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. Have you felt it?
|"Love is a circle."|
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.