This is our truth, tell us yours
“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”
I read that verse in a Bible that came easily to hand at the bedside of a good christian who died recently. Books can give away, all too easily, by opening at this page or that, what matters to their readers.
I was fascinated by the way in which that verse, in a letter sent to some early christians, formed the preamble to a discourse on the difference between the rigid observation of rules and the practice of living according to principles.
I try to make a principle out of living with love for others. I expect nothing in return, because loving others in a mature, undemanding way is a prerequisite, as I understand it, for being loved. Like training for a sports event, it is nothing more than preparation for the possibility of achieving what I desire. A quote from James Baldwin falls easily to hand
Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.
This quote from a guide to the thought of Erich Fromm also comes to hand; There is a healthy personality as well, which Fromm occasionally refers to as the person without a mask. This is the person who, without disavowing his or her biological and social nature, nevertheless does not shirk away from freedom and responsibility.
Now I don’t know if Baldwin and Fromm knew each other, but I suspect that if they did not, and they had met, they would have had a lot to talk about.
Why these Friday night musings?
One of my Twitter friends, a person whose thoughts I look to for stimulation, is on the receiving end of abuse from others who regard her as politically and personally beyond the pale. It is as if her critics live by Machiavelli’s exhortation to be feared rather than loved if you cannot manage both. Fromm said “Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either.” He also argued that authoritarianism is an escape from ourselves, either through submission to others, or by becoming an authority yourself, a person who applies structure to others. Either way, Fromm says, you seek to escape your separate identity.
When I meet someone who wants to impose their rules on others I try not to ask ‘why me’ but ‘why them’. Why do they feel so bad about themselves that they act that way? It’s hard though, and sometimes the only way to stop them from plunging over a cliff in a bid to escape from themselves (yes, it’s the Gadarene Swine, again) is to shout at them and grab their attention. Anyone who’s ever clung on tight to a friend to prevent them from plunging to destruction, either metaphorically or physically, knows that sometimes love is a physical, exhausting experience. I know, too, that no-one can live with me wrapped around them like a lifebelt, not once the immediate crisis is past.
Sometimes, telling trolls and tyrants to do one, bluntly, is for their own good, even if it means we are not being as good as we wish to be. If it gets their attention, and offers them a chance to pause and think, it may be the best we can manage. In the process though, we must not forget our mutual responsibility to those who are closer to us; giving the trolls a chance to pause and think might be a good thing, but reminding our friends that they are loved should not get lost as we try to prove how much we love even those who offend us.