for folk to understand they can “do whatever they want….oh, except that.”
In reality, every single one of us has an idea of what we think “the good life” is, what we think an ideal world would look like.
By nature of the beast, if I really think my ideal world is truly ideal, that means I think your different version of an ideal world is not. Within contemporary Western society, perceived public opinion typically serves the role of arbiter in deciding the course of public policy and thus what constitutes acceptable personal opinion (even while we all conveniently ignore the fact that public opinion can be tragically and horribly wrong…1930s Germany?).
So, here we are: we have competing versions of an ideal world on the table and a world with problems that need addressing; how do we go about discussing our different opinions and living with each other in love?
Speaking as a Christian, it’s important for other Christians to accept that God is really in charge and the entire world is not contingent upon the success of whatever particular political opinions we have. This is not to make light of the seriousness of some political issues or to suggest silence in response to perceived injustice. It is merely to state that the onus is not on us – it is on the movement of the Holy Spirit. Too often we act as if we are God and God is impotent.
All that we do must be in submission to God, and God has this knack for frequently asking us to do things that look incredibly foolish – the last shall be first; the meek inherit the earth; blessed are the peacemakers; he who wants to lead must be servant to all; and believe in a God who doesn’t immediately end suffering but instead comes in the midst of it and dies disgracefully as a criminal at the hands of the state.
I’m reminded of a saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” For the Christian, I think this is the best way of sharing love – not through words that others misunderstand but through a life that is compelling.
This applies beyond Christians, though.
Whoever you are, if you believe your version of the ideal world is best, put your money where your mouth is: live it. Show us. Sometimes silence is called for, sometimes confrontational speech; sometimes it is appropriate to do nothing, sometimes we have to take action. There is no single answer to the question “how do we love?” because love is contingent upon variable circumstances, despite the fact that its unchanging nature is commitment and sacrifice.
It takes wisdom, humility, and courage to know how to respond to different situations and different people. And we can only hope that people will give us grace to hear our opinions, though we live in an increasingly vitriolic and polarized world which makes this less likely every day.
And if no one will listen any more to the words we have to say then we truly can only live our life as an example, even if it leads to us being silent before our accusers. Because we are told that there is no greater love than that a person would lay down his or her life for his friends. And we do need to know that, yes, we are all friends and, yes, we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keepers.