A certain candidate that I refuse to name–this is really an admission, as I will say “Voldemort” any time–has sparked a national debate about civility and decorum, tolerance and accommodation. It’s a good conversation to have, and I am a small voice of not much volume in it, but I have a thing to say that I hope you will hear.
First, to get this out of the way, the Candidate-that-I-wouldn’t-stoop-to-mention will not get my vote any more than Mussolini would. Under no possible circumstances. Ever.
With that taken care of, a word about “loving” people. My various feeds have a lot of love on them, and a lot of admonitions to “just love” other people. I find these wholly appropriate, and I encourage them, but I think we need to be pretty clear about what the word means, if we’re going to use it so freely.
I have friends that are going to vote for Candidate Slimeball. I love them. I do not like them, and I think they are deluded and in some cases terrifyingly so. Thus, I do not want to be around them, and I have no feeling of affection for them whatsoever. The contrary, if anything. And yet I choose to love them because that’s a path open to me that is good for my heart and soul. Love as choice, not love as emotion. See the difference?
I have a specific friend that is in great pain because of the death of her father. I love this woman. I also have great affection for her, although she has said things that are moderately hurtful and somewhat unfair about people I care about (and by extension, about me). In one sense–love as emotion–I care about that. It matters, and I wish she’d stop. But in another sense–love as choice–I don’t care. There is nothing she could do that would make me stop loving her (I’m pretty sure. She is awfully creative, though, so maybe that’s not true, but I think it is). I will extend myself to care for her. I will defend her. I will give what I have to her, and help her if I can.
In the first, most common usage, love is an emotion. “You can’t help who you love” is a popular modern phrase for this usage. Translated, it means “you can’t help who you have feelings of affection for”, and in that sense I think it’s true. But if you translate it as “you can’t help who you choose to love”, it’s nonsense. You absolutely can. I’ve been doing it all my life, and so have you. I got married twenty-five years ago. I chose to love Jeanette Joan Jensen. I have therefore chosen NOT to love three-and-a-half billion other women, many of whom (heck, I think MOST of whom) are quite attractive, intelligent, and worthy of love. Some of these women, heartbreakingly, have never had anyone choose to love them the way I love Jeanette. Many men have never had a woman choose them the way she chooses me.
I’d be lying if I said I had never regarded another woman with affection–love as emotion–in the last twenty-five years. But I choose one woman, because there are things I cannot give to more than one. Jeanette is the one. Nothing will change that. Ever. No matter who she is or what she does or what she looks like, she is the one I choose. I promised this, I vowed it, I pledged all that I hold sacred to it. So while in the one sense of love I have very little control–emotions are what they are–in another sense I have complete control.
When we talk about politics, we must talk to people that we cannot feel affection for. It is a necessity, if we are to have any sort of meaningful dialogue. But in the face of this lack of affection, we can choose–we must choose–to love one another. Whatever my emotions about people that think some races inferior to their own–and my emotions on that score are ferocious–I choose to love them anyway. Whatever I think of people that see nothing wrong with arresting their enemies for saying things they disagree with, I can still choose to love them.
Nor does that mean that I will not oppose them politically, or argue with them. I will. In fact, I think that loving them requires that I do so, the same way I would oppose the efforts of my beloved seven-year-old to run into the street without looking. I must try the best I can to explain why they must not do what they are intent on doing, politically, or religiously, or what have you. But I will not oppose them with shouting and viciousness, or attacks on their looks, or age, or physical threats. I would never do that to someone I love. And I do love them, because I have chosen to.
Imperfectly, of course. I’m perfect in nothing. But love is the standard, and I don’t back away from it just because it’s very hard for me to live up to. To me, the best political goal is unity. Unanimity. Policies we all support, not just 50.001% of us, and devil take the other side. There’s no way we’re going to get to that with hatred. We have to get there with love.
Not affection. Not emotion. Choice.