Mort Mather

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How to Improve Your Life and Save the World

The Break Another Grand Canyon High What is love? A childís love for a parent Love for everybody Loving oneís self Back to loving everyone
Chapter 1 - The Break

Incredible! How could anyone who had achieved fame, fortune and a fabulous spouse be unhappy? There I was sitting in my rent controlled apartment on West 57th Street with a view of the Hudson River feeling unhappy. The Sunday Times was scattered about. My trophy bride of one year was curled up on the sofa reading.

Trophy bride! She will hate that when she reads it. I donít believe the phrase had even been coined in 1970 but, hey, she was a blue-eyed blond nearly ten years younger than I and sheíd been a cheerleader for Godís sake? She was an aspiring actress recently graduated from Northwestern. Beauty, brains and talent. She was and thirty seven years later still is my first wife so itís not likely that she was the cause of my unhappiness.

I may be overstating the qualities of my apartment. It is unlikely even the most creative real estate agent would advertise it as having a view of the Hudson River though I often leaned out the window and looked west at sun-sets over New Jersey; and I could also catch a glimpse of the River.

It was a nice apartment for one room. There was a separate entry-way in which I had a small table and chair for the telephone and answering machine. Answering machines were not very common yet but as a freelance stage manager it was a necessary business expense. A large bathroom was off this entry area which made it nicely separate from the main room. The main room had three large windows across the front out of which I leaned occasionally. There was the sofa that pulled out into a double bed, a large bureau, coffee table, end table, book case, dining room table, a combination desk/record storage/wine rack/sound system console, lamps and a comfortable chair. The kitchen folded into a closet. With all of this in the room there was still enough floor space for two people to play pick-up-sticks.

I didnít think the apartment was the source of my seeming unhappiness. Barbara wasnít thrilled with it but I donít recall her voicing any unhappiness.

Maybe itís not quite accurate to say I was famousÖbut I did know a lot of famous people. I had played Boggle with Alan Alda and Rita Moreno and we had laughed hysterically. I played bridge with a song-writer who wrote a popular song recorded by Nat King Cole as well as a long-running off-Broadway musical. I had worked with Charlton Heston and his wife, with Van Johnson andÖ

I was a theatrical stage manager which was a job that I enjoyed. It was fun working in that environment with interesting people. It was fun being a part of something that entertained people. It was fun getting praise for my work. (That seldom happens for a stage manager but I have gotten good reviews for my work as a set designer and as lighting designer.)

OK, so I wasnít famous in a broad sense but I had gained a "widespread reputation" (definition of fame) as a good stage manager. Stage managers are always looking for work. It is the nature of the business whether you have a job or not since every job you take is temporary, even a Broadway show. Summer stock is good for about ten weeks. Some jobs were only a day long. The trick was to become popular enough to have several producers want you whenever they had work and to have others in the business respect your work and mention you whenever anyone said they were looking for a stage manager. (Alan Alda had requested me for a job.) I was doing quite well, frequently turning down jobs because I couldnít fit them in or they didnít pay enough.

By now you are probably questioning my definition of fortune and rightly so. How much money did I have in the bank or in the stock market? Little and none. However, I did own a 100 acre farm in Maine with a three bedroom house. True, the bank owned half of it, but only half. I had plunked down half of the cost. It wasnít a fancy farm. It didnít even have a barn as that had disintegrated years ago. There were lots of problems with the 150 year old house but I figured that even if it fell into the cellar hole the day after I bought it, Iíd still have made a good purchase of 100 acres at $16,000. We are living in the house today.

Newly married, rent-controlled New York apartment, land-owner, top of my career; what more could anyone want? Being unhappy just didnít make sense. Wasnít I living the American dream of fame and fortune? Why was I unhappy? Was it important to be happy? Should I just keep doing what I was doing? Could I remember other times when happiness seemed important? What was I thinking about as a pre-teen growing up on a farm in New Jersey? How does all the questioning of the Bible that I did during my three plus years on a Coast Guard cutter in the North Atlantic fit into my life? How has what I learned in college shaped my life? And now, living the life all those segments led to, Iím wondering what itís all about.

If fame and fortune donít bring happiness, then what? My thinking that Sunday did not yield an answer.

