The wee hounds and I took our second walk today. They didn’t much want to talk so I tuned into a YouTube lecture I had wanted to hear. The lecture was by Arthur Brooks, soon to be ex-President of the American Enterprise Institute. It was on the book he wrote a while back called “Love Your Enemies.”
He told a story about talking with his academic mentor, James Q. Wilson, a highly influential social/ political scientist who passed away in 2012. Wilson stunned Brooks one day when he said, “You know, Arthur, any given change in public policy affects only about 5% of a person’s life.”
Brooks was shocked. After all, he had only recently completed his Ph.D. in a public policy related program.
“James, if public policy only affects 5% of a person’s life, what affects the other 95%?”
“Love,” replied the great man.
The quality of our families, our neighborhoods and communities, as well as our nation, is related not so much to public policy as it is to the quality of love we demonstrate toward one another in everyday life and regardless of our agreements or differences.
The quality of our lives together is more about what happens across the property line than it is about what happens across the aisle in Washington, D.C.
The reason I thought about all of this while picking up wee hound poop was because I had just before our walk seen those plague indifferent self-absorbed kids on the beach in Florida. Of course, the little clip I saw only featured the worst of the worst…I hope! And, after all, kids will be kids- especially when Pavlov rings the “Spring Break!” bell.
What strikes me about them, at least in this moment, is that they ‘have not love.” That is, they have not love for anyone or anything beyond their own good times. They are doing what they do because it is what they think good for themselves in this glorious Spring Break moment.
They are not thinking of how they may be (and some likely are) spreading CV. They are not thinking about the frontline health care workers whose lives are on the line as they help people suffering from this virus. They are not thinking about their own grandparents or other loved ones with compromised immune systems. They are not even thinking of themselves while doing nothing BUT thinking of the themselves.
But then it struck me that I am too, in own immunosuppressed way. I mean I get the whole social distancing thing. My own daughter is a sitting duck in her medical practice in Tennessee and I am concerned for her and her whole staff. So, you might say, I have my own flesh and blood in the game.
However, when I think about my need to run out to buy some necessity, the first thing I think about is ME. What if I run into Ingles and unknowingly walk through a fine mist of someone’s sneeze from 60 seconds before?
I don’t want to get sick but it’s not because of a fear of dying. It is because of a fear of suffering. I’ve done extreme shortness of breath. I’ve done ventilation and dialysis. I’m done being so miserable that death itself would be a welcome relief. I’ve done all that and I don’t EVER want to do that again!
So, like the kids on the beach, my first thought is too often not about others but about myself.
Kid: I want to have a really good time.
Moi: I want to avoid having a really bad time.
When Brooks speaks of ‘loving‘ one’s enemies, he means precisely what Jesus meant.
Seek the interests of the other even over your own!
Think cross-shaped love.
Now, I’m not going to expose myself to the dangers of CV more that I absolutely must because of the reasons I mentioned. I am sheltering in place like a hermit. I really don’t want to get sick. And, as it turns out, that is the better thing to do than to go PAR-TAY on the beach only inches away from strangers while looking for love in all the wrong places. (AS IF! Ha!) However, I still think that neither self-gratification nor self-preservation is my best course of action nor my best motive for taking up a course of action.
The heart matters. And, among other things, what we do and why we do what we do not only displays our hearts, those things shape our hearts. We become what we do and we become the why behind what we do. If I consistently act out of self-preservation, then I become the kind of man who is principally out to protect himself.
Is there a better way to act than out of mere self-preservation, even if some good comes out of my act? There must be. After all, Jesus said that if anyone would follow after him, that person must deny the self.. It would be a contradiction in terms to follow Jesus if one is only interested in self-preservation. Self-preservation is the opposite motive to what is entailed in following him. Why? We not only are to deny ourselves, we are to take up crosses.
We take UP crosses so as to lay DOWN our selves.
If I only act out of self-preservation, I reinforce what comes most naturally to me, which is to continue looking out for number one. However, at least in this situation we are in, if I act on the basis of what is good for the other (i.e. the nurse tending patients in ICU) not only is the nurse better off but I am as well- both physically AND morally.
When I give my heart to or for the other, I protect the heart I have.