Left to our own devices it’s hard to be radically generous

Dear President Trump,

I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t feel loved yourself and how if you don’t feel loved yourself, it’s likely your tendency is to see love as transactional such that you aren’t willing to give love until you receive love. I’m guessing this sounds familiar to you and probably seems absolutely righteous to not give anything until you get something. This stance, though, balls things up and leaves all sides in a stand-off with their arms crossed, so to speak, waiting to get something before they give something.

It occurs to me that humans may have invented God and deified Jesus and Muhammad so we can have handy, omnipresent sources of love we can claim without having to give any first. There is also, of course, a contingent variant requiring one to engage in “good works” to “earn” God’s love and a place in heaven, but even in this less generous conceptualization there’s still grace and mercy. In both versions there’s an outside source one can turn to for solace and a sense of connection that is available when humans may not be coming through with those things. Maybe this sense of receiving God’s grace opens the door to engaging in non-contingent acts of kindness and perhaps even willingness to try to love one’s neighbors and enemies.

For Buddhists, I think this idea of omnipresent connection and love is experienced through the recognition that the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat that was grown by someone we’ll never meet, even the gravity that keeps us tethered are all enabling us to exist and buoying us up without us having to do anything in return. The recognition and gratitude for all these life giving elements taking care of us unbidden become the ground from which we are able to give non-contingent love and see our inextricable ties with our neighbors and our enemies.

I wonder if both these world views point to a need we have to build conceptual frameworks to help us see each others’ unique, irreplaceable nature and unsurpassable, intrinsic worth because left solely to our own devices it is so very hard to be this radically generous with each other.

May we have the courage to lay down our swords first.
May we see our enemies as fully realized human beings.
May we insist on the health and well-being of all.
May we hold in our hearts the possibility of the beloved community.

Tracy Simpson

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