Johnny Carson wrote a book titled Happiness is a Warm Puppy. Well, not for me, Johnny. Puppies are cute and I love them but that is not quite what Iím looking for. Actually, a warm puppy would probably chase away the current feeling of unhappiness. It is great fun to watch a baby dog lurching around, discovering its tail and chasing it and always giving you, the owner, loving looks and licks. However, Iím not looking for a diversion. I want something more. I want to be happy in some deeper, more profound way. Where can I find what brings me happiness? Me. Ah ha! It is my happiness Iím looking for so it is most likely found within me. When have I been most happy?

The first thought that popped into my mind was the third day of a four day hike into the Grand Canyon with my father, my eleven and a half year old half-brother and a friend from college. My father had left my mother and me when I was thirteen. Our relationship had been one-sided in the intervening thirteen years. I donít know that he ever would have written to me or if I would ever have seen him again if I had not written first or gone to see him.

I had an argument with him during lunch and I stormed off up the Bright Angel Trail alone. I donít recall my thoughts but perhaps I freed myself from my father in some way, at least partially. What happened to me physically as I climbed the trail toward the campground halfway to the South Rim was an incredible lightness. A poor nightís sleep the night before, a full morning of hiking, the heavy pack on my back, my anger, were all lifted from me. I was grinning from ear to ear. I laughed out loud though there was no one to hear me and there was nothing particularly funny to laugh at.

I have, until this moment, described this experience as becoming one with the Canyon. Maybe it was that. The Grand Canyon is a very amazing place. Driving up to the Canyon on a flat plain knowing what is just ahead I always think of the first people to come to its rim having no knowledge that it existed. What a shock that must have been. Hiking into the Canyon now is mind-bending when you realize that the different colors of strata were deposited when the land was under water for 350 million years and when you reach the inner gorge you are walking on rocks that are a billion years old! I had been to the Canyon twice before and was, in a strange way, disappointed those times. I think it was because it is simply too big, too grand, to be absorbed from the rim. It is fourteen miles across and one mile deep. It cuts into the curvature of the earth. If it were water and there was a ship fourteen miles away, the curvature of the earth would hide the ship from view.

Here I was dancing in the trail, spinning around, snapping pictures, finding the canyon, finding some new glory everywhere I looked, every smell, every sound, every feeling of the trail under my feet. I had never been so high.

When I reached the campground where we were going to spend the night I dropped my pack on the first table and headed out the mile long trail to the rim of the inner gorge. Every cactus along the trail was a thing of beauty. I sat in that deep hole in the earth and experienced an incredible sunset. The shadows rose out of the inner gorge and crept up the canyon walls until the canyon was in darkness. Yet the sky was still bright with color as the setting sun turned red on an unseen horizon.

When I got back to the campground I was so full of love for life that there was no room for anger at my father. As I recall that experience now I am filled with the love and beauty of that moment.

What made that moment so incredibly happy? Was it a release from my father or was it the canyon or was it something else?

I couldnít think of another time in my life when I was that happy. I have had relationships with women over the years that have brought me a high degree of happiness which, of course, includes my relationship with Barbara. When I was in the Coast Guard, between the ages of 18 and 22, I took great pleasure in discussions of philosophical questions. I also took pride in my rapid advancement in the Coast Guard, though I never considered making it a career. College was stimulating in the beginning but I really felt that three years would have been enough for me. I was already well launched as a stage manager and felt sure a college degree would not be needed anytime in my future but I did complete eight semesters and graduated. I have never been asked to show my college degree but I wouldnít trade what I learned those years for anything.

Reflecting over that time of my life I just wasnít coming up with anything that I could point to as being a sign of what I should be doing to be happy except maybe spend the rest of my life hiking in the Grand Canyon. I wonder if that would get boring. Boring! Maybe that was it. Maybe I am bored. The stimulant of flirting with women was inhibited by marriage. Conversations with friends in the business were pretty boring.

"Hi, how ya doing?"

"Great, whatís up with you?"

"I just came from an audition forÖ.spent the summerÖ.did a commercialÖ"

We essentially exchanged rťsumťs for the period since last we had talked. I was getting as bored telling people what I was doing as I was hearing of their successes and failures.

