Works of Love
April 21, 2016
Welcome to the monthly WORKS OF LOVE newsletter, which consists of one or two big announcements and a few brief reflections on Unlimited Love. We will distribute this on or about the 21st day of each month. Imagine, we were founded in June of 2001, almost fifteen years ago, and doing more than ever with a plan of culturally transforming science and activities through 2035.
(1) Our big announcement is that we have a beautiful new website, built with the help of Morgan Adams, at UnlimitedLoveInstitute.org. Please take a look. So much is happening!
(2) We will be convening a major conference at the United Nations on August 12 featuring the theme of religious freedom, tolerance, nonkilling, and Unlimited Love across all traditions. More to follow.
(1) NATIONAL "WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR DAY"?
On March 20, Mr. Fred Rogers would have celebrated his 88th birthday. He was one of the greatest people of his time and a friend for a few years prior to his dying in 2003. An ordained Presbyterian minister with his Masters of Divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, he made the world a kinder place. One day in 1998 he had to take the New York subway, which was unusual because he was so easily recognized in public that he preferred cabs. But it was raining hard so he ducked into the subway. No one seemed to recognize him, and no one asked for an autograph even though the subway had lots of kids in it on their way home from school. Strange, he thought, until the entire subway car broke out in a chorus singing "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and everyone kept singing as the train went from station to station to station across Manhattan. Perhaps today we can all together proclaim March 20th National Won't You Be My Neighbor Day, and despite the gremlin-like language and behaviors that capture the headlines and bring our culture lower and lower, we can each ask one person we don't necessarily like, "Won't you be my neighbor?" See, Mr. Rogers believed that when we do that with someone we are a little uncomfortable around, we have engaged in the real "work" and "struggle" of love. He often referred to an old passage, emphasized by Kierkegaard in his great book Works of Love, "If you love those who love you what reward will you get?"
A Tribute to My Old Friend Mr. Fred Rogers: Four Real Keys to Happiness
In the last several years of his life I had the chance to communicate with Mr. Rogers, who was based in nearby Pittsburgh. I was in Cleveland at the time, and the Steelers and the Browns were not on friendly terms. We spoke from time to time by phone, I visited his office a couple of times, and once we even had a little conference call with M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled, who lived in Connecticut but was a graduate of the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, where I taught for twenty years.
So what do I think happiness meant to Mr. Rogers? He often wrote of being trusted, of helping others, of taking time out to reflect even if for a lot of people stillness feels like a waste of time, of being loyal to people when they are having some hard times and need a little help, of succeeding through kindness and more kindness, and of being humble because otherwise we don't leave any room for others.
Fred Rogers said many things about love, and he lived them out in his neighborhood scenes:
"I believe that appreciation is a holy thing - that when we look for what's best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we're doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we're participating in something sacred."
"Real strength has to do with helping others."
"Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now."
In tribute to Fred, who died in February thirteen years ago, I want to just say something about happiness that I believe he would approve of:
Happiness is mostly a matter of four things: (1) having a clear conscience and helping others, (2) loyalty, (3) simplicity (remember Fred's simple sweaters, one of which sits in the Smithsonian), and (4) humbly acknowledging the spiritual. It doesn't come from selfishness or hurting people, or from one more quasi-drunken party (Fred never drank and he was a vegetarian on ethical grounds because he didn't want "to eat anything that has a mother") where conscience goes out the door and someone gets hurt; it doesn't come from dumping people or refusing to let relationships endure so as to allow for growth (he really believed in sticking with even your most difficult neighbor); it doesn't come from yet another expensive pair of over-priced shoes or a hundred dollar dinner (Fred felt that only insecure people are materialistic, and what they really need is love).
Not bad. Happiness comes from good conscience and service, love expressed in loyalty, the simplicity that frees us from the hedonic treadmill, and humble spirituality. This, anyway, is how I have also tried to live my life - pretty happy and as it turns out pretty healthy. Although I have taught in medical schools for over 30 years in four states, I have never actually needed to see a doctor other than for routine annual checkups. Admittedly, this is merely an association.
Fred Rogers was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 for his contributions to children's education. President George W. Bush said at the time, "Fred Rogers has proven that television can soothe the soul and nurture the spirit and teach the very young."
