Monday, November 27, 2023

Why Don’t We “Care For One Another”?

Why don’t we care for one another

We barely seem to care about one another, except insofar as another can serve to facilitate the grasping of the all-consuming-self that demands to occupy the center of the stage in each of the little dramas of our little human lives.

This may seem too negative a way of putting things, but the more we reflect upon it, the more we begin to see how this attitude is pervasive in society and too often in our own hearts. It’s so easy to make ourselves—our plans, our desires, our fears, and especially our will—the determining measure of all our other relationships and all of reality. We should be grateful if our selfishness “unsettles us,” because this means our humanity has not been entirely anesthetized and suffocated. Our hearts and our human history witness to the central importance of giving and receiving love for the happiness and fulfillment of people. Poor and suffering persons especially have a claim on our attention and active compassion, and they are not rare in this poor world. We find them among the persons who cross our paths every day, the persons who have been most immediately entrusted to us. 

In a sense, we are all “poor” in relation to one another—given to one another, in need of being received by one another, meant to help one another. Recognizing this doesn’t take anything away from our responsibilities as persons and communities to care about (and care for) the marginalized, the sick, and the impoverished in the wider sense—those beyond our immediate experience, who are on the margins of our communities, our peoples, and our nations. It’s sad that so many multitudes of people are abandoned and persecuted, that there is so much conflict and violence all over the world, that instead of caring for people we turn them into pretexts for political fighting, power-grasping, and categories within contesting ideological worldviews. But this is not surprising, considering the fact that so often we fail to care for the people right in front of us: spouses, children, parents, extended family, regular relationships that require collaboration and common concern. How can we expect anything like “world peace” when we ignore the needs of those closest to us—when we refuse to “love our neighbor”?

This is how human beings are made to live: taking care of those close to them. Taking care of children—the older generations looking after and mentoring the younger, making out of family-and-community-love a stable place: not splitting up and fleeing from family, mothers and fathers abandoning each other in divorce and then shuttling children back and forth between them, fighting over them, being possessive, manipulating them, dividing the larger family into taking sides with the mother or the father. In the very context in which it is needed most, love is extinguished. This is one of the ways in which people who are interrelated in central, vitally human relationships become alienated from one another.

At the root of the divisiveness that invades our most basic and intimate human relationships is selfishness. This is a fact that most people would be willing to admit. What continues to emerge in affluent societies, however, is a veritable ideology of selfishness that twists the language of human dignity and human rights into a system that destroys persons and relationships.

Ultimately, our society sets up as an Absolute Ideal the “self-sufficient individual” who makes himself by his own choices, who belongs to no one and has no responsibilities other than those he chooses, for as long as he chooses, until he chooses otherwise. This is for many reasons a shallow caricature of the human person, not the least of which is the inherent fragility of the individual—his “choices” are weak, impulse-driven, incoherent, and therefore ultimately subject to the manipulation of those who are stronger, those who hold power in this world. 

Disconnected persons—in the name of an excessive exaltation of “individual rights” and self-defined “freedom of choice”—ultimately end up “choosing” to become slaves to the dominant mentality, to those who hold power and who pretend to be able to offer something to the person that he or she cannot give to his or herself. This is because human beings do not make themselves. They are gifts, one to another. They are responsible for one another. They answer to the Source and Fulfillment of their being, the Giver of all things, the One who is the only ultimately adequate choice of their freedom because this One alone is the radical origin of their freedom.

We have this profound reverence for the dignity of human freedom and the need to respect the freedom of every person. But who told us that we are free? If we are nothing more than stuff in a vast universe of stuff, then why should some piece of that stuff that is called “freedom” command any privilege over anything else? In a world of commodities—consumable stuff—that has no meaning beyond the sum of its parts, the only thing that can prevail is power. The inherently meaningless Greater Power absorbs or crushes all lesser powers. The strong prevail over the weak. The rich rob the poor and laugh at them, without a shred of conscience. People lie to one another and manipulative one another to get an advantage.

One of the most insidious lies is the claim that people belong only to themselves, that they must make themselves, that to be “authentic” they must choose (somehow) from within themselves who and what they are, and that their own choices are the sole source of their responsibilities toward other persons. This is not a world of freedom. It’s a world in which love has been laid waste, a world where the human person disintegrates and the most ruthless power prevails.

This is, in more ways than I can bear to think, our affluent Western world today. This is a world in which you don’t love your neighbor, you don’t even know anything about your neighbor (or the long line of neighbors that come and go). All you know about your neighbors is that you need to lock your doors day and night against them.

This is not how human beings are made to live.