Was I really unhappy? Was I asking for too much? Should I just be content with my lot, enjoy myself more; more entertainment, more food, more booze, a bigger apartment, travel, just let loose and have fun--work for money and spend the money to forget about work?

That might have been the easy way, just stay the course, but I felt that would just be covering up or compensating for spending a lot of my life doing something that was less than ideal. I thought about different career moves I might make but nothing jumped out at me. As I thought I came to the conclusion that my mission in life should be happiness. Perhaps it couldnít be sustained over a long period in which case the pursuit of happiness might still be worthwhile. I didnít know what would make me happier but I felt that if I kept focusing on happiness as my mission, I would find some answers.

I came to the conclusion that I should make a change even if I didnít know what that change should be. Playing bridge with some theatre friends I said, "If I could figure out a way to make a living outside of New York, Iíd leave tomorrow." Hal Hester, song writer who wrote a Nat King Cole hit "The Sand and the Sea" as well as the long-running off Broadway show Your Own Thing, responded with, "You want to manage my club in San Juan?"

When I went back to the apartment that night I woke Barbara and asked if she would like to move to Puerto Rico. She sleepily replied, "Sure, but I know we wonít do it." She claims that is why we did. Iím amazed she knew me that well after little more than a year. Itís true. Saying something wonít happen or canít be done is a big motivator for me. We sublet the apartment to an actor the next day. Day two we cleared our possessions out of the apartment and headed to Maine to put things in order there.

Though we didnít say it out loud to each other, we both knew when we pulled into the dooryard of the farm that this was where we wanted to be. While we waited for the ad in the local paper to bring us a renter I actually checked out the possibility of getting a job in television or radio. It was possible but the pay was far below what I was interested in. The idea of working 40 hours or more a week to subsist had no appeal. A week after Halís offer Barbara and I celebrated our first anniversary in Old San Juan.

Old San Juan was fun. The club, The Sand and the Sea, (named for Halís song) near the end of Calle San Francisco, had been poorly managed for several months and business was down. It was fun building the business back up. Hal also owned a building that housed half a dozen apartments and two businesses. He turned management of that over to me as well. Several tenants were not paying their rent and one apartment had been vacant for months. Ten months later it was fully occupied and everyone was up to date with their rent payments. I learned that solving problems is something I enjoy. Another step in self-knowledge, I suppose.

But San Juan wasnít really the answer. It was a diversion as a warm puppy would be for me. It was new and newness is a learning opportunity. We learned about Puerto Rico and about managing a night club and an apartment building. As it was in college when my mind is full of learning there is little time to think about things like whether or not Iím happy or what I should be doing in life. I was too busy doing to think about what I should be doing. When the learning curve flattened out it became less fun and more like work. My mind was released to think about my mission again.

As I thought about times I had been most happy other than the Grand Canyon experience just hanging out with Barbara at the farm seemed to be high on the list. If that was to be the goal, then it seemed I should do as little work for others as possible. Since I didnít have a trust fund, I had to do something to provide for our needs. What were our needs? Thereís a good question to mull over. Air, water, food and shelter are the indisputable basics. Air and water ought to come free. The more food I could raise directly, the less money I would have to raise. If I could heat the house with wood and I cut my own wood, that would also be less money I would have to earn.

I would have to raise money for property taxes, car insurance and homeownerís insurance. We could try to live off the grid but electricity is really a pretty wonderful convenience making things like running water possible. We are social people so we didnít consider living without a phone.

During our stay in Puerto Rico I had been able to take stage management jobs that were offered by a company I had worked for in New York. The income from those and from managing Halís building had made it possible to pay off the mortgage on the farm. With no mortgage and the promise of more jobs with my New York friends it seemed possible to live a semi-subsistence lifestyle, that is, providing for a lot of our needs directly and keeping our income low.

With that in mind we arrived at the farm June first with all our belongings in a second hand pick-up truck. As soon as the truck was unloaded I headed out to rent a tiller to start the garden I had been planning for the past couple of months while Barbara was left with the task of putting things away and moving us in.

