Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Love Thy Neighbor

Everyone has heard the quote "Love Thy Neighbor" or at least The Golden Rule "Do unto others". Interesting that when people quote these two phrases that they will inevitably leave off the rest of the sentence "as yourself" and "as you would have done unto you". In a world of bumper stickers, T-Shirts and banners that all scream for us to "Celebrate Diversity", "Give Peace a Chance" and be "One Human Family" you would think we would be doing a great job of this. I mean, people seem to be buying into the hype. They are putting these things on their bodies and cars. How are we really doing? Honestly, I would say not too well. Let me explain...

I am living on a very small island right now, 2 miles by 4 miles to be exact. I get the benefit of seeing society operate on a micro-scale. It's pretty interesting considering Key West considers themselves such an open community. What I see a lot of is passivity and tolerance, not too much in the way of love. Recently we had Pride Fest. A 5-day, yearly celebration of being gay I guess. There really is a more meaningful event behind this festival but it seems to be lost down here into something else. What I observed during that week about how people treated others is really what got me thinking about our two "mottos". Hundreds descended on this tiny island to celebrate. If you weren't downtown, you didn't really see too much going on but that is very hard to avoid and people came early on in the week to make a vacation out of it. Seems logical. The descent came with an undertone or an attitude by a lot of vacationers. Kind of a "it's our town" for the week and a sense of entitlement that came from being there for the celebration toward the locals and others. It gave pride a new meaning to me and not in the good sense. But not to leave out anyone else in the non-love was a man that seems to creep up on busy intersections pretty regularly around here, the "God Hates Fags" guy. His guy repulses me on so many levels. The biggest one is that he wears the banner of Christianity while holding his signs "God Hates Fags" and "God Brought The Oil Because He Hates Fags". First of all God doesn't hate anyone. In fact, Jesus was the one quoted in "Love thy neighbor as thyself"! Second of all, there are no oil spill effects in the Keys at the time of this writing thing so the other sign he carries is just silly. I want to make my own signs and keep them in my car so I can stand next to him when I see him. My signs would say "Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself" and "Let He That Has Not Sinned Cast The First Stone" and make arrows that point to him. I wonder how he would feel about that?
Adults behaving this way toward each other is having effects on our children in how they behave toward each other. I call this the "Me First" syndrome. Since we aren't loving each other, we are loving ourselves more. We are getting our due, exercising our rights, putting ourselves first. My next example is two children at the zoo while I was there with my mother and Carli. We were wondering around looking at alligators and crocodiles. The dad had reached the pen of alligators first and he was calling his children to come look. We were walking over as well. One child shoved my 3 year old out of the way while the other one ran right into me without so much as a glance back as I stumbled to regain control of my knees. The look on Dad's face was one of "they're just excited". I understood. This is how it is in their home. His permission for his children to assault people and not apologize told me everything I needed to know about him...Me first. His kids get it. When you want something, you want something and you want it first. Meanwhile, I tell Carli we have to wait our turn and everyone needs a turn. That's just me. I know that she knows that because when children shove her out of the way or step in front of her view of something, she looks up at me and says "We need to wait our turn, Mama?". I say yes and silently think about shoving those children out of her way. Where has the love gone?

My final example is one of a waitress in a breakfast place recently. I was having breakfast and was being waited on by an older woman who, in my mind, should have probably chosen another career given her lack of friendliness and courtesy toward me and my daughter. Nevertheless, I was kind to her in the same way I would have if I had been given good service. She didn't spill anything on me and she got the food to the table hot. As I was eating her manager was barking an order at her. I heard her reply "Stop talking to me that way!". What she said make me think. Stop talking to me that way implies that this attitude toward her was ongoing, not a one time thing this morning. Her frustration in her voice told me she'd had enough. I guessed her attitude toward me in the form of her customer service was not about me but about her work environment. I suddenly felt sorry for her. Who wants to be barked at while they are trying to do their job? I am glad I slowed my mind down enough to assess the situation rather than react. If I had said something quick and sharp or complained to the manager about the lack of customer service I would have made a bad situation worse for her just because I wasn't getting a smile with my coffee. Not really a big deal in comparison to the situation. I could definitely argue that I was owed a good attitude while I was there, I was a customer after all but none of this was about me in the first place. Why make it about me? Would it have made me feel better to see her berated? Would my omelet have tasted better? I doubt it and I would have further ruined someone's morning.

It's easy to love and to give to those we like and those we know well. It really takes no effort at all. After all, our friends and family members are our neighbors. Everyone who isn't you is your neighbor, or at least that is the intent of the quoter. But what about the neighbor who we don't agree with? The neighbor that we think lives a life that is not in accordance to our own values. Do we love them anyway? Do we talk badly about them in front of our children or to others?
These quotes are made because they really are hard. Loving thy neighbor and doing unto others takes us out of the equation. That means to love everyone, I have to consider everyone as important as myself. It takes a lot of self sacrifice and forgiveness. That is what I see that is lacking, in my own life and certainly how I witness the treatment of others. How are you doing with that?

I wish we were a society working towards "doing unto others" but I don't really see that at work. I see this only being conditional to being like-minded rather than just well....doing it. Challenge yourself. Extend forgiveness and a clean slate to that coworker you can't stand. Let someone cut you in line go without getting mad or saying something about it. When you want to tell your spouse about the next door neighbor who has done that thing that drives you nuts one more time, stop. Who is hearing this and what's in it for you to complain about anyway? When your children want to treat others with disrespect, make them stop and say "I'm sorry". Strike up a conversation with someone who is much different than you. You just might learn something and they may learn something from you. You would be amazed how good you will feel when you just let yourself go and put others first.

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