Saturday, January 15, 2011

Love and Justice

Listening to President Obama's eloquent and moving speech night in Tucson this past week, I jotted down a line that struck me as important: When (I paraphrase) our brief lives on this earth come to an end, we will be judged not on our fame or money or success, but we will be judged on how we have loved."

This strikingly Christian theme, which is shared with other religious traditions, connects very simply two profound themes: love and justice. A just society, based on the values of the community and the common good, must entail compassion. And in practical terms, compassion and love for one's fellow man should mean a reduction in violent, emotional political language and actions.

The theme is one I shared with my students in a Dante class, which ended on the day after the speech. Dante would have applauded the line, and the speech. Obama has read enough theology (Niebuhr, et al.) and thought deeply enough about the politics of reconciliation that he was able to connect major ideas from the Judaeo-Christian tradition with his own feelings about the senseless tragedy that took place last week in Arizona.

Whether his words will have any effect is open to discussion. But it seems to me that the very discussion his speech is having is important. He has defined, most dramatically in his career, a tone of civil speech that can effect changes more subtle than what we are likely to see in Congress or the political arena.

If just a few websites can drop their cross-hairs and just a few leaders examine gun laws in their districts and fewer speeches include the language of death and hatred, that will be a beginning.

By coincidence (or was it?) I happened upon a new book by the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, "You are Here." Respect your anger as you respect yourself, he writes; treat your emotions the way all life is to be treated: tenderly. And keep breathing mindfully, knowing that each breath can bring us inner peace.

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

It strikes me that all the recent rhetoric about civility has been focused on the political level. This is not surprising given the current situation. But I have seen nothing written about the general lack of civility in daily living.

Not too long ago, there was a great furor about violence in the media being available to children.

An entire generation was christened as being selfish by the name “Me Generation.”

It has become fashionable to not discipline one’s children, allowing instead to let them discover or express themselves, which is considered by some to be healthy behavior, even at the expense of others.

Because of the Pill, the Internet, and other societal trends (including the increased number of people who believe only what they care to believe rather than say they practice any particular religion), our society has become—it seems to me—much more self-centered than other-centered. Personal freedom is the goal to pursue, it would seem.

There is no public discussion of these things today because we are past public discussion about them. We have moved on. They are so “yesterday.” We have descended further as a society in this pursuit of personal gratification.

If one adopts this philosophy, why shouldn’t they say what they want to say or act the way they want to act? We need to become more concerned about others in general—more civil, if you will--in all aspects of life, not just in the political spectrum; not just in the press.

In many ways, life is paradoxical. Sometimes, it is when you are weak that you are strongest. Witness people like Martin Luther King and Ghandi. Oh, and also Jesus Christ. Why did / do so many follow the principles of these non-violent, non-selfish men?