Fred Rogers liked C.S. Lewis. There is a passage attributed to Lewis that I think Fred would like you all to read: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." - C.S. Lewis
(2) W.H. AUDEN'S AMAZING EXPERIENCE OF PURE UNLIMITED LOVE
Lines that Sir John would have liked from the poet W.H. Auden:
"One fine night in June 1933 I was sitting on a lawn after dinner with three colleagues, two women and one man. We liked each other well enough but were certainly not intimate friends, nor had anyone of us a sexual interest in another. Incidentally, we had not drunk any alcohol. We were talking casually about everyday matters when, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly - because, thanks to the power, I was doing it - what it means to love one's neighbor as oneself. I was also certain, though the conversation continued to be perfectly ordinary, that my three colleagues were having the same experience. (In the case of one of them, I was able later to confirm this.) My personal feelings towards them were unchanged - they were still colleagues, not intimate friends - but I felt their existence as themselves to be of infinite value and rejoiced in it."
(3) WHAT DO WE MEAN BY "SPIRITUAL"?
"Spiritual" is a difficult concept to define because it is deeply personal and individual, and goes beyond formal notions of ritual or religious practice to the very essence of who we are. But the concept can be captured with the help of a "word cluster" of contrasts, an approach inspired by my friend the Brazilian linguist Francisco Gomes de Matos: compassion over indifference, humility over humiliation, cooperation over isolation, kindness over cruelty, transparency over deception, mind over matter, forgiveness over revenge, equality over disparity, oneness over fragmentation, security over fear, rights over abuse, empathy over detachment, respect over discrimination, tolerance over fundamentalism, liberty over oppression, life over killing, love over hatred, giving over hoarding, peace over war, and hope over despair.
(4) HINDUISM, MIND, AND UNLIMITED LOVE
I was in the Union League of Philadelphia on Abraham Lincoln's Birthday and observed the statue of Lincoln by the great American sculptor Daniel Chester French (d. 1931), who also did the Lincoln Memorial. French was a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a Boston Transcendentalist, which is to say that he was heavily influenced by Hinduism. Critics refer to his image of Lincoln as "the Hindu Lincoln." Emerson and French were quite metaphysical. They believed that
1. There exists only one original, eternal, and universal Mind, beyond time and space, of which each individual is given a small drop;
2. The essence of that one Mind is pure love and creativity, which is to say that our deepest individual essence and calling is to be free extensions of creative love;
3. Mind precedes all Matter, which derives from Mind and is sustained by Mind as an underlying matrix of Ultimate Reality;
4. We are all connected in Mind, which explains our human spiritual inclinations, mysticism, extraordinary creativity, premonitions, deep transforming experiences, and the like;
5. All worthy religions and spiritual philosophies converge on one Mind and its essence as love, albeit they all differ wonderfully in their symbols and cultural expressions. There is no one path, and to think that there is constitutes arrogance and invites religious violence.
The funny thing is that when I was in Bangalore two months ago in early December at the Indian Institute for Advanced Studies, I discovered that most deep thinkers in India, with notable exceptions, believe these key points with ease, and feel that in future centuries these things will perhaps be clarified through mathematics and physics.
Always eager to learn, I drove up last week to French's home and studio in Stockbridge, Ma. to get a better sense for his worldview, and took in some Rockwell, Niebuhr, Edwards, and Arlo Guthrie as well.
(5) THE WORLD IS A MESS: REASSERTING THE GOLDEN RULE AND TEN EXPRESSIONS OF LOVE OF HUMANITY
When the happiness and security of another is as real or meaningful to you as your own, you love that person. And such Golden Rule love is expressed according to the needs of others.
Loyalty is love made visible in sticking with others. Commitments must sometimes be set aside, but never frivolously and always with minimal harm.
Humility is love made visible by leaving self-inflation behind so there is space in the room of life for others and even for a shared humanity. Humility is not humiliation, but we are after all fleeting. (Humus meaning earthen)
Compassion is love made visible in responding to the suffering of others.
Celebration is love made visible in acknowledging the benchmarks of people's lives.
Helping is love made visible in generosity of action both small and large.
