By George and Sedena Cappannelli, excerpted from Authenticity: Simple Strategies For Greater Meaning and Purpose At Work and At Home.
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The majority of us like to think that we are loving human beings. In fact, we proclaim it in our churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, talk about it to our children, and do our best, at least some of the time, to practice it with those we call family and friends. And yet as we look out at the world today, as we listen to the quality of our public discourse and pay attention to the values we appear to practice in our interactions with people of other races, religions and ethnic groups; as we experience what today passes as news and some of the practices that are considered acceptable in business we find ourselves wondering about this things called love.
Yes, we know it is a challenging topic. We also want you to know that it is not our desire or intention pass judgment on ourselves or others, but we do believe that it is necessary – no more than necessary – we believe it is essential for us as a nation and each of as individuals to consider some of the things we and other members of our species have done and do in the name of love that have not been and are not very loving at all.
For example, in the name of loving we have proclaimed our commitment to high ideals and lofty national values and have then proceeded to criticize, judge, condemn, punish and ostracize those who do not practice our values according to our standards. In the name of loving we have pursued and wooed, pledged our undying commitment to individuals in our immediate world and then, in turn, turned away, betrayed and gone back on our commitments to these individuals.
In the name of loving we have sometimes been less than supportive parents, unfaithful partners, unwilling lovers, less than honorable friends, insensitive neighbors, and unconscious and irresponsible members of our global family. Yes, we know, we are only human, at least that’s the usual refrain, isn’t it? But in truth, is being human really an excuse for this not very human practice of being unloving? Indeed, does being human justify the contradiction between the image we like to hold up about ourselves and the way we sometimes live our lives? Does being human point the way to a path that will allow us to live lives of genuine meaning and purpose; lives in which love is the fundamental guiding principle or does it give a blank check to be unconscious, uncaring and insensitive?
What else do we sometimes do in the name of loving? We sometimes are biased and prejudiced. We sometimes misused the environment and allowed others to abuse it. We sometimes let fellow human beings go without basic necessities and, in some instances, die of starvation. Yes, we do all of this and more and this is only the beginning of some of the things we do in the name of loving.
Perhaps you also recognize this dichotomy between the love we proclaim and the love we sometimes practice. Perhaps you also notice that we sometimes promise to love a person and then love them only as long as they do what we want them to do or as long as they are who we want them to be.
Yes, in the name of loving we and many of the people we have known and worked with – people who genuinely describe themselves as loving – do all kinds of small, petty, selfish and hurtful things. Of course, some of us do more heinous and cruel things in love’s name. In fact, as the Dalai Lama has said,
“Deluded by empty concepts such as racism or nationalism, people who are not criminal on the face of it, commit acts of extreme violence and cruelty.”
Yes, we go to war in the name of love. We maim and kill in the name of love. We even abandon entire races and ethnic groups in the name of love. We conquer, divide and subjugate others in the name of love.
Such A Contradiction.
Seems strange, doesn’t it, that we should spend so much time in pursuit and apparent worship at the altar of love and yet act in so many ways that contradict the very essence of loving?
What do you think accounts for this seeming contradiction? Is it just the natural consequence of living in the physical world, a world of supply and demand, a world built on the illusion of scarcity and lack? This is, after all, the planet of illusion where “the stuff of ego” is too often more familiar to most of us than the currency of loving. This is the planet where our attachment to limited ideas – and to a host of other ‘isms’ – is often more comfortable than the responsibility that goes along with true “freedom.” This is, in fact, the planet where a lot of us spend the currency indifference, confusion, violence, greed and manipulation as if they were both acceptable and valuable coins of the realm.
“No, you say! Not true. I don’t do that.” Well let’s look at little deeper and with less defensive eyes. Do you and the people in your immediate world spend the currency of openness, tenderness and vulnerability more than you do the currency of avoidance, anger or indifference? Is your world free of prejudice and built on acceptance? Do you and the people around you really care what happens to their brothers and sisters of different colors, different nationalities and different religious beliefs – those who live next-door, other the other side of town or on the other side of the world?