I soon learned that lightweight front tine tillers are not meant for breaking up sod but I had paid my money for 24 hours with this machine and I was determined to get my moneyís worth. It was grueling. I had to hold the tiller still in one place while the tines slowly chewed their way down through the mat of grass roots into the soil then let the tiller bounce back up onto the surface and begin vibrating its way down into the soil again. If you have seen ads for rear tine tillers with a cartoon of someone vibrating behind a front tine tiller, you have a pretty good idea of what I went through that day.

I set the alarm so I would be able to get up early and till for five more hours before returning the tiller on time. When the alarm sounded, Barbara had to turn it off. I could barely move. Everything in my body that could hurt did. Barbara had to help me get the tiller back on the truck. Our first garden was fairly small.

Small though it was we still got potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, spinach, lettuce, beets, radishes, onions, cucumbers and zucchini. I had made the break with New York and was living in Maine with Barbara just dubbing around less than two years after realizing I was unhappy. I loved being in the garden. It was so quiet; seldom even a car passing or a plane. I was more likely to be taken from my thoughts by honking geese overhead or the distinctive sound of the Baltimore oriole. Barbara said that one of her favorite things was to look out at the garden and see me leaning on the hoe gazing out over the field contemplating the universe.

Back to the top.

Chapter 5 - Another Grand Canyon High

Ö.. And then one day an incredible thing happened. It was very much like my experience in the Grand Canyon. I was sitting at my desk looking at a report on my investments with Fidelity that had just come in and worrying over whether or not I should make some changes. It suddenly struck me that this was a colossal waste of time. What am I doing here? Arenít there better things to do with my time? Time is not money. Time is what our lives are measured by. How we spend our time is important. I could be reading. I could be writing. I could just be thinking more interesting thoughts. I could get much more pleasure by thinking about life, solving problems and enjoying my life by watching a beautiful woman or a beautiful sunset. Why was I cluttering up my mind with thoughts about money?

All worry about money went away. It was like the cripple throwing off his crutches or the blind man seeing. I thought, "This must be what people feel when they say they are born again. Yes, I feel like a new person, like Iíve been born again." I wonder how many more times I will be born again Ďcause to be born again you gotta get unborn. Thatís the problem, keeping in, what, a state of grace? Itís the happiness thing. You canít always be in a state of euphoria. That would be pretty tiring.

This release of my thinking from thoughts of possessions had me dancing around again. I told Barbara about it and she was totally unimpressed. I told a couple of my closest friends that I had had an experience unlike any other, that it had a profound effect on me, that I was changed. They were polite. I stopped telling anyone about it for fear that if I went on over much they would begin talking about putting me away.

Do I feel this euphoria today? Has it stayed with me? It is not at the same pitch or level it was but it is pretty much still with me.

Something I didnít say about my leaving Laudholm Trust is analogous. From the initial board of concerned citizens without a lot of money we slowly built a board of people with more money, more contacts and more prestige. They were all people who saw the tremendous value in saving Laudholm Farm from development and who saw the clear danger that it would become a hillside of condominiums if we were unsuccessful. Some of them put their reputations on the line by taking leadership roles. We were flying by the seat of our pants. Everyone involved was taking great risks. If we had failed, people would have felt badly but no one would have felt badly used. Failure might actually have brought a sense of relief and a sense of accomplishment. A sense of relief because there was nothing more to be done. It was over. A sense of accomplishment because we had given it our best effort.

However, we succeeded. Now we owned stuff, a dozen buildings, land, and commitments. We had nearly a half million dollar endowment to invest prudently. Before we had no insurance or pension plans for employees, now the board wanted such. Before we made up budgets with only the hope we would find the money, now the board wanted to know where the money would come from before they put it in the budget. We had things and we had to protect them. We couldnít bring on a new educational program just because it was a great and exciting program. We had to know how it was going to be funded. The focus had shifted from possibilities unlimited by reality to "what can we do with the money we are sure we can get."

Another analogy with which perhaps more people can identify. When you drive an expensive new car you may drive more carefully or you may park it at the far end of a parking lot for fear it will get a ding and you will surely insure it against damage. I find it much more fun to drive my beat up car as I donít much care what happens to it. It is not likely to be stolen so that worry is gone. I have also found that if I am a little aggressive driving out of a crowded theatre parking lot after the show drivers in undented cars are very courteous and let me go ahead of them.