Forgiveness is love made visible in freeing others from the turmoil of their guilt and in opening up the possibility of reconciliation based on apology.
Humor is love made visible in tasteful uplifting mirth so others can see a path to a better future.
Carefrontation is love made visible in honestly addressing the destructive behavior of others, especially when they have inflicted wanton harm.
Respect is love made visible in humbly "looking twice" at the opinions of others. (Re-spectare meaning to re-look)
Attentive listening is love made visible in the focused presence that sets aside your own narrative in favor of those of others.
Creativity is love made visible in using your talents and gifts as called for the benefit of humanity.
This was the basis of whygoodthingshappen.com
(6) MISTAKES AND LIFE AS AN EXPANDING CANVAS
Life is a bit like an expanding canvas. Today you made some huge mistake, and whatever happened might seem like the worst thing ever, like a horrid blotch on the middle of a canvas that just looks ugly. This is how Jackson Pollock's paintings looked before he expanded outwards with every kind of color and dripping to the point where however bad that blotch looked initially, it evolved into a magnificent painting of beauty. Hard lessons are learned hard, and that's the only way. To say that life is an expanding canvas means that given time and a sincere effort to make the best out of a difficult situation, what looks unfortunate today can look plausibly fortunate tomorrow, or at least eventually. The canvas is always expanding, and hope is having a faith that difficult moments are good moments once the artist has time to work.
(7) EASTER IS A DAY FOR EVERYONE TO CELEBRATE THE LIVES OF PEOPLE RECOVERED FROM MENTAL ILLNESS
Okay, let's face it. Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, seems to have come from a reasonably well-off family and had a history of some mental illness. It took seven tries for Jesus to heal her of various "demons" so-called (Luke 8:2 and Mark 16:9). Now she was perhaps his most devoted follower because after all, he seems to have restored her to sanity. It must have been the power of his compassion and love that did the trick. After all, good psychiatrists do not live by pharma alone. But help! Now she sees her healer tortured and killed in the most brutal fashion, at the hands of human nature at its very worst (as Einstein quipped, the "most dangerous force in the universe is empowered mediocrity"). Mary must have been devastated. So she goes to the tomb just to do what she can to care for the body of her beloved healer, and it isn't there. She falls down in frustration and tears. But then she sees something, and hears his voice, and she is calmed by some form of presence that is way beyond understanding. Whatever you think of these mysteries, the key for me is that Jesus loved Mary greatly, which can be extended to say that he loved all people, regardless of mental condition, and seemed to know that attachment and tender loving care can make all the difference. So in the valley of despair, Mary found a peak of hope beyond anything she could ever have imagined. We should remember every Easter that the only follower who was clearly with Jesus through it all was a woman named Mary who had a history of mental illness, and who he cherished so deeply.
(8) LOVE AND LOYALTY (AND LEADERSHIP SUCCESS)
This week in Toronto I met the CEO of the most successful investment holdings company in the world. He began his speech by stating that over 40 years he had never laid off any "all in" people and that was both his greatest achievement and the secret to success. He continued on more or less as follows:
Never lay off anyone who is diligent, creative, and "all in" with your program. These are people who should be treated with respect and loyalty. A culture of trust takes years to build but is quickly destroyed and rarely restored in less than ten years. When people are "all in" with the team and doing good work, there is a quantum leap in creativity like tin and copper coming together to make bronze. Treat someone with loyalty, and you will get back what you give a hundred times over. Even in lean times, good leadership never breaks trust, although this may require a furlough system where everyone takes a little time out to share the cost cutting. All for one and one for all. When creative, diligent, and "all in" people are let go, it is always without explanation because there is none. Leaders find a way for everyone "all in" to make it, and like officers in the military, have to be up front and even eat last. Any organization will slowly die of low morale when it breaks trust with the "all in." That little danger-scanning part of the brain, the amygdala, locks into the fear mode and those who remain behind start dusting off their resumes. Loyalty is always the best long term business decision, and it sends the message that people and their families matter.
A room full of high-level CEO's and presidents stood up and applauded. What a great culture. Love in action expressed as loyalty. Sir John would have smiled.
Catch You Next Month
Stephen G. Post, PhD, President
|© 2016 The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. All rights reserved.|