Response to “Universal Love is a Myth”

Honestly, what I’ve seen in the world hints that there is too much focus on the individual, the small group; that the things in the world that bring unhappiness – selfishness, greed, ignorance – come from the lack of care of others outside your “kith and kin”. When your child doesn’t have new shoes, can you remind them there are those less fortunate, those who have no shoes at all? Will that not strike in you (and hopefully your child, someday) perspective? With the ability to look outside your inner circles, you derive a contextualization that leads to a greater sense of love and personal contentedness and peace.

I understand your concern in the bare realities of a lack of, in my understanding, sheer emotional energy, to cry at every sad story on the news that day. I also understand your point that, when facing society-pressured expectations that we must give to every less-fortunate on the planet, it is frightfully overwhelming and objectively impossible. But keep in mind that not every Christmas commercial or charity-ad is asking us to give to every single organization we see – oftentimes they are asking us to give to only their circles – after all, who runs these charities? Oftentimes, it is the kith and kin of victims of domestic abuse, cancer, war-victims, refugees, etc. They are the kith and kin of someone. Universal love is not being able to cry at every one of their causes. People cannot physically give to every cause in the world, like you said, financially or emotionally. But we can also cultivate, not rebel against, the need of a basic sense of responsibility and respect to others who need help (even if charity ads may make you want to  rebel when they try every cheap trick in the book to tug on your heartstrings and make you cry). We may not know personally those groups in need but we recognize that they think like us, they feel fear like us, they feel sadness and pain like my own family. In fact, it is the love of family and friends that make us want to help outside circles.

In the grander scheme of things, I also want to point out an interesting fact – it seems in your claims that you are taking the “underdog role”, the defensive stance for a supposedly marginalized position that universal love is impossible in response to a “deeply engrained assumption of Western liberalism.” However, theoretically, your perspective comes from another strain of dominating Western thought – over-biological. In other words, overly concerned with science – with the chemicals and matter that makes up the human body.  Too often we get so wrapped up in atoms and molecules we find we cannot step back. This is a failure to see another side of things, another set of reasonings, a more holistic viewpoint. I think the holes some people saw in your argument was your inability to address this other viewpoint. Even the examples you used to “support the other side” – namely Rifkin and Singer – are limited in their ability to only see universal compassion and love with math and science, with overly-intellectual, “ivory tower” logic. Your real-world example to reject Rifkin’s point (the new shoes for your child) was incredibly limited in its scope – maybe because so was Rifkin’s? However, when it comes to love and compassion, these happen on such an individual basis, are so deeply embedded in the personal: personal thought, personal reasoning, and to your point, personal emotions. So much so that we cannot claim such a radical statement such as “Universal Love is a Myth”.

As a personal example – I love the Dalai Lama in a sense different from the way I love my mentors, my family, and my friends. Why? He isn’t a family member, I don’t know him personally. Maybe it’s more than my oxytocin and opioids and other brain chemicals that so easily slip off the tongue of a neurologist. I don’t love him with my head, but with… what? Maybe my heart? Is it too unthinkable to stop there? Do we really need to over-rationalize love or empathy or compassion?

It is not discovering the function of a new microscopic particle that has inspired phenomenal acts of selflessness and compassion in the past. I cannot cite a single neurologist that I adore with that un-graspable sense of loyalty, devotion or – for lack of a better word – love (sorry, neurologists!). It is spiritualists (Mother Theresa), idealists (Martin Luther King, Jr.), even politicians (only a few, anyways…) that I can name off-hand who have commanded that degree of influence on a great number of others, including myself. And it cannot be denied they have made the world a better place. This is why we can’t all think like lab technicians when it comes to universal love. We must see someone suffering, and know it is wrong. We can’t overly-emphasize the quest to mine the brain for its hidden secrets as to why some people do this and others don’t; and we can’t disvalue that feeling that makes us cry when we discover a cause that touches us and inspires a desire to help. In the end, I simply cannot agree with the statement that universal love is nothing but a myth.

Other People’s Even Better Thoughts:

Give and do what you can, where you are, with what you have. It is the best most of us can do. -Barbara (Reader’s Pick)

Care and empathy, he contends, are more like a muscle that needs to be exercised rather than limited resources… Compassion fatigue does exist, and emotion is key in giving, but it seems to me the argument here doesn’t recognize the need for Sandel’s sort of exercise and underplays the notion of big ideas. Individuals cannot right every wrong on earth, but if they transfer the emotion they feel towards their own tribe to the larger picture, if they treat those around them with respect, if they work for social justice, it all adds up. We are like the proverbial grains of sand on the beach. Sometimes there is real truth in proverbs and cliches like, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” In that respect, caring about universals can make us more caring of those around us. The grand idea cannot be realized if we neglect it in our smaller lives. Knowing our small actions contribute to the realization of a grander idea can make those actions more meaningful to us, more important, and perhaps, then, we are more likely to exercise good will towards all and avoid mere tribalism. -Elizabeth Fuller (Reader’s Pick)

The Dalai Lama, when asked about what religion he practiced, replied, “kindness”. That’s not a bad start. Lance (Reader’s Pick)

Meh…I guess I am not intellectual enough to go this deep. To me you have presented an all or nothing morality. Almost as if, to care you have to give to the point of deprivation. But you don’t. Here is an example; UNICEF asks for 15 dollars a month in a new ad they are running. For living in the west 15 dollars a month would deprive us of very little. What would happen if every single person living in the first world were to give 15 dollars a month to UNICEF, or Doctors Without Borders? (I stipulate that many can’t afford it, but I speak of most). There would be a sea change. And you don’t need to deprive your child of decent clothes to do so. You don’t need to love the dying children in other lands. You only need to know it is wrong to have too much and not give anything, nor even a thought, to the many who know the kind of deprivation that means a few short years on this earth, filled with misery, pain, sickness and starvation. And I think that’s a thought, not an emotion. – Catherine (reader’s pick)

Giving examples where unconditional love is absent is a far cry from showing that it does not exist. -Polymath (NYT pick)

…it isn’t impractical or utopian to adopt a wider circle of, if not friendship, at least peaceful cooperation. On the contrary, this has been forced on us by circumstances. Modern weapons have made war a loser’s game for all concerned. Modern challenges – particularly global warming – simply demand that we hang together or we will surely hang separately. -OD (NYT pick)

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