I didnít make a lot of money as a consultant. Just like other freelance jobs there are times when you are working and times when you are not. However, that experience left me with a second Grand Canyon high. This one is something I can refer back to as I pursue happiness because I have a better idea of what brought it about.

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Chapter 7 - What is love?

Goodness knows a lot has been written about love. To confirm this impression I went to Bartlettís Familiar Quotations. The index has 14 columns of love and 6 more of loved and loves for a total of 20. Surely, I thought, it is the word appearing most often in Bartlettís. Though Iím not much of a researcher I figured Iíd better check that assumption. Sure enough no word appears more often than love.

Of course, this just indicates the use of each word, not that the writing is about the subject. I suspect that love is the subject of the writing more often than is the case with the other words on this list but further research along those lines is not going to help me find out what love is.

While in the index I checked out some of the quotations that seemed most likely to answer the question "What is love?". Sinclair Lewis wrote "It is the morning and the evening star." Johann Christoph Freidrich von Schiller wrote "What is life without the radiance of love?" "What is love? Ďtis not hereafter;" wrote Shakespeare in Twelfth-Night. That calls to mind Shakespeareís Sonnets. And songs! I wonder what percentage of songs from any era are about love.

Enough. It would take a lifetime to research love through what people have written about it. The dictionary will cut to the chase. My trusty American College Dictionary (Random House 1958) has fourteen definitions for love.

1. a strong or passionate affection for a person of the opposite sex." [Maybe itís time to get a more up-to-date dictionary. This seems to be a bit behind the times.]

2. sexual passion or desire, or its gratification.

3. an object of love or affection: a sweetheart.

4. (cap.) a personification of sexual affection, as Eros or Cupid.

5. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a friend (or between friends), parent, child, etc.

6. strong predilection or liking for anything; love of books.

7. the benevolent affection of God for His creatures, or the reverent affection due from them to God.

8. Tennis, etc. nothing; no score.

9. for love, a. out of affection. b. for nothing; without compensation.

10 in love, feeling deep affection or passion (often followed by with)

11. to have love or affection for.

12. to have a strong or passionate affection for (one of the opposite sex).

13. to have a strong liking for; take great pleasure in: to love music.

14. to have love or affection, esp. to be or fall in love with one of the opposite sex.

Frankly, I donít find any of those definitions to be particularly helpful even in describing my love for my wife, Barbara. Youíd think definition number one would fit. I certainly do have a strong passionate affection for Barbara but I have had strong passionate affections for a lot of people and donít think I have met the last person for whom I will have a strong passionate affection. My feeling for Barbara is much more than that; and when I tell her I love her I mean much more than that. I mean that I will do my best to never make her unhappy. As I sit here trying to think of what else I mean nothing more is coming other than the caveat that I am human and I will not always succeed.

We can weed out some of the definitions as not being pertinent. Obviously number eight can go as Iím not talking about tennis though I did amuse myself with the definition as thinking how clever I would have been if, in my college days as a bachelor with roommates, I had thought to respond to their question "how did you do last night?" with "Love."

Weíre not looking for Eros or Cupid so number four goes. Weíre not interested in love for objects so six is gone. Seven is gone unless we want to discuss the meaning of God. Definition three makes me think of the Englishó"Pick up the cleaning on the way home, will you Love?"

Affection figures heavily in the definitions for love. Back to the dictionary. Affair, affect, affectation, affected, affecting, affection. "Affection n 1. a settled good will, love, or zealous attachment: the affection of a parent for his child. 2. the state of having oneís feelings affected: emotion or feeling: over and above our reason and affections."

I like those definitions. Good will could describe my desire to never make Barbara unhappy. It goes farther. Not only is it important that I not make her unhappy I wish happiness for her at all times from all angles. The same for my children. Ditto for my friends. In fact, I donít wish anyone ill will. But the definition is not just "good will" but "settled good will". Apparently there has to be some history involved with affection.

I could also say I have a "zealous attachment" to my immediate family but I wouldnít say I am zealously attached to my friends. Are there different kinds of love? Did I love my father the same as I loved my mother? Do I love my son the same as I love my wife? Do I love my daughter the same as I love my son? As I think about these real relationships I certainly realize that my feelings for each are different. Feelings! Do I feel the same about my father as I feel about my mother? My son as my wife? My daughter as my son? No. My feelings are different. My emotional response when I think of each is different.

