Thursday, July 17, 2008
The following conversation was quite frustrating, as I tried to articulate despite my inebriation ideas that, even when sober, take hours of complex discussion to lay out (and which have taken years and years to develop, and aren't near finished evolving and changing yet). Now, of course, I believe it is important to be able to explain yourself and your ideas to others when they ask, so I was frustrated with myself when it seemed everything I said was not quite what I'd meant. When I spoke out for independence and the need for each individual to explore and establish his or her own value system, he said it sounded like antisocial isolationism, and when I tried to correct that misperception by speaking of loving community and working for the good of others, he thought I meant imposing my beliefs on others about whatever I happen to think is best. Round and round we went, and eventually I closed down the whole conversation by announcing that I needed another drink and whisking off to the kitchen.
But if I'd been more sober, I could have nipped the whole confusion in the bud, since its source had been evident from the very first question.
"Summarize your values and beliefs in one word," he demanded.
And, after scoffing at the very notion, I said (a bit flippantly but with as much sincerity as a one-word answer to such a question can contain, when one is already drunk): "Love."
"Okay, two words," he said, "What do you mean, 'love'? What, like 'spread love'?"
Do you see what just happened? Do you see what he did just then? Love is already a verb. Why should we have to tack on another? Well, probably because he assumed love was a noun, a thing, a goal or an end, and not a process.
But love is a process. It is a verb. And furthermore, it is a process of the self, something that the individual does and must choose, freely, to do. What are my values, what do I believe in, how do I live my life? Love. I love.
Do I spread love? Maybe. It would be nice to think that, by doing my best to be a loving person, I add a little more love to the world, or maybe I inspire others to be loving. But in the end, spreading love is only a side-effect, not the purpose. When we change our value from "loving" to "spreading love," what happens? We shift our focus from what we ourselves are doing and thinking (e.g. our own attitudes, behaviors and ideas), to what others are doing and how we want them to behave, think and feel. How far am I willing to go to "spread love"? Am I willing to "get rid of" people who I deem less than loving so that they don't "spread" their lack of love? Which is more important--that I live according to my own values, or that I am effective in making everyone else live by them?
Don't be distracted by this focus on love. Consider it, if you must, just a convenient placeholder for now, to illustrate the subtle shift that these conversations can take if you're not watching. It happened several times, whether we were talking about religion, interpersonal relationships, culture, or politics (when I stated, for instance, that I valued my independence of thought and function from the government, he cut in, "So you're a libertarian!" which is certainly not correct, since libertarians seek to impose their voluntary independence from the government on other people, even the poor, the young and the old, and so in some sense rob those people of the choice to strive for independence). The difference is that my values are my values, or more accurately, that I value (v.) certain things regardless of their prominence or dominance for others, and holding these things as valuable does not hinge on whether or not anyone else in the world holds them to be so.
Still, if I had to give a one-word answer, I think I would stick with, "Love." Because, to me, to love other people means to give them the same freedom, choices and respect that I would like myself, to give them the same chance I've had--both the independence and the supportive community--to be wholly themselves and to begin to reach beyond themselves. It means acknowledging and appreciating that each person is unique, that different perspectives are valuable as well as inevitable. It means seeking the good in others, instead of imposing your idea good on them.
And it means that when they want to have a cool drink over a nice game of Rummy (at which they happen to be kicking ass), you don't badger them with questions unless you're willing to put in the honest effort to understand their answers.