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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

For Love

Updated: May 17, 2020

Never has a nobler sentiment been so perversely abused as the expression “for love” . You can fill in the missing parts: for love of another, for love of country, for love of God, and so on. Please don’t mistake me, it isn’t the phrase itself that I find so bereft of meaning but the thoughtless and cynical way in which it is invoked. Let me be clear, to value someone or something beyond oneself is a virtue at the very heart of human compassion, and throughout human history we have vivid examples of individuals who placed their own welfare in service to a greater purpose.

In our present time as in the past, we tend to label those who do so as heroes—and indeed those who truly place themselves at great risk for their beliefs or for the sake of those they love or total strangers, deserve to be recognized as such. To be sure, it is harder today to find examples of those whose love of others is so deeply felt. We have become casual and gratuitous in the use of such words—elevating some who are motivated solely by self-interest, and others whose acts are the antithesis of compassion or heroism.

I am speaking of those who wrap themselves in flags, jingoistic slogans, partisan politics, religious extremism and racial purity. In the name of preservation, of so-called rights and with barely masked extremism disguised as purity—these self labelled defenders of their own particular faith possess no loyalty to humankind, no tolerance or even desire to understand those who may differ in any regard. They are instead of a particular kind—selfish, angry and bitter.

There was a time when as a people we called out those who practiced this brand of zealotry—when we were intolerant of those who would divide rather than unite us. Today it is acceptable to lionize politicians who practice such behavior, to elevate charlatans reaping millions from faithful flocks whose religious and moral conviction is practiced by rote, and to those who indulge the cruelest bigotry in the name of patriotism. The idolatry of I has replaced our collective reverence for we—not just those who are like us, not just those whose beliefs align with our own, but all of us.

What then is this love—surely not a love of self. The love of self we observe today is not founded in forgiveness or awareness of human frailties, it is a narcissistic love. One cannot love one’s self without admitting of our own weakness. Neither can we truly love God unless we have wrestled with our faith and weighed its implications, and we cannot love our neighbors unless we see in them all that is in us. Neither love nor faith are practiced once and done but tested every moment we live.

Love is not mute to injustice but forgiving of our limitations. Neither is patriotism a blind adherence to country, flag or anthem, but like faith a daily practice of foundational principle. Those principles are all of one piece, we do not get to pick and choose those in which we will believe and call ourselves loyal. Our defense of those principles should rally others to aspire, while we reject anyone who seeks to serve by condemning others.

Love is hard, not easily summoned or preserved, but won minute by minute as we seek to navigate a world that does not conform to our noblest spirit. We cannot possess it, only be touched by its grace and we must give it without regard for our own needs or desires. As Shakespeare wrote,” For who knows not that conscience is born of love.”

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