What of the love for my neighbor or my enemies that Jesus says I should have. I donítí see anything in the definitions of love or affection that addresses love for everybody.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps there was just one love, some kernel around which the various forms of love are dependent. As I mulled that over I started bouncing the idea off my friends. Most disagreed. How could we love anyone else the way we love a spouse? It would be inappropriate. What they said certainly made sense. It wasnít that I disagreed with the differences they pointed out but still it nagged at me that there might be something more. Something was missing from the dictionary definitions. Perhaps an exploration of different kinds of love would help. What are they?

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Chapter 8 - A childís love for a parent

December 10, 2005

To: Griffin Mather Kirk

Dear Griffin,

I was shoveling snow when I got the first news that you might have entered or be about to enter the world. It was a beautiful light fluffy snow about a foot of it covering everything in a blanket of white.

Your grandmother hollered out to me that her cell phone had rung but she missed the call and, due to a storm power outage, our phone was not working. She was pretty wrought up. Phone calls to your house and to your mom and dadís cell phone got no answer. She did find the number that had been missed and it was a Georgia number, but all she got from it was a busy signal.

I was all calm, cool and collected and I calmed her down. Then I tried to call the phone company to report our phone out of order. It didnít take long before I was ranting. Your grandmother calmed me down.

You were probably about eight hours old before we got the details of your birth, you know, that you were born at 12:26am on December 10, 2005, that you weighed 7 pounds, that everything went about as smoothly as those things go. You are about nine and a half hours old as I write this. I figured Iíll write this to you as Iím pretty sure Iím not supposed to be the first to tell anyone about your birth. That right belongs to your grandmother. Donít ask me why. Thatís something you will just have to figure out for yourself in years to come.

Your grandmother will be heading out to see you as soon as she can. I wonít get to see you until March but thatís OK. You will be more appreciative then having been denied my smiling face for so long

So, Iím thinking I can be the first to write you a letter.

You are extraordinarily lucky to have been born to two wonderful parents who will love you unconditionally. I feel confident in saying this because I have seen their love for each other and I know that a lot of thought went into their decision to bring you to life. The very first thing you will see is their smiling faces shining their love on you.

It will be a few days before you recognize the love you are seeing and are able to return it. Your first smile, oh, my, what a treat that will be for them. That is your first gift, that smile of recognition and of love. The next gift is even bigger, a bigger smile, so big that the face wonít suffice. You will kick your little legs and wave your arms in your own joy at being loved.

I pledge to you my unconditional love. That doesnít mean that I will always be proud of you. In fact, Iím not proud of you now. What is to be proud of? You havenít done anything yet. I will be proud of you when you start walking and talking. I will be proud of you learning to read and write. I will be proud of all the things you do that make you proud.

When I told people I was going to be a grandfather they would usually say, "You must be so proud."

"Me? Why? I didnít do anything." Well, I did do one thing. I, in partnership with your grandmother, raised your mother. You have a great mother and I am very proud of her, not for giving birth because just about any woman can do that but because I know that she will give you the love and care you deserve.

My wish for you, Griffin, is that you find great joy and pleasure in the pursuit of happiness.

Your loving grandfather

My mother.

I have two memories of the first place I lived, an apartment building in Manhattan. I donít think I had been walking very long when we moved from there so these memories are probably from age two or three. The first is of being on the roof of the building with my mother when she was hanging out the laundry. It is only a picture in my head of the roof, the laundry and my mother. I suspect that I remember it because she was keeping a watchful eye on me to be sure I didnít get into trouble.

My mother was always there for me, the protector and care-giver. I remember her concern one summer when I guess I had been left alone at the farm for awhile. That night I was deathly sick. I remember her concern mostly from the turnaround it took the next morning when she went outside and saw the ground under the pear tree littered with pear cores. Not knowing what could possibly be ailing me and wondering if she should call the doctor gave her a sleepless night. Finding out that my pain had been self-inflicted by eating green pears made her mad as hell.