And what about you? How aware or concerned are you at this moment about what is going on in the apartment upstairs or the house across the street? And what about what is occurring in other parts of the world? And if you are aware and concerned, what do you feel, think and, even more important, what do you do about it?
When we ask ourselves these questions, we often come up more than a little short in our answers. So we are asking you these questions not to be accusatory or pretend that we are superior in any way. We ask you because we believe that if we, all of us, are ever going to bring true meaning and purpose into our lives, we will have to be a lot more willing to look our frailties right in the eye, admit them and begin to do something about them.
So if you believe there is not as much love expressed each day in this world as there could be; if in your experience there are not enough of people around you who equate love with acceptance, compassion and understanding and too many who settle for the cheap substitutes of selfishness, greed and indifference, then perhaps it is time we all do something about it.
Sure, most of us know the right things to say and the right gestures to make. After all we have seen so many of the same films and read some of the same books. We have listened to the same pious words from some of the same elevated pulpits and from the front of the same classrooms. But clearly knowing the words is not enough. Eventually we are going to have to start really singing the music and dancing the Song of Love. In short, we are eventually going to have to be willing to do something about a world that is so full of piety and so empty of the practice of the real thing called Love.
A Lot Of Why’s
There are thousands of reasons why, of course, but we have come to believe that there is one primary reason for this absence of practice – love is scary. In order to express love we need to open up to life and opening up to life means opening up to vulnerability, to pain as well as to pleasure; to confusion as well as clarity; to loss as well as to gain, to betrayal as well as to trust, to death as well as to life.
Yes, opening up puts us directly in touch with our sensitivity, our frailty and, our old friend, fear. It puts us in the path of what is different and uncomfortable. Opening up puts us on the edge and requires something of us. It wakes us up. It reminds us that we are truly responsible and it demands that we become more conscious, more compassionate and more connected. Above all, opening up reminds us of our impermanence.
For those of us who do not want to be reminded of these things, those who do not want to feel the true pulse of life, this is, of course, a challenge. Yes, for those of us who are closed down to loving – and that includes all of us at least some of the time – whether it is for a few moments or for a few lifetimes, whether it is for some large reason or small – opening up can be painful. After all, isn’t that why we close down in the first place – to avoid feeling?
At the same time, almost everyone we know, including the most closed among us, occasionally has one of those moments of grace and awakening when someone or something comes along and touches our hearts. And in these moments we glimpse again what it is like to feel love. Of course, when that happens some of us run for the hills or the nearest bar, vacation, drug, sexual partner or other diversion.
This is certainly a familiar storyline to us. Both of us have claimed that we want to love more fully, more openly and joyfully. In fact, when someone asks us if we want more love, abundance, and joy, we always say ‘Yes’, and say it enthusiastically. But there are also those time when we have to actually take the risk, put ourselves on the line, open up and really feel that vulnerability again, and that’s when another voice sometimes says, “We’ll do anything for love, but just not ‘that’ or not just “yet” please!”
The words used by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural address in 1994 remind us that,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us the most.”
This truth matches our own experience. It is our light and the light of others that frightens us. It is also the light that casts the shadows that so many of us hide in. As a result when we say that we want to love fully, to live fully, many of us get afraid and so we turn down the volume and hold back because the holding on or the holding back feels more comfortable and familiar. Yes, it is often more comfortable to be shut down than to be open. And sometimes it is also a lot more acceptable – especially to those around us who are shut down as well.
So we tell ourselves a lie. We tell ourselves that we are learning to be loving. We tell ourselves that it takes time to love. But of course that’s not true, is it? It doesn’t take time to love. It doesn’t even take practice – although practice can’t hurt. Love isn’t something we have to learn. It is only something we have to be willing to express. Love takes courage, but love was there before the pain. Love was there before we started hiding. Love was there before we were taught to make the judgments and to express bigotry and hate. Love was there before we learned about imperfections, about divisions and differences.
So in the name of love we do many things. Wouldn’t it be nice if one of these things we did more often and with more commitment was to live life more authentically? Wouldn’t our world be a remarkable place if we were willing to take off the governors, put down our fears and express the love that we are?