Another time I remember her threatening to throw a glass of water at me if I didnít stop pestering her while she was cooking. Then she filled the glass. I was sure she wouldnít throw it in the kitchen. She did. I loved her for that. It was a great for me moment drenched and both of us laughing with glee.

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Chapter 12 - Love for everybody

Where does the notion of loving everybody come from? Iím supposed to love Osama bin Laden? Hitler? Every President of the United States?

If I am to believe Christís teachings, then, yeah, Iím supposed to love everybody. In his first major speech, The Sermon on the Mount, he says, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy, But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matthew 5:43, 44) Later, on the coast of Judea beyond Jordan, Christ, in response to a question from a young man about which commandments he should keep, said, "Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother; and Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matthew 19: 18, 19) Later still, in Jerusalem, he said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:37-39)

Itís pretty clear that loving our neighbor as we love ourselves was a primary message of Christ. But wait a minute. There are two loves here, love of our neighbor and love of ourselves. What if we donít love ourselves? That then is setting a pretty low standard for loving others. Maybe I should explore self love before worrying about loving everybody.

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Chapter 13 - Loving oneís self

We arenít supposed to love ourselves, are we? We didnít think highly of a girl in school when we said she was stuck on herself. Then there was Narcissus from Greek mythology who was so in love with himself that he rejected love of others. The God Nemesis caused him to fall in love with his own reflection in a spring where he died from love for himself. Freud developed the psychoanalytic theory of narcissism in which he felt beautiful women, especially, develop a self-love to the extent that they expect to receive, but not to give, love. Psychologist M. Scott Peck, M.D. in his book People of the Lie gives some case histories of people who are incredibly self-centered and defines them as evil. Narcissism canít be the self love Jesus was getting at.

At the other end of the spectrum there are people who have such low self-esteem that they actually hurt themselves doing things like sticking pins in themselves and the ultimate, suicide. In between there must be an appropriate level of self-love.

Back to the dictionary.

 

Random House Websterís College Dictionary definitions

Self-Love

The instinct by which manís actions are directed to the promotion of his own welfare.

Self-Esteem

Favorable opinion of oneself; conceit (conceit, an excessively favorable opinion of oneís own ability, importance, wit, etc.; vanity)

Self-Respect

Proper esteem or regard for the dignity of oneís character

Self-Worth

the sense of oneís own value or worth as a person; self-esteem; self-respect

Respect

Esteem, admiration

Esteem

To regard highly or favorably; regard with respect or admiration

Worth

excellence of character or quality as commanding esteem

Love

A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection.

Self-love as an instinct? That definition seems more appropriate for self-preservation than self-love. Self-esteem, self-respect and self-worth combined seem like a better definition for self-love. Of course I want to modify the other definitions as well. Letís get rid of conceit from the self-esteem definition. Conceit can go in the spectrum of self-love near narcissism. What might "proper" esteem be in the definition for self-respect? I think we can just get rid of "proper". Self-worth is OK except it uses "worth" in its definition which always seems pretty circular to me so Iíd like to replace it with its definition.

 

Mortís revised definitions

Self-Love

The result of self-esteem, self-respect and self-worth

Self-Esteem

Favorable opinion of oneself

Self-Respect

esteem or regard for the dignity of oneís character

Self-Worth

the sense of oneís own value or excellence of character; self-esteem; self-respect

The definition for self-worth essentially says that self-esteem and self-respect are synonymous. Itís pretty difficult to figure out differences so I guess Iíll use them interchangeably. I have an image of a line graph with this jagged line edging always upward like the stock market. Self-esteem/respect/worth being the jagged line because my opinion of myself can vary from day to day or hour to hour. If, while driving, someone pulls out in front of me and I lose my temper, my self-esteem takes a sharp dive as I realize I lost control and did something I didnít want to do. But if in the same circumstance I donít lose my temper, my self-esteem gets a lift. Self-love is the trend, hopefully ever upward.

What self-respecting person wouldÖ

I have said before that I have trouble separating love from respect. They are bound together. I can not come up with a situation in which I would respect someone and not feel love for them any more than I can imagine loving someone and not respecting them. When I was growing up I often heard: "No self-respecting person wouldÖ" or "What self-respecting person wouldÖ" My parentís generation valued self-respect. I donít know that they consciously recognized its importance. Perhaps it is one of those things that must be lost before it can be understood.

Think about it. Why would a church-going honor student in Oklahoma take an automatic gun (his father purchased it at Wal Mart) to school and open fire on fellow students?

Well, no self-respecting kid would walk into their school and open fire hurting fellow students. That, I believe, is at the seat of many of the problems we are facing in our society today. It is not the kidís fault or his parentís or his schoolís or his classmatesí or his religionís or the gun-makerís. It is the village, our society, all of us. We are breaking down our own self-respect little pieces at a time.

The worker who cheats on the job, doesnít put in a full dayís work for a dayís pay is losing self-respect. The employer who squeezes his or her employees to make an extra buck or who is more interested in the bottom line than in serving the customer is losing self-respect. The person who doesnít take responsibility for his or her own health is losing self-respect. The church-goer who lives a different life in private than the one sanctimoniously espoused is losing self-respect.

To respect ourselves we need to get to know ourselves, investigate the things that make us happiest and the things that do not. If playing golf makes us happy but playing golf on Sunday does not, we should either stop playing golf on Sunday or stop feeling guilty about doing it. All of this is really taking responsibility for ourselves.

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Chapter 14 - Back to loving everyone

Before I get back to loving everyone it might be a good idea to try to figure out if there is a common thread in these more common loves. First, letís strip away the differences. What are they?

With our parents we seem to have an unbreakable bond and we certainly have a lot of history. The difference in romantic love is easyópassion and sex. We have a responsibility for our children and in a way they are possessions. Friends are the most casual of these relationships as friends can come and go without causing trauma. Friendships are comfortable. Why? Part of the answer may be in what is involved in the other relationships. With friends there is no unbreakable bond as with parents and while passion and responsibility may be felt they are not necessary in a friendship. For friendships to endure there must be respect because why would anyone want to stay friends with someone they didnít respect or at least accept?

Does respect exist in the other forms of love? Do I respect my father? I think I have to answer that question with a "no". He really did too many things for which I can not respect him, the most grievous of which was the way he manipulated his philosophy to suit himself. You may be thinking that the apple didnít fall too far from the tree. Yes, my philosophy has changed over the years and I hope that it is still in a state of transition or growth. The difference is that my father had one rigid philosophy for everyone else, but he adjusted it for himself to suit his purpose at the time.

If I donít respect him, can I love him? This is a very difficult question for me because I tend to equate love and respect. I do think I love him though. There are things about him that I do respect. I think he was a very good artist. He was also very handy. He could fix anything from cars to toasters, I think mainly because he believed he could. He held himself in very high esteem. There were times when his belief that he could do anything ran into uncomfortable reality. Toward the end of his life when he was living in a sort of commune and enjoying respect as the aged guru of the group, he decided to lead them in yoga, something about which he had no experience other than being able to sit in the lotus position. He lost his following rather quickly.

I hope you donít get any sense of animosity from that story. None is intended. In fact, I can hear my father laughing with me over the story, not in fact, since it happened after the last time I saw him, but in my mindís picture and memories. He did have a great laugh and he was able to laugh at himself. Perhaps the thread of love for that difficult relationship is that I accept my father unconditionally.

Is unconditional acceptance common to all those loves? This is really tricky. Each of us can examine real relationships. When we do, can we say of each of them that we accept the other unconditionally? If we donít, should we? Would our love be stronger if we accepted the other unconditionally?

I became a grandparent within the past year. When I told people who were grandparents that I was going to become a grandparent their faces lit up and they told me what a special relationship that was. The most common comment was that they can enjoy their grandchildren and at the end of the visit they give them back to the parents. In other words the parents have the responsibility of taking care of their children but I think what is really going on there is unconditional acceptance. The grandparent can look upon the child with uninhibited love. They may judge their own childís and child-in-lawís child rearing methods, but they donít judge the grandchild. As a newbie to this relationship, Iíve got a lot to learn, or do I? Maybe there is nothing to learn. Arenít I just along for the ride? Arenít I just going to be grandpa? Shouldnít I just be me, and watch my grandsonís growth and development with pleasure accepting the things he does with an "Oh, my" or "Thatís wonderful," or "Tish, tish," or "Aw, thatís too bad"?

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Mort Mather

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